(Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Brazil, 1969) 108 minutes


Director: Joaquim Pedro de Andrade
Producer: Joaquim Pedro de Andrade
Screenplay: Joaquim Pedro de Andrade
based on the novel by Mario de Andrade
Cinematography: Guido Cosulich, Affonso Beato
Editor: Eduardo Escorel
Grande Otelo (Black Macunaima)
Paolo Jose (White Macunaima)
Dina Sfat (Ci)
Milton Goncalves (Jigue)
Rodolfo Arena (Maanape)
Jardel Filho (Wenceslau Pietro Pietra)

Reviews and notes

It's difficult for those not immersed in Brazilian culture to get a handle on the significance of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's surreal farce, MACUNAIMA. It's an undeniably silly and crude movie, but as with the novel it's based on, the film offers a far-reaching and surprisingly cogent analysis of Brazilian society at the time of its production.

De Andrade offers a broadly amusing critique of racial stereotypes. Macunaima (Grande Otelo), "a hero with no character," is a lazy whiner from the moment of his birth. His magical transformation into a white man (Paulo Jose) does nothing to change his nature, but has a tremendous effect on how others see him. The film's one true revolutionary character, the sexually aggressive Ci (Dina Sfat, Jose's wife at the time), pointedly blows herself up. An Italian industrialist, Pietro Pietra (Jardel Filho) steals the muiraquita, Macunaima's cultural legacy, and seems to devour half the country. Literally. Cannibalism is a pervasive theme of the film, from the hero's bizarrely funny encounter with an ogre who offers the hungry Macunaima a piece of flesh from his own leg, to the film's gory climax at Pietro Pietra's wedding.

These metaphorical allusions give the seemingly lightweight film a surprising allegorical heft. For all its aesthetic shortcomings and its occasionally impenetrable (to the outsider) politics, it's startling to realize that the film was produced shortly after a military dictatorship had placed severe constraints on artistic freedom in Brazil, which could easily have crippled the nascent Cinema Novo movement. Macunaima's low-minded vulgarity served the function of disguising the film's higher aims and circumventing the censorious mindset of the times.
- Josh Ralske, All Movie Guide,

A compendium of legend, myths and of the Brazilian soul, based on the classic work by Mario de Andrade, the film became one of the most authentic cult movies in Brazilian cinema.

MACUNAIMA innovated on the aesthetics of Cinema Novo, incorporating elements of slapstick comedy and transfiguring facts from political life that permeate the epic description of Macunaima`s wanderings among figures from popular mythology. An emblematic film from the late sixties, the film brought a heritage of modernism up to date and established the much desired link between Cinema Novo and the public. In the words of poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade: "The film is a feast, charming, a whirl, charcoal-broiled, a knock on the head, time to laugh and to expel taenia that imperil the intestinal tract."

The film was awarded a number of prizes: at the Bras?lia Film Festival, for instance, MACUNAIMA was awarded Candango prizes for actor (Grande Otelo), supporting actor (Jardel Filho), plot, script, dialog, scenery, and costume (both by Anisio Medeiros); at the Mar del Plata Film Festival (Argentina), it won the Grand Golden Condor Prize; and at the New York New Cinema Festival, the Aquarius Prize for Script.
- notes from the 30th Mostra Internacional de Cinema em S?o Paulo.

Weblink: A Film Review by The Lumiere Reader of our screening.

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