Around the world in 50 films: #3 Brazil – Black God, White Devil (1964)
|March 27, 2012||Posted by Simon Brand under around the world in 50 films|
Why I chose this film
Because it would be boring if I liked every film I reviewed for this series. Also because I wanted an outlet for ranting about how bad this film was and this series was lying around, unsuspecting. Enjoy.
I am a very open-minded person. I also tend to see the good in things, be it people, food or film. I can generally look past the flaws in a work if it really has something to it and I pride myself on being able to take something from almost every picture I watch. But this film was complete and utter rubbish. Let me tell you why.
I was looking forward to watching this film all summer while I was back home. I saw it described as a mystical, visually stunning and hugely original take on the western genre. This sounded very much like El Topo - one of my favourites – so I was very interested in seeing it. As happens with most of the films I stumble across, it was quickly lost in my vast watchlist, popping up at me whenever I trawled through and making me more eager to get a chance to watch it. After noticing that it was available at the university library, I decided to wait and take it out after the holidays, so once I returned to my studies and saw it on the shelves of the university’s collection I instantly grabbed it. I watched it the same day but was dismayed to find that it wasn’t so much a film than a series of scenes made specifically for the purpose of mutilating my brain cells and making my eyes bleed.
Almost every review I have read describes the film as a visual feast, or cinematographical masterpiece. I’m sure they must have watched El Topo instead and mistaken it for a similar film. The cinematography in Black God, White Devil was a mess of amateurish fast pans, random zooms and shaky handheld camerawork where it didn’t make sense. When the camera was put in one place and held there, some moments of beauty shone through, but were promptly defecated on by a zoom to half of someone’s face.
The editor of the film is called Rafael Valverde. I have concluded that Mr. Valverde is, in fact, a drunk Edward Scissorhands. I can find no other logical explaination for the random cuts, arbitrary scene endings and general lack of coherence present in this insult to film-making.
The sound effects team were obviously tourists who happened to be passing by one day. I counted two different sound effects for gunshots (which there are a lot of). If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the director was 25 when he began writing and directing the film. Some simple calculations give the conclusion that the film was around seven years in production. The credits list a Foley artist for the film. For these numbers to work, he must have spent around two hours working and seven years picking his nose, laughing at the actors or working on a film worth the time spent watching it.
Speaking of laughing at actors, I spent a fair amount of time doing just that as soon as Corisco – a bandit with a God complex – showed up. Three moments in particular demonstrate perfectly his skill at ruining a scene. The first is a tender moment when he seems to connect with a young girl in his entourage. They circle each other, the camera circles the other way, the music swells and they move in to kiss. He then proceeds to rub his beard all over her mouth and tries to eat her face.
A second, where he and his cowherd-turned-bandit compatriot are discussing morals and other characters. It is one of the few scenes in the film that feels right. The camera stays still on a well-composed frame of barren wasteland, the dialogue is meaningful and the plot seems to be making sense. Suddenly, Corisco takes great offense at something his friend says and jumps towards the camera, arms flailing with all the tone and subtlety of an ape on acid and shouts “LIES!” Everything the scene built up to is instantly torn down in one masterful moment of awfulness.
The third and most glaringly horrible is Corisco’s death (oh yes, spoilers – but then I hope by now I’ve convinced you not to see the film). Shot to the sound of the same bullet as nearly everyone else in the film, he stays standing and – I’m not joking here – tosses his arms out like Rose in Titanic and spins around for a bit. He then falls to the ground and I cheer internally, hoping that we are now near the close of the film.
The really sad thing about this film is that I can tell the filmmakers tried to accomplish something here. There are interesting themes and profound dialogue hidden somewhere in the gruesome mess, which point to the framework of an excellent film. Avoid.
Also recommended from Brazil:
Marcel Camus - Black Orpheus
Fernando Meirelles - City of God
Hector Babenco - Pixote
Walter Salles - Central Station