GANGA BRUTA (Humberto Mauro, 1933)

Before the advent of Cinema Novo, Humberto Mauro was widely considered Brazil’s greatest filmmaker. His silent film Ganga Bruta, to which synchronized sound was later added, is indeed an amazing piece of work. It is considered by many Mauro’s masterpiece.
     This drama of a soul’s seeming redemption opens on white: bridal white—a wedding. Beginning with the wedding night, two offscreen events weigh in: in their bed chamber, the wealthy groom kills his bride, who, it turns out, wasn’t a virgin; the man’s trial apparently ends in his acquittal. From the first ellipsis we infer the man’s shame; from the second, the cultural bias in favor of a man’s prerogatives in his marriage, even to the point of killing his wife. Since the bride was not entitled to wear the white gown that she did wear, the groom was certainly entitled to restore his honor by dispatching her. Withholding these plot elements from sight actually deepens their expression and resonance. We grasp better the values at work here.
     While his factory is being built outside Rio, the man competes with the architect for a local girl, a seductive innocent. Rescuing her from drowning deepens the rich man’s sense of entitlement to her; on the other hand, the experience of his wedding night wobbles this sense, conflicting him. The plot is headed towards another wedding.
     But the “plot” scarcely matters here; for Mauro, preëminently a visual artist, “constructs” his film image by image, nearly every one at a jarring angle, including several overhead shots, including at the construction site, tight closeups, and many of the images joltingly edited sexual sublimations.
     Perhaps religious scruples hide another reason why the groom did not discover his wife’s sexual experience until their wedding night: sexual unease.
     Is history repeating itself?

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