Eduardo Coutinho's written cinema



Considerations on the cinematographic dialogue between Glauber Rocha and Eduardo Coutinho

“Placed before the commitment to write (…) I feel distressed beyond measure. In my case, regardless of temporary or permanent neuroses, this difficulty has to do with the choice of documentary” (Eduardo Coutinho).

“Socrates, he who did not write” (Friedrich Nietzsche)


We can notice an ambiguity in Eduardo Coutinho's relationship with writing, manifested in several moments of his life. Is that why your cinema seems to be based on speech, on the expression of affections through the intonation of the word, as opposed to the way of writing? Dilemma has an ironic reference at the beginning of his career: his participation in the feature film Cancer, by Glauber Rocha.

Cancer, shot in 16 mm, August 1968, in just four days, is a work made in the stylistic breath of direct cinema, directed at a crossroads, when the older generation of Cinema Novo encounters the counterculture. Drugs, racism, the position of women, leftist militancy, dilemmas with the representation of the popular, are themes present in the improvisations of Cancer, always through fictional characters and situations. The narrative develops characters built on the tension between artificial typified personalities and concrete personalities, in the midst of the life experience of each of the actors and friends who participate in Glauber's film.

Eduardo Coutinho was one of the non-actors invited to stage his natural personality, to be displayed in the mise-en-scène from the outlet. Antônio Pitanga, Odete Lara, Hugo Carvana, key actors of Cinema Novo, develop characters in the film. They are surrounded by 'people artists', or friendly artists, not actors, playing a mix of natural personality and character in the scene: in addition to Eduardo Coutinho, the 'friends' José Medeiros, Luiz Carlos Saldanha, Hélio Oiticica, Rogerio Duarte, Zelito Viana , Tineca and Bidu (da Mangueira) act in the film. Some shots were taken in Hélio Oiticica's own house.

In the middle of the iconic year of 1968, Glauber stretches to the maximum the challenges of the new stylistics of direct sound and light camera image, loose in the “hand”, with different experiences in the two feature films he directs: Cancer and, soon afterwards, The Dragon of Evil Against the Holy Warrior, in another production scheme. In Cancer, Glauber allows himself to give vent to narrative experiences and mise-en-scène more radical than those found in The Dragon of Evil, seen by the great national and international public.

The sequence of Glauber directing Coutinho in Cancer it's not random. It brings together two of the main directors of Brazilian Cinema of the XNUMXth century, one directing and the other being directed. Cancer provocatively shuffles levels of staging ('constructed' and 'direct') making a mixture in which all the characters appear drawn in speech (improvised based on a theme, or personality trait). Actors and non-actors are left in a kind of present twisted by the shot that will later be chopped into long shots and sucked into the film's temporal funnel. All are self-actors, as types open up in this way. Eduardo Coutinho will play in Cancer a character that mixes what Glauber, somehow, believes to be Coutinho's personality at the time, defined in the film as 'the man with the notebook', the one who writes. In his character, Coutinho talks nonstop during the scene about a notebook and its content, the written form.

We have other “friends” in the film, key figures of Tropicalismo such as Rogério Duarte (just out of prison) and Hélio Oiticica, in an unprecedented partnership with Glauber that went beyond the visual artist’s scenic performance. Cancer It is a unique moment of encounter between Oiticica and Glauber, two strong personalities, central to the plastic and cinematographic arts in Brazil in the second half of the 1968th century. It shows the dialogue between the work, and the person, of Glauber with the horizon of tropicalism that Oiticica and Duarte embody. It even begins with images of a debate at MAM-RJ, in August XNUMX, on “revolutionary arts” and “tropicalism”, according to Glauber’s voiceover, which he takes the opportunity to orally state some credits (without mentioning Coutinho).

