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The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

Macunaíma

Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Brazil, 1969, 35mm, 95 min., Portuguese w/ English subtitles

Widely considered one of the most influential works of Cinema Novo, Macunaíma is a hilariously biting adaptation of Mario de Andrade’s eponymous novel, itself a canonical text of early Brazilian modernism. Published in 1928, it tells the story of “a hero without a character,” the son of a native Indian who is born black, spends the first six years of his life without uttering a word (due to “laziness”), and turns white before venturing into the capitalist jungle of São Paulo. In the filmic version of the story, the main character is very much an ordinary man, and the only magical elements that remain are his transformation into a white man and Macunaíma’s use of macumba – an Afro-Brazilian religion that mixes sorcery and ritual dance. The protagonist is played first by Grande Otelo (black Macunaíma) and then by Paulo José (white Macunaíma), two of Brazil’s most celebrated actors. As Macunaíma ventures into São Paulo, he falls in love with Ci (Dina Sfat), fathers a black son (also played by Otelo), and is co-opted by terrorists who enlist him in their schemes – all the while encountering Brazilian folk legends and orixás along the way.

About The Films of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade

In collaboration with Kino Lorber, Lightbox presents a retrospective of the work of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, one of the most important figures in the Cinema Novo movement that transformed Brazilian film in the 1960s and ’70s. Andrade’s oeuvre has been overshadowed to some extent by the success of his 1969 masterpiece, Macunaíma, yet his career encompassed four additional features, as well as numerous short films and the hour-long documentary Garrincha: Hero of the Jungle (1963), all of which are remarkable accomplishments that would suffice to establish his place in the pantheon of Brazilian filmmakers.

Hailing from a culturally prominent family in Rio de Janeiro, Andrade grew up in close contact with some of the country’s greatest artists, writers, and scholars. Abandoning his university education to pursue filmmaking, he would soon join in the formally and politically audacious Cinema Novo. Like those of his fellow Cinema Novo-associated filmmakers, such as Glauber Rocha, Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Leon Hirszman, Ruy Guerra, and many others, Andrade’s films combined a sophisticated, modernist approach with an uncompromisingly critical, often outrageous, and uniquely Brazilian sensibility that makes his work every bit as vital today as it was when he made it.