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The 'Cangaceiro' and Two Limas

by Andrea Ormond

       For some reason, the vulture landed on the luck of two Limas Barretos. Affonso Henriques de Lima Barreto (1881-1922), named after a Portuguese king, used to watch his father - an alienated man, former director of an insane asylum -, write or walk for miles in Rio de Janeiro. From downtown to the beaches, from there to the suburbs. He would drink, pass out, they would find him in the gutter. Just him: the great one, the grumpy one, the misunderstood one. The writer.

         Victor Lima Barreto (1906-1982), no relation to the previous one, used to fish lambaris. He was beaten with a quince stick, like a sad and angry animal. He jumped over bonfires in São João in Casa Branca, São Paulo. He wanted to be a painter, but they wouldn't let him. A violinist, impossible. They determined he would be a priest. He refused. Just him: the great, the grumpy, the misunderstood. The movie director.

       Victor still achieved glory during his lifetime with O Cangaceiro (1953), a very strange glory that evaporated. After his success, he became an unqualified ogre. Affonso was revitalized in 1952 - a year before O Cangaceiro - in the biography written by Francisco de Assis Barbosa. Today he is on the verge of becoming a canon in literature. Victor, no. He is dead and remains so. At most, one remembers him as a "Cannes Film Festival award-winner". But the author is veiled in sand. It seems that the film has sprouted, centrifuged, withered. 

          O Cangaceiro is the fruit not only of Victor, but of an industrial ecosystem that allowed the emergence of the Vera Cruz Film Company (1949-1954): "From the blessed plateau [of São Paulo] to the screens of the world". In turn, Vera Cruz imported the editor Oswald Hafenrichter - Austrian, who worked on Mädchen in Uniform (1930), by Leontine Sagan, and was regarded with wonder by Mauro Alice, future developer of his own style. O Cangaceiro is also a product of Chick Fowle's photography - the contrasts of darkness and light in the 'sertão' that was not his, an Englishman brought to Brazil by Alberto Cavalcanti. It was the imaginary hinterland that Fowle handed over to Victor and that Victor, a baroque creator - so baroque as to make one of the most expressive short films in Brazilian cinema, Santuário (1952) - incorporated into his own heritage.

       "My hinterland is bigger than yours": the filmmakers liked to compete, like kids at playtime - or in the bathroom. In the following decade, we had Nelson Pereira dos Santos - Vidas Secas (1963) -; Glauber Rocha - Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964) -; Ruy Guerra - Os fuzis (1964) -; Roberto Santos - A hora e vez de Augusto Matraga (1966). Sertão was a symbol, a package of mysticism and tragedy, which expressed a liquefied vision of Brazil. 

         It took a while for the lightness and exploitation to arrive. Adriano Stuart made fun of the "cangaço" in the anthropophagic Kung Fu contra as bonecas (1975). Capitão Bandeira contra o Dr. Moura Brasil (1971), Antonio Calmon's first feature film, gave the lyrics when he debauched an actor who grew a beard to get the role of a cangaceiro or a hippie. O rei do cagaço, by Edgard Navarro (1977), brought scatology in the title, to make fun of Lampião's nickname. As cangaceiras eróticas (1974), directed by Roberto Mauro, focused on the escapades of orphaned and vengeful women. Orgia ou o homem que deu cria (1970) broke the testosterone by putting pregnant cangaceiros, people with glitter. Garrastazu Médici censored it - so did Glauber, how audacious of a João Silvério Trevisan, a country boy who had left the seminary and started to rethink.

       I doubt that the critic Salvyano Cavalcanti de Paiva, supposed creator of the term "nordestern", would have imagined that sex would contaminate the sacred cup of sertanejo films: a mixture of cowboys, epiphany and dry land. 

       The big question is to understand what this "sertão" is. Those initiated in Brazil know that since the hereditary captaincies, the coast and the interior are two faces of the country. Caiçara, bugre. Indigenous, black, Portuguese. Bandeirantes leaving São Paulo and cutting their way inland to Goiás and Minas Gerais. Barons hiring bandits - among them, Lampião -, with the blessings of Padre Cícero and the gentle deputy Floro Bartolomeu. 

       The Sertões are many. They are not limited to the caatinga. Aesthetics vary. The cosmic miner, Guimarães Rosa; the Rio de Janeiro of rigor (Euclides da Cunha) or of terror (Coelho Netto); the Goiania that lit up cattle droves, Cora Coralina; so many. Creatures from distant geographies that talk about different hinterlands, breathtaking to behold.