Alongside his friends, the film features actor-types, also for “friendship”, but embodying the different acting staging: Antônio Pitanga plays the man-of-the-people; Odete Lara embodies the middle-class woman; Hugo Carvana oscillates in his type-character, with a penchant for the boçal-marginal-Brazilian. Artist-friends and actor-friends ('friendship' carries a form of staging) are 'pulled' into the scene to mix everyday personality with character-type, under the implacable irony of a scene director Glauber. On the non-actors side, Coutinho plays the communist intellectual grappling with the expression written in the notebook and its ordering against praxis; Oiticica plays a type of elite, arrogant but shy, with Rogério Duarte in the background, also arrogant, racist, who interferes more in the scene (both act opposite the popular Pitanga, revolted and humble, who naturally, with his acting talent, dominates staging in the sequences in which he participates); José Medeiros acts as an intermediary for stolen goods; Saldanha plays the boy who cheated on her husband Carvana with Lara. In the end, Rogério Duarte and Hélio Oiticica are killed by Pitanga, after repeatedly humiliating the black man he represents. Carvana is also murdered by Pitanga's character.

In the long shot of his character, Coutinho appears as a somewhat oppressed type, needing to justify himself for being the mentor of order and written records, in the face of an overwhelming Hugo Carvana, an investigative, aggressive and mocking type. One 'naive' popular character watches everything with wide and sweet eyes, taken in the foreground, holding a teapot with his hands. A cross held in the background completes the framing. In part of the sequence, Coutinho is seen sitting with the camera slightly diving, from top to bottom. Her face is also explored very closely in the foreground.


What does the sensibility, half playful, half executioner – the cyclops eye of the prophet-Glauber – bring to the scene of Cancer, when does he introduce us to the character-personality 'Eduardo Coutinho'? What does this author-eye, the Glauber-subject, see in the personality 'Coutinho', or see in the scene that makes him find a character? Coutinho, despite being six years older than Glauber, developed (as of 1968) a late career, reaching its peak only at the turn of the 42th century, already over sixty years old. Glauber was always very precocious and died early, at the age of XNUMX. at the time of Cancer, Coutinho was just a peripheral filmmaker in the core group of Cinema Novo.

He had oscillating links with the PCB (Brazilian Communist Party) and was active, in the wake of Leon Hirszman, in the Popular Cultural Centers of the UNE, before they were dissolved by the military coup in 1964. He was also the director of a feature film by the CPC unfinished (the first version of Goat Marked to Die is from 1964) and used to be called to work on screenplays by the Cinemanovista gang. At the time, 1968, he was involved in the direction and screenplay of The Man Who Bought the World (probably one of the reasons for being on the set of Cancer), an initiative of the new cinema (on the Zelito Viana/Mapa Filmes side – Zelito also makes a cameo in Cancer and produced The Dragon of Evil), to reach the general public. Initially, the direction of this comedy was intended for Luís Carlos Maciel, but it ended up in the hands of Coutinho who, as substitute director in The man…, on a commissioned job, he never liked the result – although he directed his first complete feature film that way.

In any case, it is strange to see Coutinho, in 1968, being subjected (it is the right word, for the type of staging he undergoes) in Cancer, by the great director of his generation, to a similar procedure (the interweaving of the personality in the shot) to which, in the future, he would subject some of his documentary characters and which reaches its paroxysm in Scene Game. In this sense, perhaps it is not to force to 'find' say that Cancer e Scene Game they are two sides of the same coin. Both have in their form this way to centrifuge real personalities through the free flight of characters, opening a kind of rupture that makes the scene fissure. Coutinho is twisted into Cancer in the character of the orthodox communist militant who denies himself (“I am not a militant”), a singular experience of the 'for-itself' situation, role of oneself with his personality stretched/created by others (Glauber). In the later feature films he directed, Eduardo Coutinho, documentarist, always plays the 'self' role on the scene. Cancer, in this sense, as a fiction film, is an exception. It is significant that Glauber's joke, portraying him as the most narrow-minded communist militant, is perhaps a memory of the times of the CPC/Cinema Novo clashes, also a joke with the figure of the 'spiritual father' close to Coutinho, Leon Hirszman.

Even more, Coutinho character of Cancer, in addition to being a prolific militant, is an intellectual (a 'theorist') who writes down everything in his 'little notebook' and denies praxis (“I'm a theorist and I have a little notebook”). He is obsessed with following rules and his project is a Brazil transformed not by social revolution, but by concern with order (“I don't want to create anarchy, I want things to be done in order”), with following schedules in the rigid organization of praxis (“ you have to have the schedules… three-fifteen is three-fifteen… the police also had to have a notebook, there has to be an organized repression and an organized revolution”). That's where the north of Coutinho's free improvisation walks as the militant who is theoretician and who writes, registers, orders and classifies everything as the 'man with the notebook', encouraged by stage director Glauber Rocha.

