The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
We live with death inside us. . . . As we advance, we retreat.
Using the device of a long dying flashback, Gláuber Rocha’s Terra em transe—literally, Earth Entranced—is a major work of Brazil’s cinema nôvo, the movement that rejected Hollywood-type escapism in favor of native forms and political hot topics. The film’s journalistic, feverishly surreal, and operatic qualities suggest also the influences of Francesco Rosi, Luis Buñuel, Luchino Visconti.
Shot by military police, Paulo Martins is a journalist and poet, and a thread of continuity throughout is his heavy Russian-sounding narration and his speech within the flashback, which is often delivered in the exact same way. Paulo, who finds himself at the vortex of opposing political currents, is based on Rocha, who is thus able to express his ambivalence as to what political course Brazil should take. (The fictional Eldorado, where the film is set, stands in for Brazil.) Through Paolo, Rocha considers the situation of artists and intellectuals following the U.S.-backed military coup that sent Leftist president Joao Goulart fleeing Brazil in 1964.
The film opens with a bravura helicopter shot that entrances us with Brazil’s “entranced earth.” The film is dotted with bizarre, baroque images: on top a hill, a fascist madman, holding a crucifix in one hand and a flag in the other, proclaiming, “I want a new sun”; Paulo, armed, on his back, struggling his way up a long series of steps. When in a street demonstration he says, “I am the people; I have seven children and no place to live,” a peasant is seized and (along with others) strangled with wire on the spot. Immediately the crowd is assured there’s no hunger or violence in Eldorado.
Woven into Terra em transe is documentary footage from Rocha’s Maranhão 66.
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