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  Black God White Devil A Rock And A Hard Place
Year: 1964
Director: Glauber Rocha
Stars: Geraldo Del Rey, Yoná Magalhães, Othon Bastos, Maurício do Valle, Lidio Silva, Sonia Dos Humildes, João Gama, Antônio Pinto, Milton Rosa, Roque Santos
Genre: Western, Drama, WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Manuelo (Geraldo Del Rey) is struggling through life as a cow farmer in the desert-like plains of Northern Brazil when he happens to ride past a religious cult led by Sebastião (Lido Silva), a self proclaimed holy man. Manuelo can't help but be impressed by the devotion he sees, and this plants a seed in his mind, so that when he returns home to his wife Rosa (Yoná Magalhães) and mother he is filled with ambition to better his lot. He now plans to get some cows to replace the ones which have died: surely he and his boss can come to some arrangement?

A key film in Brazil's Cinema Novo movement of the sixties, Black God White Devil, or Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol if you were a native, was a highly political work from Glauber Rocha, bringing him to the attention of the world and offering him the mantle of Brazil's greatest director. There's no doubt that this effort will mean most to those well versed in that country's history, and to others less informed it has become known as the Brazilian version of Alejandro Jodorowsky's El Topo for its stark western-style imagery and strange atmosphere.

On the other hand, Black God White Devil isn't quite as impenetrable as all that, as Rocha meant it to be understood by his countrymen as the way he saw their drawbacks and how they must shake them off. Not that his lead character Manuelo does a great job of doing so, as he tends to stumble through the rambling narrative in the thrall of other, more powerful characters, from priests to bandits. I suppose he is intended as an everyman type, showing how easily led the general public of his land were when it came to relying on religion and crime to get by.

So Manuelo is no saint - that kind of thing is left to Sebastião - and after a disagreement between him and his entirely unreasonable boss, he ends up killing him with a machete: a slight overreaction, you might think, but his livelihood was on the line and the boss was breaking the law in not giving him what was his right, so Manuelo breaks the law in getting his revenge. As you might expect, this act sends him into a spiralling crisis of conscience which lands him and Rosa into the arms of Sebastião, a dodgy presence at best who preaches a form of Christianity that leans heavily on masochism and sickening sacrifice.

Self-punishment that does not only take the methods of having Manuelo carry a large rock up a mountain, but also sees his baby put to death by the twisted priest - not a scene which is dwelt upon, thankfully, but illustrates the extremes religious fanaticism can take. Of course, the more official kind can be just as ruthless, and the Catholic authorities order bandit Antonio das Mortes (Maurício do Valle, who would return in a follow-up) to massacre every single one of the cult members. Well, every one except the hapless Manuelo and Rosa, who are spared to be witnesses, and end up wandering around the desert with Antonio's great rival Corisco (Orthon Bastos). At one point someone asks if it's really necessary to use violence to solve your problems and disagreements, and the answer Rocha endorses is no, that way lies a vicious circle of degradation that we would be better to rise above. By the end we hope that Manuelo has learned this lesson, however cruelly. Music by Sérgio Ricardo, which lifts this tale to an operatic level.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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