Director: Glauber Rocha
Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists
El Dorado (a thinly disguised Brazil), the 1960s. At Senator Vieira’s palace, journalists and armed forces congregate. The President has demanded his resignation. Paulo, an idealistic poet/journalist asks Vieira to defy these orders but Vieira wants no resistance because of the civil war and bloodshed that would follow. Paulo leaves with Sara, Vieira’s secretary and denounces Vieira’s weakness. Driving through a roadblock, Paulo is fatally shot. What follows is Paulo’s life flashing before his eyes, a series of memories and events.
Several years before, Paulo was an associate of Diaz, a right-wing politician who carries the support of the religious establishment. He is Paulo’s role model and attempts to set up a political career for Paulo, but he wishes to choose his own path. Paulo visits Vieira, his populist left-wing rival, who explains his own political origins and ideology. Paulo soon realises that Vieira, despite his popular slogans, is just as part of the country’s problems as Diaz, unwilling to help the rural peasantry because he’s financed by wealthy farmers. Disillusioned, Paulo sinks into a life of bourgeois decadence. He makes a television documentary designed to undermine Diaz and supports Vieria’s presidential campaign. The right, headed by Diaz is setting in motion a coup, which returns to the film’s start of Vieira refusing to resist.
Glauber Rocha (‘Black God, White Devil’) is the most well known and respected director of the Cinema Novo movement, which flourished in Brazil in the 1960s. A remarkably creative and fertile period for film making, it sought to reflect the realities of life in Brazil such as the poverty and disadvantage experienced by the majority as well as modernise Brazilian national cinema. Crucial to this was the turbulent political climate in Brazil, which is at the very heart of ‘Entranced Earth’. In March 1964, the army organised a coup against the left-wing President Goulart, which resulted in two decades of military dictatorship. Although Rocha’s film is set in the fictional South American country of El Dorado, it’s quite obviously a reflection of events that were taking place in Brazil at the time. What’s surprising is that given this lack of subtlety, Rocha utilised state resources to make his film and avoided censorship in his home country.
‘Entranced Earth’ is not simply a leftist response to the right-wing coup though. Rocha isn’t even claiming that the left has the answers to solve the crisis in Brazil. Instead, his outlook is far bleaker; that Latin American politics is systematically corrupt and almost needs to be destroyed in order to start over. Within the current political system, even supposed reformers are blinded by their lust for power. Diaz is the voice of the right-wing establishment, backed by the church, army and international powers, and Paulo’s own television portrait of him is designed to undermine his political career, but his left-wing rival Vieira isn’t shown in any more of a sympathetic light. He’s considered gutless by Paulo for refusing to resist the coup and shown as all too readily betraying the rural peasants who are the backbone of his support. Vieira gives the impression of wanting to offer reform without actually backing these promises up. As Paulo suggests, at best he’s ‘paternalist’.
The El Dorado populace are also described by Paulo as idiots, so impressionable as to believe what they’re promised and too docile to ever take matters into their own hands. But what of the impetuous Paulo? A self-described anarchist who rejects both sides of the political spectrum (only choosing Vieira as the lesser of two evils but even then becoming disenchanted), perhaps he can be seen as the tortured soul of Brazil, let down by whichever candidate he associates with. Therefore it’s a never-ending scenario from which change is impossible.
Those who’ve seen ‘Black God White Devil’ will be used to Rocha’s unique cinematic style, which is 0ften complex and abstract. ‘Entranced Earth’ is deliberately alienating, to the point where it has been described by some as Brechtian. The central protagonists are almost stereotypes rather than fully-fledged human beings, representing their ideologies and political class in all their shortcomings and nothing more. The deliberately jarring editing, which often shows scenes repeated (when Sara visits Paulo at his newspaper offices) or cuts rapidly from one scene to another, sometimes with conversations taking place across different scenes, means further disorientation for the viewer. There’s a high level of artificiality running throughout the film, with realism left firmly behind. Influenced by the early Soviet masters such as Dovzhenko and Eisenstein (who influenced the Cinema Novo movement just as much as Italian neo-realism or the Nouvelle Vague), ‘Entranced Earth’ comes across as Soviet-style political propaganda, relying on poetry, symbolism and montages of iconic images rather than conventional narrative. The film ends precisely as ‘Black God White Devil’ began, with an overhead shot of the sea and then is shortly followed by the striking image taken in long shot of Paulo holding a gun to the sky; an image that recurs as the end of the film to represent Paulo’s desperate and ultimately futile individualistic mission. The overall effect is somewhat detached and difficult to follow, though one can be assured that second viewings and an understanding of the social, economic and political climate of the time certainly helps.
Rocha’s trilogy of political films about contemporary Brazil was completed with ‘Antonio Das Mortes’, which won the Best Director award at Cannes, and he shortly after left Brazil under voluntary exile. His work revived Brazilian cinema, placing it on the international map and the current generation of talented Brazilian film makers (including Walter Salles) surely owe a debt to him. Whilst ‘Entranced Earth’ can be a difficult cinematic experience at times, the ambition involved and the passion Rocha shows regarding the current state of his homeland makes it a fascinating, often dazzling landmark piece of cinema.
‘Entranced Earth’ was released on DVD on 23 February 2009 by Mr Bongo Films