the trance of Paulo Martins

Frame from Terra em Transe (Glauber Rocha, 1967)


Comments on a fragment of earth in trance

 Brazil, March 31, 1964, the civil and military right finally managed to consummate the long-awaited coup that had been postponed in previous moments, either by the shot in the chest given by Getúlio Vargas in 1954, or by the resistance through the chain of legality commanded by Leonel Brizola in 1961, which guaranteed the inauguration of João Goulart after the resignation of Jânio Quadros. The civil-military coup carried out on the eve of April Fools' Day would drag Brazil into a long winter of 21 years, after a brief moment of euphoria and development. After all, it was in the previous decade that the world had come to revere the Brazil of Niemeyer's curves, the beat of João Gilberto's guitar and the disconcerting dribbles of the ace Garrincha. 

If Brazilian art and culture started to be recognized around the world, here the country was not immune to external winds, like a real storm, the echoes of the XX Congress of the CPSU that revealed to the world the Stalinist violence ended up slaughtering part of the local left. But soon another storm will clear the weather bringing back the brightness of the revolution, which was now sprouting on a small island in Central America, the Cuban revolution would definitively impact the paths of the left on the continent.

In the field of culture, this ebullition would be marked by the idea that through art it would be possible to seek mass awareness, and in an alliance with students and workers, forge the amalgam of the Brazilian revolution. In this scenario, “a singular process of discussion and debate was constituted, within the scope of the democratic public sphere, which allowed the contact of the intelligentsia with the ideas and intentions of the Brazilian nationalist movement (GARCIA, 2003, p.134). The process of discussion and debate presented by Miliandre Garcia, would result in the creation of initiatives such as the ISEB (Instituto Superior de Estudos Brasileiros) created in the midst of the national-developmentalist discourse, seeking to understand and debate the problems and outline perspectives for the country and the CPC (Centro Popular de Cultura) of the UNE, which sought to be a space for the formulation of cultural practices and policies focused on the popular classes.

After the publication of the CPC’s programmatic manifesto, presented to the public by Carlos Estevam Martins, an intellectual also linked to ISEB, the cultural field would be taken by an intense debate about the document, a fact that would end up generating a series of controversies and ruptures, “ranging from the contestation of the categories “art of the people”, “popular art” and “revolutionary popular art”, to the refutation of the idea that the CPC artist should be an integral part of the people” (GARCIA, 2003, p.135).

From this rupture process, filmmakers such as Cacá Diegues and Leon Hirszman would emerge from the CPC, who, in search of breaking free from Cepecist aesthetic ties, would gravitate around the Cinema Novista group, which, in their own way, also sought to dialogue with the popular classes, without the orthodoxy of the popular national project coined by Estevam Martins. According to Fernão Ramos, the representation of the popular "developed in the 1960s can be found in Nelson Pereira dos Santos' first work, River, 40 Degrees, from 1955, a film that marks the new Brazilian cinema of the 1960s in its mode of expression (RAMOS, 2017, p. 221).

The influence of the echoes of the Cuban revolution and the liberation struggle in the third world, added to the climate of dispute surrounding the João Goulart government, would increasingly foment these debates, but the civil and military coup of 1964 would put all these accumulated experiences in check. Thus, in 1967, when part of the intelligentsia saw its emancipatory project founder and "on the eve of the imposition of Institutional Act nº 5 (AI-5), which not only put a damper on the traces of the intense political and social mobilization that the coup d'état had interrupted four years before" (LUIZ, 2016, p.231) the Bahian filmmaker Glauber Rocha would launch earth in trance.

Glauber, in a letter to Alfredo Guevara, a filmmaker linked to the Cuban ICAIC, defines his film as “a bitter and violent critique of left-wing intellectuals, Party theorists who always join the bourgeoisie to support demagogic populism and are always betrayed when the bourgeoisie feels the dangers of their alliance” (BENTES, 1997, p. 274). Across earth in trance, Glauber will seek to carry out a kind of "hot" reckoning with third world political and social actors, through his Eldorado, which could represent Brazil or any other third world nation at that time.