           In Victor's case, he was young when he heard in São Paulo the epics of Virgulino. Remember that Victor was the baroque man, who refused to be a priest, but returned to the conflict as if suffering from the Stockholm syndrome. In O Cangaceiro, the basis is exactly this. The spiritual struggle between the characters. Teodoro (Alberto Ruschel) embodies the educated bandit, raised by priests. Captain Galdino Ferreira (Milton Ribeiro), the dread. And it is from Victor's lips, who jumps in front of the cameras as an actor, that the curse comes: "Galdino, filthy and cowardly dog! He beats his chest with hatred, the hatred of those who want to be righteous, in a scene that - stitched by Hafenrichter's editing, with several action focuses - is one of the climaxes of O Cangaceiro

            Many compare the film to John Ford's style. Vera Cruz's Monument Valley was, in fact, an open pasture in the interior of São Paulo. Since the company was already in a bad way and out of money, the crew did not travel far. 

          It is evident that the favorite Brazilian film of critic Antonio Moniz Vianna - second to Walter Hugo Khouri's Noite Vazia (1964) - has the atmosphere of the American one. One perceives the solitude of the righteous man, on the lookout for nature, on the lookout for the division of Christian values - Protestant and Anglo-Saxon - between men and women. One perceives, finally, a cosmogony, the absolute that alters the life of whoever passes through territory to which he was not invited. After making revolutions in human beings, the greater force makes it clear that everything will remain the same. The corpse of Theodore disappears from one frame to another. The grass grows. Time must have passed. Galdino probably did not resist Theodoro's bullet. All the same, nothing new under the sun. 

           The sorrowful songs and the clear-dark moonlight dominate O Cangaceiro. However, it is better to understand the violence that Lima Barreto puts into the script and is typical of his aggressive, sadistic style. The bandit Mané Molé (Adoniram Barbosa - yes, you read right, and it was on the set that Adoniram met the Demônios da Garoa) is humiliated by a girl kidnapped by the gang (Neusa Veras). She shouts that the men are chickens, cowards. "The more gun, the more fear." 

          In backgrounds here and there, we see parrots, women washing clothes and making straw baskets, men drinking coffee. At the beginning of the film, a cabocla praying before the altar recalls Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, from ten years later, whose religiosity is incomparably greater and hysterical, distinct from the rationalism of O Cangaceiro. Lima Barreto suggests rape - taboo when dealing with the heroically exalted hinterlands. In the flash, at the slightest instant, a child cries for having lost his button box - the little one's whole world could be there. 

           The scrutinizing eye still appears in the dialogue between Teodoro and the indigenous man who passes by in a canoe. Sertão is not only about guns and rushing about, it has anthropological data that Lima has refined. After all, he was a fervent Euclidian. At first, the scene shows the spectator the desire of the characters to speak as equals - they don't speak Portuguese, but the language of the canoe driver. But if we think further, deep down we don't know if Teodoro's priests were Jesuits, wholesale converters of souls. If so, the supposed equality would be a mere game between the faithful and the pagan. 

            Theodore, the faithful, wants to save the world, guilty of the crimes of the past. He wants to save the teacher Olivia (Marisa Prado), another woman kidnapped by the gang. Maria Clódia (Vanja Orico), also part of the gang, is now defenestrated from the boy's heart, enchanted by Olívia's beauty and the promise of urbanity, in the midst of rapists and thieves. 

            Galdino frees birds from cages and has a special code of conduct, but he is a feudal lord: he collects taxes - he steals whatever he can get his hands on -, controls faith - he takes a priest's horse -, applies the law - he brands faces with iron - and distributes justice - he frees prisoners from jail, forces his partner to help a lady. No one enters the fiefdom. Not even the government engineers, who try to build a road. "Don't get involved in the hinterland, I'm in charge here. They are isolated and swallowed up on all sides.

        Lima Barreto had the idea for O Cangaceiro and fought for it, taking it to Vera Cruz - where he worked since Painel (1950), the company's first short film. The doyen Alberto Cavalcanti said no. Franco Zampari, one of the owners of the company, said no. Until the vice-president, Caio Pinto Guimarães, accepted. 

         Victor then went to settle the dialogues with Rachel de Queiroz, author of the play Lampião. He debated the songs with the singer Zé do Norte, who claimed to be the author of "Mulé Rendêra" - even though the journalist-composer Nestor de Holanda defended with his feet that "Mulé Rendêra" was a song, as old as the clay floor, with lyrics that changed according to the region of the northeast. The chronicler of A Noite also revealed the backstage of the film. Zé wanted to sue Vera Cruz for playing the accordion and singing in Raquel's house, at Victor's request, but the songs were credited to maestro Gabriel Migliori. In another amusing anecdote, Nestor de Holanda invited an ex-cangaceiro cousin to the movies. A luxurious former bandit: Francisco, a member of the Ceará volantes and a deserter from Lampião's own gang, who shot him in the leg during combat. Francisco hated the film and laughed. According to him, it was perfumery. In the "cangaço", the "cangaceiros" dressed up as monkeys (soldiers from the volantes) and the monkeys dressed up as "cangaceiros". Thus, they confused among themselves.

