Tuesday, 1 June 2010
FILM REVIEW: ANTONIO DAS MORTES (DVD) ***
Title: Antonio Das Mortes
Release date: 14 June 1969 (Brazil)
Running time: 100 mins
Director: Glauber Rocha
Starring: Mauricio Do Valle, Odete Lara, Othon Bastos, Hugo Carvana, Joffre Soares
Studio: Antoine Films
Director Glauber Rocha was the leading light of the Brazilian Cinema Nuovo which revolutionised cinema in that country during the sixties. But the movement was stunted by the emergence of the Generals, who feared its radical films posed a threat to them. One of those films, Antonio Das Mortes, won Rocha the Best Director award at Cannes and his popularity in Europe and America was assured. Because of the problems in Brazil, Rocha decided to start filming in Africa and Spain but instead of moving on to bigger and better things his popularity declined. He turned to alcohol and drugs, dying at the age of 43 in 1981, leaving a potentially great legacy uncompleted.
His Cannes winner, Antonio Das Mortes, is the sequel to 1964’s epic ‘God and the Devil in the Land of the Sun’. Das Mortes appears in the first film as a hit-man nicknamed ‘Cangaceiro Killer’, hired by the local church to kill the last Cangaceiro (pirates of the desert). In the sequel he plays the main protagonist, returning to Jardim Das Piranhas, hired to take down another Cangaceiro, 29 years after they had seemingly been wiped out (almost single-handedly by Antonio).
Colonel Horacio is the blind landlord desperate for Antonio’s help, not wanting to share his land with people led by Coirana, the Cangaceiro. A duel leads to Coirana’s lengthy but inevitable demise, during which Antonio comes to the realisation that he is fighting for the wrong side. Coirana is merely an idealist, a leader of the hopeless and the hungry, its families destroyed by post-colonial exploitation. Colonel Horacio and Police Officer Mattos are disturbed by Antonio’s decision not to finish off Coirana when he had the chance. Sensing betrayal, they panic - lies and deceit suddenly spilling from every open wound.
Mattos sees his chance to overthrow the Colonel and tries to convince Antonio to kill him. When he refuses, Horacio’s wife Laura, who Mattos has been having an affair with, convinces him to kill the Colonel but he isn’t brave enough. Horacio catches wind of the affair and hires Mata Vaca to murder Mattos and his betraying wife Laura. Holed up in a bar, Laura decides the only way out is to kill her cowardly lover, sparing her life. Vaca continues his unforgiving rampage, wiping out the families and devotees Antonio had sided with, searching for the Cangaceiro Killer to end the feud. A shootout at the church is inevitable - bringing with it a climax and resolution that finally offers meaning to Antonio Das Mortes’ life, an existence devoid of anything for the last 29 years.
Although technically a sequel, Rocha’s story is just as powerful regardless of its predecessor. The only thing it lacks is revealing a backstory that might explain Antonio Das Mortes’ motives and thoughts. Too often he carries a silent, passive demeanor even when hell breaks out all around him. All we know is that he refuses to be paid for the assignment, curious to see if the rumour of one remaining cangaceiros is correct. Being proud is all well and good, especially if you claim to be the man who killed the last pirate, but sometimes it’s quite comical to see him just standing there like a statue as others fight and argue around him.
The first act is a slightly plodding affair; too much talk and not enough action. It isn’t until Antonia fatally stabs Coirana that things start to happen, and a plot lacking in direction suddenly explodes into life, twisting and turning to reveal genuinely exciting moments. In fact, sometimes it’s all a little too much; especially a love triangle only becoming obvious when Laura is dispatched in the final act. A drunk teacher smothering her in kisses as she pays her last respects to her dearly departed lover she couldn’t wait to kill in order to save her own neck a little unconvincing.
But without his new sidekick’s help, Antonia would never be able to confront Mata Vata and his disciples, all baying for blood. In fact, even he and the vengeful teacher, good with a rifle, shouldn’t be able to survive without a single scratch; the shootout climax wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of 24 as Das Mortes, or is it Bauer, picks off each foe one by one with a disappointing ease. The soundtrack offers more backstory than the screenplay, which is a shame when you are forced to constantly glance downwards at the subtitles to read its lyrics. However, the chanting and ritual songs from the disciples add another layer to the tension, drawing the viewer in, especially in the film’s manic second act. It really is rather exhilarating and a powerful trick by Rocha, complementing the stark and natural beauty of a Brazil that is no more.
The potential Glauber Rocha had is evident in this violent film that twists and turns brilliantly after a plodding first act. Some revelations are a little hard to swallow but the films power is undeniable and worthy of your attention.