The plot of the film takes place in Eldorado, a tropical republic that, in the context of the time, could be interpreted as Brazil in the civil and military pre-coup of 1964 or any other third world country that found itself in the following dilemma: make the revolution or succumb to imperialism. In Glauber's own words, earth in trance would be a "more movie poetic than fictional” (BENTES, 1997, p.274), narrated in the form of a flashback from the moment in which the intellectual Paulo Martins, on the brink of death, begins to recall his trajectory in the form of delirium. Through the portrayed characters, Glauber sought to outline the profile of the main characters of pre-1964 Brazil, a Brazil in which the national-popular, populism and authoritarianism disputed the nation's directions.

Paulo Martins, poet, journalist and militant, will be the one who, in the midst of events, will hesitate among the political forces in Eldorado that are vying for his support. ”On one side, Porfírio Diaz, the right-wing leader with whom Paulo was linked in his youth. On the other, Felipe Vieira, a populist leader with leftist overtones, to whom Paulo is attracted by Sara, a communist militant” (RAMOS, 1987, p.360). After forging a political alliance and becoming disappointed with Vieira, Paulo will return to Eldorado, where he will surrender to a “debauched life and the pleasures of the flesh. Called back to make a pact, now with Julio Fuentes, Paulo betrays Diaz. Fuentes ends up, however, uniting with Diaz, failing Vieira's experience, with whom Paulo linked up for the second time” (RAMOS, 1987, p.360). 

In a letter to Glauber Rocha, critic and filmmaker Jean Claude Bernardet, after commenting on the impact he suffered when watching the first showing of the film, characterizes Paulo Martins as a man whose “moral values ​​collide with political needs” (BENTES, 1997, p.285). This conflict between moral values ​​and the clash with political necessity will be the focus of the analysis that we will carry out ahead. Ismail Xavier, analyzing the film, divided it into twelve blocks, going from the moment when “death wounded, the poet remembers” (XAVIER, 1993, p.42), until the final moment of the film, where “the poet agonizes” (XAVIER, 1993, p.46). The analysis carried out below will focus on the sequence referring to the fifth block, the one in which “the poet returns to the 'hell' of Eldorado” (XAVIER, 1993, p.42).

Upon arriving at the movie theaters, earth in trance provoked intense debates in society, going beyond the walls of specialized criticism, thus occupying everything from opinion editorials in newspapers to the tribunes of the Senate and Chamber. In Glauber's own words, “the academic left attacked the film, saying it was fascist, the extreme left said it was a revolutionary film” (VALENTINETTI, 2002, p. 75). For Jean Claude Bernardet, a critic sympathetic to Glauber's work and to the new cinema, the film would represent "more a moral condemnation than a sociological analysis, it was written with hate, with anger, it is the work of someone who was mystified and mystified himself, based solid hopes on illusions, and wakes up" (BERNARDET, 1967, p.121). For the critic Ely Azeredo, opponent of the Cinema Novista group, Glauber's film "betrayed the first treatises of the movement, making a technically expensive and luxurious film, with an almost 1967% professional cast, a photographic direction that is brilliant when not intending to overshadow the spectator and an inventive musical track, although hampered by the excess that the director imposed on all sectors" (AZEREDO, 2, p. XNUMX).

According to Luís Geraldo Rocha, Azeredo's criticism, "in a way, was coherent, because earth in trance left behind the first ideals of the movement, based on Italian neorealism. Characteristic that made Cinema Novo known for the maxim a camera in hand and an idea in the head” (ROCHA, 2017, p. 81). For Claudio Valentinetti, Glauber's film would be a feature film of “rupture, of crisis” (VALENTINETTI, 2002, p.78), or even, “the expression of a dream on the edge of the abyss” (VALENTINETTI, 2002, p. 81). While critics and scholars have marked the film as Glauber's breaking point with the first phase of Cinema Novo, in a letter to Jean Claude Bernardet, the filmmaker points in the opposite direction by stating that: “Terra is a return to Barravento. It's not romantic. It is bitter, without reconciliation and so on” (BENTES, 1997, p.303). Comparing the excerpt from the correspondence, we can clearly see a similarity between Glauber's speech and Paulo Martins' own trajectory in the feature film.