'Notebook theorist', Coutinho is effectively oppressed in the counter-scene with Hugo Carvana. This one works with an interpretation carried by the boçal side, making an authoritarian-aggressive type. Carvana embodies the aggressive tone well, with sexist and racist overtones, diluted by the shade of debauchery, so common in Cinema Novo films and also in Cinema Marginal. Coutinho responds with the characteristic type that he would carry in life, looking inward, downwards, speaking between his teeth, with short and syncopated sentences, wanting to advance the speech signal by himself, without interruption. He looks at his interlocutor, but he does not really see, he is not in the dialogical mode.

While Carvana embodies the Glauberian character, Coutinho is the point outside the curve, the handbrake pulled. The result is a Coutinho run over, cornered, thrown to the ropes, ridiculed when trying to assert and resort to the logic of the notebook which, in his hands, is the logic of writing. It is lost in the face of the unbridled exuberance of Carvana's phonocentric expression, a coincidence in the flow of speech as a gesture, through the body, in the filmic mode of enunciation. There is no reduction, or difference, that introduces a fissure, or retreat, into Carvana's verbosity. Just his speech prevailing in the narcissistic experience of the word itself ('own' in the very definition of the coincidence of presence in the being that utters). Coutinho's bridle is the bridle of the notebook and his writing is ordering from outside.

Coutinho, in a way, will be the one who, later on, will know how to enforce the ordinance and the handbrake, without compromising the flow of coincidence with this popular 'other' that Pitanga embodies so well in Cancer. And he will do so by affirmatively challenging the concept, the notebook figure, without falling into the trap (at least in his most successful films) in favor of meeting spontaneity, intuition and sensation, which his generation so values. In Cancer the 'other' incarnated by Pitanga's character takes a lot of beating when trying to enforce the popular expression, an expression that in the scene is reduced by coldness (Lara), by violent aggressiveness (Oiticica and Duarte), or by boçality (Carvana).

It is also interesting to note the typically popular character, in the background, who watches with an astonished expression the sequence between Coutinho and Carvana, holding a coffee pot, ready to fulfill the role of serving it, as a subordinate, next to a large cross that is wielded by the 'delegate'. He has a position at the same time as a servant and a look filled with captivating sweetness, with an innocent edge of curiosity for the scene. He spontaneously expresses a filmic image-camera composition that only the direction of a great artist, like Glauber, can extract from the interpretation of the natural actor (Coutinho will also show this talent in his career).

The camera follows the expression of the other-popular with evident pleasure in the discovery and lands softly, composing the frame. Like other 'popular' characters in Glauber's cinema, here the popular-actor watches everything, hovering in the air with the innocence of being that is self-sufficient, the existence of an original in-itself that does not need the reflexive doubling over the lived experience of the event to make it count. It shows the will to establish, without constraints, the decalation of difference by the expression that coincides, without needing the designation carried by the emphasis, which brings, for example, the character of Hugo Carvana.

Coutinho, by embodying in his character's retreat the logic of writing and grammar (which he focuses on and reflects on), shows why he is a parallel and late figure in Cinema Novo and why he had to wait almost half a century to find the good vein in your cinema. A vein that has its configuration in a 'post-new cinema' way, a 'post-modern' way of dialoguing with the popular-other. An aesthetic that, by carrying the device to shoot the plug and pierce the identity of speech in the body of the voice, phonetic expression, does justice to the late character. It brings the retreat implemented by a device that, repeatedly outlined, is, after all, discovered (unveiled) in a kind of mannerism that will show the artist in full control of his art at the end of the 2000s.

Thus, Coutinho dialogues with the Glauberian perspective in an unprecedented position, as this is also an artist who eventually gets tired – and for this very reason could be seen as a leader and prophet. Something that their peers from the generation did not know, or needed, to establish, because they ended their careers earlier – or because they had time to repeat themselves maturing, in a conformity that neither Glauber nor Coutinho possess. In Cancer, the image of the empathetic popular (that image that will also be the first breath in Coutinho's cinema) is there, holding a teapot and looking at life like a bird that hovers and passes by. He, the notebook-man, is immersed, almost with his eyes closed, sunk blindly inwards, in the lucubrations of propositional assertions of thought in a deductive cascade.

