Brazil’s Cinema Novo (New Cinema) movement

Cinema Novo (New Cinema) developed in Brazil in the early 1960s through the heterogeneous production of young filmmakers such as Nelson Pereira dos Santos (b. 1928), Glauber Rocha (1931–1981), Ruy Guerra (b. 1931), Carlos Diegues (b. 1940), and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1932–1988). “Cinema Novo is only part of a larger process transforming Brazilian society and reaching, at long last, the cinema,” wrote Diegues in 1962.

Theirs was a political intervention against neocolonialism, bred by the revolutionary wave that shook Latin America under the spell of the Cuban Revolution (1959), the expectations generated by the developmental policies of President Juscelino Kubitschek (1955–1961) and the radical populism of Jânio Quadros and João Goulart (1961–1964), who, in alliance with the left intelligentsia, projected ambitious social reforms. (Under the pressure of traditional landowners and transnational corporations, Goulart was finally deposed by the military. The coup inaugurated the era of “authoritarian” regimes responsible for introducing the neoliberal adjustments that would convert the region’s national economies to the demands of global capitalism.) But theirs was also a countercultural strategy in search of an alternative aesthetic to the mass consumption of genre films churned out in Hollywood, and an alternative mode of production to the industrialized studio system, whose high costs of production and dependence on large markets made it utterly inadequate for Brazil, as the failure of the Vera Cruz studios had dramatically demonstrated.

Film journals and cine clubs fostered a critique of Brazilian cinema and a debate about whether to build a strong film industry with state support or to pursue a low-cost production system that would encourage experimentation. The new strategy, based on location filming, intensive camera work, and nonprofessional actors, was part of Italian neorealism, whose bare aesthetic captured so vividly the complexity of social reality, and French Nouvelle Vague, whose avant-garde aesthetic and philosophical musings offered a seductive critique of Western modernity. Adapted to the Brazilian milieu through the lens of Third World anti-imperialism, European avant-garde ideas became a means for political antagonism. Differing from both Hollywood films, which were conceived as entertainment and instilled passivity in the consumer, and European auteur cinema, which was conceived as art and portrayed existential angst and social alienation, Brazilian cinema produced a social and political critique of colonialism and neocolonialism. It was, as Diegues alleged, a committed and critical cinema: “Brazilian filmmakers have taken their cameras and gone out into the streets, the country, and the beaches in search of the Brazilian people, the peasant, the worker, the fisherman, the slum dweller.” While Hollywood aestheticized politics and the Nouvelle Vague politicized aesthetics, Cinema Novo, alongside Cuban Imperfect Cinema and Argentinean Third Cinema, tried to forge a dialectics of avant-garde aesthetic and revolutionary politics.

Contrary to the soothing continuity of classical films, Cinema Novo assailed the spectator and her or his most unquestioned values, through the extensive employment of Brechtian and Eisenstenian techniques of distancing (such as discontinuous and vertical editing), jump-cuts and image saturation, and theatrical acting and social symbolism. The spectator was not allowed to remain passive or relaxed but instead was disturbed and interpellated by “films of discomfort” made out of “crude images and muffled dialogue, unwanted noise on the soundtrack, editing accidents, and unclear credits and titles.” “Guerrilla” Cinema Novo demanded a noncontemplative, aesthetically active, and politically committed viewer.

Of course, this is the core of Cinema Novo’s fundamental paradox: it attempted to become a popular art form and a tool for political liberation through a nonpopulist and nonpaternalistic strategy. However, despite the filmmakers’ awareness that the basis for a revolutionary cinema is its capacity to build a sustainable public, their films were only popular among intellectuals, connoisseurs, and film critics worldwide. They rarely succeeded in attracting “the masses.” Moreover, they naively overestimated their ability to penetrate foreign markets beyond the festival circuit, and, because of their lack of resources, they paradoxically came to depend on distributors and exhibitors for postproduction financing, that is, on those agents who ultimately controlled the market. Theirs was, in a nutshell, a strategy of political awareness (Paulo Freire’s ” concientizaçao “) and aesthetic modernization in which politics and aesthetics became one through radicalizing Western avant-gardism, while rejecting its direction.

— Courtesy

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