ANTÔNIO DAS MORTES (Gláuber Rocha, 1969)

A reworking of the myth of St. George and the Dragon, O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro—literally, The Dragon of Evil Against the Warrior Saint—is Gláuber Rocha’s sequel to his Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964), a.k.a. Black God, White Devil. Hired assassin Antônio das Mortes reappears, this time allying himself with oppressed, exploited peasants, whose protector and avenger he becomes. The setting again is the sunbaked sertão. Full of ritual, steeped in folklore, rich in song and dance, this brilliant example of cinema nôvo suggests a heady Brazilian mixture of Francesco Rosi, Miklós Jancsó and Jean-Luc Godard.
     Indeed, Rocha presents a landscape of shifting loyalties and betrayals amidst the constants of feudal and colonialist legacies. But the central shift proceeds politically forward: the villain, the Dragon Antônio das Mortes, slays the Dragon Slayer, becoming himself the cangaceiro, the people’s bandit, whose personality suggests the dimensions of guerrilla fighter Che Guevara, whose 1967 death fully released the legend. The film’s formal theatricality, both distancing and visually flat, stabilizes the circus-like shifts, creating a tension that is correlative to the hero’s divided nature, which encompasses the degree to which he is haunted by his past. In a way, like Ethan Edwards in John Ford’s The Searchers (1956), he ends up “wandering between the winds,” a solitary figure in a landscape at once both alien and familiar.
     The film’s amazing final movement finds the hero moving in and out of remoteness, timelessness and immediate, time-specific traffic, while the film itself moves in and out of sound, in and out of silence. The closing shot finds the hero walking down a deserted road away from the camera, with a Shell Oil station up ahead—a mark of exploitation: post-colonial colonialism.

B(U)Y THE BOOK

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