Black God, White Devil

A key figure in Brazil's leftist Cinema Novo movement of the 60s, Glauber Rocha became a balladeer for the downtrodden with this 1964 allegory about blind faith among peasants in Brazil's poor, barren northeast. Manuel, a cowhand who's killed a rancher in a rage, seeks salvation with a Christlike mystic, then with the last of the bandits fighting the landowning gentry. His futile quest and its many detours—based partly on folk legends—are described by a troubadour who sings off camera. Rocha, who wrote the script and most of the lyrics, consciously uses iconography from Eisenstein (Potemkin, Que Viva Mexico), Buñuel (Nazarin), and Godard (Les carabiniers) to create a mise-en-scene that's decidedly European avant-garde, while he has the actors pose and speak in a deliriously theatrical manner derived from Brecht and Grotowski (Geraldo Del Ray is superb as the confused, impressionable Manuel). The fusion of European and Afro-Brazilian elements—dialogue, exquisite black-and-white images, and music by Villa-Lobos—is startlingly original and poetical in conveying the hope and despair of the oppressed.

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