Coutinho's improvisation that Cancer intuitively promotes (since that is how it can be thought of), and highlights as the pulse of his future art, it is simultaneously aesthetic (in the literal sense of the term) and surrounded by preparations, purposes and intentionality, ready to conquer an identity that knows not exist, but which it glimpses, precisely because it can deny the rule it needs to impose itself.


The 'notebook' is the logic of the measure that makes the value of the different, the strategy of the cornered. He restricts Eduardo Coutinho in order to escape the supplement, fattening the expression by coincidence. It escapes so as not to be stuck in the stream of resentful retroactivity that vibrates in Hugo Carvana's speech. It is for him, I gush, and in spite of him, that he will take revenge and deconstruct the difference that, with time and years, is established as necessary.

Glauber, apparently, is also aware of this, as we can feel later in the improvisations of Clear. The notebook is the counter-proposal to the unravel countercultural that surrounds Cancer and that transpires through the pores of the narrative. The immoderation, the absolute reign of satiated emotions, fat in spirit in the encounter with the self, echoes in the most complete characters in the film and Carvana's is no exception. They carry the excess of excess and taste it with undeniable pleasure in the realm of authority that coincidence with the self, freed by the exaltation of speech, grants. It complements expression, stabilizing and satisfying presence as identity.

Coutinho's character would represent the vision that Glauber had, at that moment, of the part of his generation that abandoned the 'unravel' (place where, in a way, it is situated) and adhered to the discipline of armed struggle, to its 'little notebook' with schedules, rules and meeting points? Who adhered to the rigid codes of conduct, governed by the notebook of clandestine life and also the party structures of democratic centralism? Two halves are thus placed in a somewhat simplistic way: on the one hand, in which everything is noted, systematized, carried out with responsibility and the praxis of engaged politics prevails; on the other, the open space of life, in which experience and expression are oscillating and aimless, shouted, messed up, thrown out.

We want to trigger the position of a third half of the representation, which ends up undoing it, causing the account not to close. It points to and discovers a first event (prior, but not original), which repeats and unveils, piercing the duality, and points to the restriction of demand as something affirmative. Half of the infinity that brings with it, when it reveals itself, the oppositions between the inside and the outside, between identity and alterity, between supplement and difference, between presence and deferral, between speech and writing, between 'little notebook' and the text-to-come book (Blanchot, The Book to Come).And it seems to be there that Coutinho ends up. By moving from the meeting place in communion, initially foreseen at the junction of the two halves, this last part ascends to deconstruction. Our point is that the sides do not mix in simple opposition, in denial or reconciliation of a thesis that the film never expounds.

In the free expression of the scene (which concentrates Glauber's effort in this film) are the fields that the prophet-director places himself in: that of the free drive that takes the simple halves to a hole in which they can vibrate among themselves, without resolution, until the difference makes them return, to assert the power of a new beginning. Coutinho-restrictive is like the half that decomposes, like the root difference, the one that values ​​the unbridled drive by the force of the restricting affirmation. This side is the 'other' of the system itself and has the power to deny itself. The 'other' will still return in the same field until the empathetic Glauber of the supplement – ​​who certainly wants the resonant voice for himself – discovers, in his turn as a prophet, the interval as pure intensity and life.

Coutinho, the more hard-working and focused of the two, will also do his rounds to get there – a round that won't be up to Glauber to be a spectator, as he left the scene before that. Due to its lateness, the Coutinian return runs in two directions: it is there from the beginning, but sometimes it turns back along the same route, when it is already clear that the path ahead is destroyed. It's the Mannerist Coutinho. In order to recover from the empty power of empathy in his late career, he will have to patiently modulate, deconstruct without building, and recover in movement the difference that in Cancer one breathes in the first round, so naturally.

The singular thing is that, by characterizing his fellow filmmaker in this way, Glauber's intuition (like the intuitions of those who can prophesy) hits the nail on the head by the inverse, hits the distension by irony. For Coutinho would spend the rest of his life building his future cinema, denying, in what he would later call a 'device', the logic of the 'little notebook'. A 'communist intellectual', a theorist who has a 'little notebook', Coutinho takes time to learn to carry the notebook in his pocket without guilt, without having to recite the categories in the way he does in Cancer. Maybe it's a prophet's punishment, the curse of the notebook. She's already on the scene Cancer, is the one that “will accompany you forever”, a staff that only those who carry it can roar, cursing curses.


