OGUM’S AMULET (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1974)

Responding to efforts by Argentina’s Fernando Ezequiel Solanas and Octavio Getino to construct an independent Third World cinema free of colonialist, neocolonialist and Hollywood influence, Brazil’s Nelson Pereira dos Santos sought to redefine cinema nôvo. Coinciding with his manifesto urging a popular rather than a bourgeois cinema, Pereira dos Santos made O Amuleto de Ogum, a richly entertaining comical adventure.
     Accosted by street thugs in Rio de Janeiro, at knifepoint a blind musician tells a tale. From the rural, superstitious north comes a teenager to the outskirts of Rio, in the south. Gabriel is “body-locked,” that is, invincible, because ever since the murder of his father years back spirits have been protecting him. The seal of this protection is an amulet the boy was given. After he and the crime boss for whom he works have a falling-out, the latter tries variously to kill the youth, whose protected body, however, will not oblige. Meanwhile, Gabriel, who is white, enters a black Candomble conclave, immersing himself in the Afro-Brazilian religion whose pagan, primitive effects deck Christian icons: a dual reflection of nativism and European colonizing. Gabriel, bless him, is cheerfully unfazed by the cultural collision; his is the resilience of Brazil. Is this the magic that has been protecting him all along? Alas, every strength has its limit.
     By casting his charming son, Ney Sant’Ana, in the role of Gabriel, Pereira dos Santos expresses his national hopes through the parental wish that a cherished offspring be protected from harm—a wish echoed in the musician’s tale by Gabriel’s mother’s devotion to the boy. Above all, Ogum’s Amulet must protect Brazil. At the last we learn that the street musician, who is merely feigning blindness (as Gabriel once did), is himself invincible. What fortitude can lie behind a vulnerable façade!

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