          Francisco's imaginary could even be that, but Lima's - a creator in front of the false mirror of the work - didn't need to be. In fact, it wasn't. Right at the beginning, he places a card to situate the story. "Epoch: Imprecise: When there were still cangaceiros." Vague, loose sign. He idealized a place that was not his, nor his customs - the lambaris from Casa Branca did not appear in the São Francisco River. 

        The link between Padre Cícero and Virgulino would hardly have been left out if he lived there. Lima Barreto's anticlerical obsession appeared throughout his trajectory. Aleijadinho's crosses and statues plague a man in Santuário. The First Mass (1961) sounds pleasant in catechetical terms but portrays a sordid childhood. In another script that he didn't get to shoot, he left the rubric: "The child, sucking on the breast, while the priest's voice continues the boring reading." 

         Despite the physical distance, Lima captured Lampião's well-known narcissism. He didn't even need the crutch of Benjamin Botto's films, confiscated by the Getulists and recreated in Perfumed Ball (1996) - with the due poetic licenses - by Lírio Ferreira and Paulo Caldas. Benjamin's original (almost suicidal) images would have helped the costumes by Carybé, an Argentine artist living in Bahia. 

        O Cangaceiro manipulated with grace the love affair between Virgulino and the cameras. Probably to recall the episode when the goat took aspirin from Bayer, a German photographer was put on the scene to take a portrait of the gang. Suddenly, the camera becomes subjective, a rare effect for 1953.  Even more so from a formal point of view, since O Cangaceiro is almost always didactic, from the conductor Gabriel Migliori's fanfares in the opening, which recall Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940) and flow into the pasmosa "Mulé Rendêra". The actors - especially Marisa Padro, Alberto Ruschel, and Milton Ribeiro - sound square, predictable.

         Vera Cruz's melting pot transformed O Cangaceiro into the most seen Brazilian film up to that time, inside and outside the country. It was awarded the prize for best adventure film at the Cannes Film Festival - the Golden Palm would come to O Pagador de Promessas (1962), by Anselmo Duarte. The panther of external recognition impacted O Cangaceiro in such a way that the bankruptcy of Vera Cruz in 1954 sounds incredible, despite the money that circulated. It circulated through the wrong pipes, through Columbia, the distributor in the international market, instead of Zampari's company. The hole was huge, the costs of making the film were not completely covered, and the daily competition from other studios added up. 

          What cannot be explained, however, is Lima Barreto's abandonment, on the black wings of the vulture that flapped on his back. Known for his "difficult temperament", he disappeared. He became a legend, maybe a Boitatá. He appeared sporadically in the press to spit fire on his geniality. Correio da Manhã - Moniz Vianna's mother cell - published a statement on 6/23/1964, in the best style "my sertão is bigger than yours":

The "cinematographic Northeast" has its days numbered. When, after "Quelé do Pajeú" and "O Sertanejo", I complete the trilogy, the theme will be exhausted in its most striking aspects - unless a photogenic studio Northeast is invented, like the bad American filmmakers did with the western and the cowboy who is now nothing but a perfumed peralvilho. In the two films mentioned I promise to exhaust the subject. Then the concrete highways, electrification, schools, agriculture and the consequent industrialization of the Northeast will bury forever the cowboys, fanatics, caatingas and bandits with starry hats...

         As it turns out, he was not good at guessing. The future didn't correspond. Victor also took the opportunity to subtly induce the idea that the locations of O Cangaceiro had been original, instead of the Paulista shanty towns. 

           He wrote feverishly and left scripts that ended up with colleagues. Walter Lima Jr. used part of the scripts in Inocência (1983) and Ele, o Boto (1987) - both after the author's death in 1982. Before that, Alberto Ruschel - Teodoro from Cangaceiro - made Pontal da Solidão (1978). In 1969, Quelé do Pajeú stopped in Anselmo Duarte's hands, confirming the desperation for the sertão - in the promised "O aprendiz de cangaceiro", a boy would be fascinated by Virgulino, during what Lima called the "lampeonic era". 

            The trilogy promised in Correio da Manhã did not succeed. O Sertanejo fell by the wayside. Besides it, the hidden sides of a scholar, a lover of myokinetic psychodiagnosis and other mumbo-jumbo. Things that escape those who seek him. 

            Victor Lima Barreto's secrets were lost in a massive heart attack in Campinas. The director ends up being confused with the writer's half-brother, Affonso Henriques, which generates itching, discomfort for those who have been close to both of them. The way out is to open the "Lima Barreto" shield, which fits the whole pair. Thus they will be excluded, united, traveling in the underworld.

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