Faced with the controversy at the time of the release of the feature film, the director did not escape the debate, in an article published in Newspapers in Brazil states that: “Those who used to call me a genius now call me an imbecile. I restore genius and imbecility. I am an underdeveloped intellectual like those gentlemen, but in the face of cinema and life, at least I have the courage to proclaim my perplexity” (ROCHA, 1967). The perplexity brought by Glauber in a way that is much more emotional than rational, will show the spectator, even if subjectively, the political and human degeneration of Brazilian society after the 1964 in trance it is the expression of a total, historical, social and psychological crisis. It is that moment of paradoxism in which traditional values ​​are no longer accepted, but the way to discern other values ​​has not yet been found” (VALENTINETTI, 2002, p.79).

Starting from the notion that the film is not a reflection of reality, but a mediated version of it, and agreeing that "fiction films that deal with problems of the present of historical interest that, although more marked by the imaginary, can be read as symptoms of their time" (LAGNY, 2012, p.26), I start from the premise that they can be worked as historical sources, because despite the fictional character "they offer quite vast possibilities as basic documents for historians of the present" (LA GNY, 2012, p.29). When working with earth in trance I believe it is possible to address numerous hypotheses as a historian, such as: the question of populism in Brazil and Latin America, imperialism and the cold war, the role of the left and intellectuals in the period and the film itself as an emblematic document of cinema novo. As already mentioned, the analysis will be restricted to the sequence in which, after returning to Eldorado, Paulo Martins will participate in one of the parties promoted by Julio Fuentes. In our interpretation, Paulo's going to that party with Dionysian airs brings to light the moral crisis of the intellectuals. After the defeat of the revolutionary project, the intellectual turns to the "charm of the bourgeoisie" as an escape route from the contradictions imposed in the fateful process.

Filmed in just over forty days in Rio de Janeiro, with a predominance of ambient light and still with the idea of ​​a camera in hand, we can observe in Glauber's film traces of influence from the Nouvelle Vague and Italian neorealism. Vavy Pacheco Borges points out that, despite his keen aesthetic sense, Glauber was far from mastering the practice of filming, as attested by the photographer of numerous New Cinema films, Dib Lufti, who operated the camera in Terra em Transe. According to him, the difficulty with the camera during filming was enormous, “Glauber pulled him by the arm the whole time, he had to teach him to be pulled by the back, by the belt of his pants to be free to film” (BORGES, 2017, p. 210).

The sequence in question shows Martins' return to Eldorado, or to hell in the words of Ismail Xavier, in Eldorado he will attend Julio Fuentes' parties, in addition to meeting Álvaro, his friend who succumbed to bourgeois pressure in a previous moment, and Silvia, his old passion. For Xavier, she would be the “pole opposite to Sara in his life. One appears associated with reason and political commitment, while the other appears associated with drunkenness” (XAVIER, 1993, p.43), keynote of the sequence, where a disenchanted Martins will “dispel his political hangover” (XAVIER, Idem, ibidem).

It should be clarified that the set of scenes starring the character Paulo Martins form a narrative unit, that is, a sequence with a beginning, middle and end within the film. Thus, based on the vision brought by Ismail Xavier, for whom: “classically, it used to be said that a film is made up of sequences – smaller units of it, marked by their dramatic function and/or by their position in the narrative. Each sequence would consist of scenes – each part endowed with a space-time unit” (XAVIER, 2005, p.27). Thus, as it contains a set of different scenes separated by cuts, we have only one sequence. If the same narrative unit had been filmed by Glauber Rocha uninterruptedly, that is, without cutting, we would have a sequence-shot.

In the scenario designed by Rocha, the character Julio Fuentes represents the progressive bourgeoisie, the worldly, cosmopolitan face of high society. ”In opposition to Diaz's religious asceticism, he animates the local high society and manages sex in the capital” (XAVIER, 1993, p.55) activating the sensorial part of the characters.

The sequence of just over nine minutes begins with Paulo Martins walking down the corridor of a gallery in Eldorado, the camera in a horizontal position representing Martins' perspective for the viewer (frames 1 and 2) who, when walking, denotes his bitterness. As he wandered through that space, Paulo lamented the loss of his sense of political action, there were no more dreams, only his burning flesh that was there. Leaving the gallery, we have an abrupt cut to a nightclub, where Julio Fuentes leads one of his parties, here the viewer has the clear perception that the scene is filmed with the camera in hand.