There is a dichotomy in Cancer which, to a certain extent, is the same as that of Coutinho's scattered discourse, in declarations, about his own work. Glauber and Coutinho coincide in their distrust of writing and theory-thought, and in their affirmation of expression as self-identity in the fullness of gesture and voice, the realm of phonocentric speech. Writing is the cold matter of absence, substitution, the parasitism of citation, lack and the inscription of the outside. In it, the field of the expressing emitter is dilated to absence and the echo of expression – based on presence – is undermined.

It is said, in the film, that the militant Coutinho's notebook has no names, nor notes, therefore it does not 'name-designate', nor 'note-record', in a similarity to the empty referential function, but organizing and modular, which distances itself from the phonocentric expression in the designation of identity in illocution. It is writing that founds the field of difference by inscribing reiteration as an infinite repetition of meaning, a previous place of presence by the voice/speech body that enunciates in the range of performance illocutionary. The finalist model of the book-notebook, as an ordering and displacing apparatus of the enunciative presence (in the citation/file regime, for example), seems to close and dilute the more anarchic and open tension of life in the expression – 'flesh' of the body in voice, 'chiasma' or 'interweaving' in the dialectic of otherness, as some phenomenology wants (Merleau-Ponty, The visible and the invisible).

But, in this coincidence, the expression assumes at least one layer of identity and soon Glauber realizes the hardships of the path – a little later Coutinho follows. It is a presupposed identity with the other that bothers, as well as thinking in the narrow regime of the presupposition itself. The dominant discourse of the mature Coutinho on the dilemmas with writing reflects the perception of the depletion of identity to which he was trapped in the past. The handcuffs of scripture are necessary to face it and he struggles. In a way, Glauber's man-in-the-book is the summary of this, oscillating back and forth, anticipating the crucial dilemma into which both Glauber and Coutinho will fall when reflecting on their own work. For that is the movement, one cannot escape: the reflexive is a self-consciousness that fades towards a fractured encounter, revealing the impossibility of communion and always one more step, one more step – the one that does not close and establish the interval of fracture, of consciousness without remittances, walking through the difference-denial of the other/other, an unshakable species in the endless master-slave dialectic. It has the power to make the propeller turn and the spirit of time move in history, but still, to our sadness, it lags in the coupling. Coutinho needs the writing that 'modulates', because that's what he knows how to do to be able to oscillate and challenge the congregation in otherness – and thus introduce shifting. Detonating through the radical valuation of difference prevents the crystallized stagnation of consciousness, such as the coincidence of the I in analogy and in the affects of compassion.

Coutin's writing would then be able to detach, through the mechanism of the staging device, meaning and speech – or, more precisely, detach itself from the action, from the praxis that embodies the body-voice. It is made like a fissure, like a 'breath' (Derrida, the blown word). Cool she does not affirm – and falls short of the deliberation experience of speech in the exalting coincidence of the body, which needs to be empathetic. From this feeling of 'liberation' through exaltation (which also brings the false forms of modesty), we see affects with which one communes. But at the same time, and especially in his late work through the mode of device, the coincidence in the expression of the self that 'speaks' in Coutinho receives this kind of cold cover of being that is his trademark.

The layer of writing by the device, recurrent and meticulous, avoids crystallizing. As an external technique, it makes the same-one retract through absence and differing, and only in the interval does it manage to shine. Reiteration, now interchangeable and quotable, cuts in half redemption by intersubjective focus as a predicted and assured recurrence. It always moves from then on, in the form of a thoughtful scenic mechanism. In the device module, an original speech, in itself molecular, stays behind and leans against, or else couples, already in front. It is shielded by a detailed planning of the scene and the interpretation that, if it does not close 'it' (the 'I' of the other-speak), manages at least to release the crust of the identity of the exalting cathartic redemption. Thus, an articulating mode is established that, against false spontaneity, intends and lends itself to the fissure of communion in catharsis.


