“Cinema Novo is a project that is carried out in the politics of hunger, and, for this reason, suffers all the consequent weaknesses of its existence”, Glauber Rocha, one of the most influential filmmakers in Brazilian history, concluded in his manifesto “The Aesthetics of Hunger”, a fundamental text to understand the motivations and dilemmas of one of the most important artistic movements in Brazilian history. Inspired by the French Nouvelle Vague movement and Italian Neorealist cinema, the Cinema Novo was born of the desire of young filmmakers to portray the reality of the country in a critical manner that eschewed Hollywood norm, without any masks. With a typically Brazilian aesthetic, the works reveal the inequalities of Brazil in an unprecedented way.
Beginning in the first half of the 1960s, directors disgruntled with the big companies that prioritized the so-called chanchadas (Hollywood-inspired musical comedies with carnival and burlesque themes) started producing a new style of cinema in Brazil, with low-budget productions and a much stronger focus on originality.
“The Cinema Novo goes deeper into the issue of popular representation. It’s this idea of bringing the people to the screen, showing the faces, customs, ways of being and political dilemmas of the middle class. That is the strongest trait of Cinema Novo,” says Fernão Pessoa Ramos, professor of the Department of Cinema of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), who credits filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos, who created classics such as Rio 40 Graus (1954) and Rio Zona Norte (1957) as “the father of all” directors of Cinema Novo.
Ramos, who is one of the organizers of “New History of Brazilian Cinema”, a compilation with a detailed panorama of the entire Brazilian cinematographic history, highlights three essential factors that one must take into account to understand the Cinema Novo.
The first is the stylistic aspect, symbolized by Glauber Rocha’s famous motto: “a camera in your hand, an idea in your head”, which synthesizes the new cinematographic experience sought by the filmmakers of the time.
The second is the new mode of production created by the directors in the country, with completely original techniques and resources. And, finally, the movement was characterized by its generational aspect, marked by the rise of young directors advocating a complete rupture with the type of cinema being produced in the country.
In addition to innovating in artistic, aesthetic and ideological aspects, the Cinema Novo also marks an era of technological modernization in the national audiovisual sector. The new equipment, techniques and materials that emerged in the 1960s were fundamental to the success of the movement, Ramos explained.
“There is no ideology without new techniques. The technological part was essential. The new imaging and sound technologies that boomed in the 1960s range from photographic emulsion to new lenses, to lighter cameras, to sound. One cannot think of Cinema Novo without these new technologies of the 1960s. They were essential,” he says.
Directors and Films
In Cinema Novo: a luta por uma estética nacional (“Cinema Novo: The Struggle for a National Aesthetics”), Professor Alexandre Figueirôa, a PhD in Cinematographic and Audiovisual Studies by the University of Paris III Sorbonne-Nouvelle, reports that Brazilian audiences were first introduced to Cinema Novo expressions in 1962 with The Unscrupulous Ones (1963), by Ruy Guerra. Guerra was one of the main exponents of the movement, and would later direct important films such as The Guns (1963) and Of Gods and the Undead (1970).
Other directors that helped define Cinema Novo include Paulo César Saraceni (The Dare, Arraial do Cabo, Porto das Caixas), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (Couro de Gato, Garrincha: Hero of the Jungle, Macunaíma), Leon Hirszman (Pedreira de São Diogo, The Deceased) and Cacá Diegues (Escola de Samba Alegria de Viver, Ganga Zumba, A Grande Cidade), among others.
Despite the great contribution of their works, none of these directors was as representative for Cinema Novo as Bahia-native Glauber Rocha. Born in 1939, he led the discussions on the need for a truly national cinema in Brazil. In addition to award-winning films such as Entranced Earth (1967) and Antonio das Mortes (1969), Rocha is the author of Black God, White Devil (1964), one of the most important works of all history of Brazilian cinema and the main symbol of Cinema Novo.
“I see Black God, White Devil as the turning point in Cinema Novo. I think it’s a key film, because it breaks with the realistic tradition of neorealism and proposes a new perspective of fragmentation,” says Fernão Ramos. “It’s a movie ahead of its time,” he concluded.