Frames 1 and 2

Alternating detail, medium and American shots, we can see the appearance of a character dancing for the camera, reproducing a choreography that evokes Dionysian rituals, when a cut is made to the figure of Fuentes who, like a maestro, commands the party (frames 3, 4 and 5). When observing the scene, we can perceive elements that refer to the sacred and the profane. The sacred in dance, in Fuentes' posture and the profane in sensory perception, one can even think of an allusion to the internal conflict experienced by Martins. A new cut, and from a general shot reaching the very close-up, Paulo Martins warmly kisses one of the girls at the party (photogram 6), while a saxophonist from the musical group appears on the scene, here we have the clear influence of the nouvelle vague when he presents a jazz group cradling the scene.

Frames 3, 4, 5 and 6

With a general plan Fuentes brings to the scene the character of Silvia, a character played by Danuza Leão, a frequent figure in the society columns of the time, bringing a figure like Danuza to represent the character, explicit Fuentes' encounter with the bourgeoisie, with his world. Amidst the hubbub of the characters, Fuentes declares the “permanent state of joy in Eldorado and welcomes the presence of the “poet and patriot” Martins (photograms 7 and 8).

Frames 7 and 8

Always with the camera close to the characters, starting from the long shot to the very close-up, it is noted that Glauber intends to represent Paulo Martins as a shipwrecked man who is devoured by his contradictions as a political, intellectual subject and himself in relation to his place in society. This feeling of imminent drowning is broken from the moment that in the background, Silvia appears, who will be the one who will save him in the engulfed sea.

Frame 9 and 10

The party continues with Fuentes appearing as master of ceremonies, extolling joy, hedonism, but whenever the camera focuses on Martins, his expression is one of pain or discomfort (frames 9 and 10). In the midst of the sacred/profane ritual commanded by Fuentes, the character Álvaro appears in a detailed shot that recalls the image of Che Guevara dead in the jungles of Bolivia, again the allegory of the revolutionary who succumbs. If Guevara was shot down by Bolivian forces in the middle of the forest, Álvaro succumbs to the pleasures offered by Fuentes.

Frames 11 and 12

After being put face to face with Silvia, Fuentes holds Martins and proclaims that “the masses should invade the palaces, or they should go to the guerrillas. Alternating at this moment between the horizontal position and the subjective camera, Glauber seems to want to demonstrate more and more the existential dilemma that afflicts the intellectual. Allegorically, Fuentes, opening Paulo Martins' shirt, at the same time as he calls on the masses to seek, challenge the intellectual to go to the final fight (photograms 13 and 14).

After the tycoon Fuentes speaks, we have a cut and Martins appears with Sonia in a long shot (photogram 15), in a new cut the two are at the young bourgeois's house. Starting from against plongée for a long shot, Paulo Martins holding Silvia by the hands makes a speech of guilt for having returned to Eldorado and rehearses his return to Alecrim. It is worth highlighting the background scenery that highlights Silvia's bourgeois character and the intellectual embodied by Martins at the same time (photogram 16). An abrupt cut to the club at the end of the party, while the close-up camera shows the drummer playing tired, as if he were at his limit, one of the guests dances evoking the character of Anita Ekberg in The sweet life, by Fellini (frame 17). The sequence ends when “Sara rescues the poet in Eldorado” (XAVIER, 1993, p.46) (photogram 18).

Frames 13, 14, 15 and 16

As a final part of the analysis, it is worth highlighting the soundtrack, considering that it meets the classification coined by Ismail Xavier, classifying it as diegetic, as it is linked to everything that happens in the course of the narrative, including the musicians taking part in the scene. According to Xavier: “this diegetic world must present itself as a continuous whole in development, balanced, responsible for the events that the spectator follows and motivator of the procedures used by the narrator” (XAVIER, 2005, p. 62). 

The photography, light, colors, shapes and contrasts brought by Glauber in the sequence under analysis are dominated by dark tones, in addition to an obvious solution because the setting is a nightclub, I believe that the dark tone is also used to denote Paulo Martins' doubts and anguish. Throughout the sequence we find elements that evoke not only high society parties, but also nouvelle vague films and Italian neorealism.