In the art of film, camera-images have the form of what passes towards the end (The End), as far as this very human thing is to lose, win, or take a break (take your time): decoupage and staging. And the film-form Coutinho knows well, as an experienced screenwriter, although he deceives, not seeming to exercise his talent at full steam in his work as a documentary filmmaker. The speech transcription, however, does not exist there, swallowed up by the pressure of the voice as a phenomenon, but the form is there. Coutinho seeks an epiphany, and at that moment he discovers himself as an author. The order of the scene (since it is about ordering) is not pure nature or spontaneous expression. It is the precision of the device, scanned, and thus opens up through the memory that speaks in different ways that explore the limits of the emphases and tonalities of the song (The Songs), flow of enunciation blossoming in melodic form.

At the height of the stylistic mastery of his art, the first half of the 2000s, the procedure matured (from Santa Marta/1987 and, already mature, in Strong Saint/1999; Master Building/2002; Pawns/2004 and The End and the Beginning/2005) and then disassembles it in a mannerist way, as is clear in the trilogy Scene Game/ 2007, Moscow/ 2009 e a day in life/2010. Thus, the speech of the body is prepared, well folded, twisted, to enter the box in which it stays and opens itself only in the show itself, in the splendor of the moment of the scene when he, Coutinho, enters an unknown and unforeseen field, and when he starts the shot of the duration that is staged. Afterwards (but it is always there, as a form, from the scene) it will be polished and compressed into film. If there is a device for such Coutinho, he created it, although the ghost of the system, grammar and writing always haunts him. Hence the negation, the 'temporary or permanent neuroses', or their affirmation in the elegy of minor procedures of the image of the imponderable contingent.

Initially, the articulations of propositional assertions of the documentary voice that justify the montage of the filmic image in the classic documentary were left behind. Then he abandons, in a rigorous economic regime, the 'inserts', the reverse shots, the ping-pong, consolidating his characteristic narrative in cinematographic grammar. In this way, he wants to free himself to reach the full coincidence of being in the randomness of the scene. Nothing is left over in the film, other than the minimum remains necessary to articulate the search for purity – film-device always denied, but always realized, in all the necessary thickness for the desired effect. If Coutinho wants to escape an external categorization, his cinema only deepens it, even to deny what belongs to him. In order to achieve, in a somersault, the path of empathy begins with being-the-other: Coutinho, the same, and his voice, the 'voice of the people'.

It is the best thing that he, Coutinho, sees in 'this look of his', a radiant vision of the origin, the popular-other that shines in the depth of the camera-machinery, in the depth of the apparatus. It is there that he discovers otherness and leans against it in solidarity, in a closeness that he wants to maximize. And that's the only way he admits to dealing with the film, armor of duration, in which the approach is a trap of the system and now grammar of writing, in the way of a device. He has, at the bottom of the mechanism, the image of 'his-other' as a pure idea, pristine or original primeval. Something that the empirical multiplicity of speech illocution, marked by subjection to otherness, does not stain! It wants the pure popular, the this-same, which breathes in the other-in-it and which is now brought to the stage, in the fullness of itself, as a coincident action, founding praxis in the world on the stage. You can then see where the man with the notebook left and where he ended up, in his hatred of writing. Will the reach of full empathy, the pure affection sought, serve to heal alterity?

Coutinho bears his mark and wants to show it in the film as something natural, although he is always one step behind and never reaches the coincidence of the intrinsically himself, his own experience against the grain of the 'from-inside-other'. Could it be that this part of you, the form of a movement, makes your cinema a search that does not close? If he does not deny the gap between voice and writing, he always wants to bring it forward, believing in reduction as a consummate negation.

But Coutinho does not sink there, in a kind of poorly digested masochism, decanting demand and bad conscience. He is not even paralyzed like Medusa, immobilized in the fixed fullness of the longed-for encounter with the 'other'. Denial turns pole, asserts the difference and pays the price to see, actively going deep into the outer composition that breaks the hypnotic spell of the supplement. This is how his work founds the parameters to engage and take impulse in modalities of representation that do not close in on the other, in false fullness. The character who struggles in the scene of Cancer, incarnating the notebook that swallows the vital force, makes the 'cat leap' at the late stage of his career. She faces the encounter and assumes, in different ways, writing as a thought of the scene.

*Fernao Pessoa Ramos, sociologist, is a professor at the Institute of Arts at UNICAMP. Author, among other books, of But after all… what exactly is a documentary? (Senac).


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