Frames 17 and 18

Finally, it should be noted that earth in trance, is not a loose film in time, space and Glauber's filmography. Despite the different structure, there is a close connection between the feature and God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun, his previous film and with the following, The Dragon of Evil against the Holy Warrior (Cláudio Valentinetti, for example, would also include Barravento), according to the filmmaker in an interview given when releasing the third film, the feature would be: “a kind of conclusion of a maturation phase of certain elements to make me feel freer now” (VALENTINETTI,2002,p.95). By stopping the filmic analysis of this scene by Paulo Martins, it becomes clear not only the bond between the filmmaker and his character, but also a kind of reckoning between Glauber and his own fractures generated in that year that did not end (ARANTES, 2014, p. 205-236).

After all, “it is possible to affirm that every social group suffers, in some way, from the effects of its own unconsciousness. Both the passages of his history relegated to oblivion and the demands (...) whose anxieties find no means of expressing themselves are “unconscious” (KEHL, 2014, p.124), thus the delivery of Paulo Martins to the hedonism proposed by Fuentes would be a way of healing the wounds brought by the “defeat” suffered in the previous period and at the same time an attempt to resist in a way that escaped the orthodox scheme defended by some political groupings in the period.

* Daniel Costa is a historian from UNIFESP.


ARANTES, Paulo Eduardo. 1964, the year that didn't end. In: TELES, Edson; SAFATLE, Vladimir (eds.). What remains of the dictatorship: the Brazilian exception. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

AZEREDO, Eli. For cinema without magic. Journal of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, May 17, 1967. In: ROCHA, Luis Geraldo. Ely Azeredo's film review of Glauber Rocha's Terra em Transe (1967) in Jornal do Brasil. In: Revista Mediação, Belo Horizonte, v. 19, no. 25, Jul./Dec. from 2017.

BENTS, Ivana. (org.). Glauber Rocha. letters to the world. São Paulo: Editora Companhia das Letras, 1997.

BERNARDET, Jean-Claude. Brazil in cinema time. Rio de Janeiro: Publisher

Brazilian Civilization, 1967.

BORGES, Vavy Pacheco. Ruy War. Open passion. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2017.

CAPDENAC, Michel. Colloquium with Rocha. In: Cinema Sessanta, n. 65-66. Rome: 1967.

KEHL, Maria Rita. Torture and social symptom. In: TELES, Edson; SAFATLE, Vladimir (eds.). What remains of the dictatorship: the Brazilian exception. São Paulo: Boitempo, 2014.

LAGNY, Michele. Audiovisual images and History of the Present Time. In: Revista Tempo e Argumento, Florianópolis. Vol. 4, no. 1, Jan. de 2012. LUIZ, José Victor Regadas. Terra em Transe and the 1964 coup.

GARCIA, Miliandre. Cinema novo: popular culture revisited. In: History: Questions & Debates, Curitiba: Editora UFPR, 2003.

RAMOS, Fernando. (org.). History of Brazilian Cinema. São Paulo: Art Editora, 1987.

__________________. Fifty years of Terra em Transe and a certain ethical crisis in 1968. In: Revista Fevereiro, São Paulo: 2017. Available at:

ROCHA, Glauber. A cinema of courage. Journal of Brazil. Rio de Janeiro, May 21, 1967.

_____________. Interview with Glauber Rocha about his film “Antonio das Mortes. In: Cine Cubano, no. 60-62. Havana, 1969.

ROCHA, Luiz Geraldo. A film review by Ely Azeredo on the film Terra em Transe (1967), by Glauber Rocha in Jornal do Brasil. In: Revista Mediação, Belo Horizonte, v. 19, no. 25, Jul./Dec. from 2017.

VALENTINETTI, Claudio M. Glauber. A European look. São Paulo: Instituto Lina and PM Bardi, 2002.

XAVIER, Ismail. Allegories of underdevelopment. São Paulo: Brasiliense, 1993.

🇧🇷 Cinematographic discourse: opacity and transparency. São Paulo: Editora Paz & Terra, 2005.

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