University of São Paulo: USP study analyzes modernisms in the film “O Homem do Pau-Brasil”

Director Joaquim Pedro de Andrade (1932-1988) reinterprets the works of the modernist writer Oswald de Andrade, as well as Oswald’s own figure, in his 1981 film O Homem do Pau-Brasil . Among other references to the writer’s literature , the feature recalls novels such as Serafim Ponte Grande and Sentimental Memories by João Miramar.

But in addition to these, the film has allusions to other works and other types of art. This is what the master’s thesis developed by Ranny Cabrera in the Graduate Program in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at the Faculty of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences (FFLCH) at USP indicates.

The provisional title of the study is O Homem do Pau-brasil (1981) by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: posthumous memories of a modernist matrix.

The researcher’s idea is to debate the film’s literary references, focusing on the writer Oswald de Andrade and the director’s reinterpretation of Modernism.

Oswald was a great promoter of the modernist cultural movement that began with the Semana de Arte Moderna, in São Paulo, during February 1922.

The objective of the film that explores the image of the author was not to pay homage to him or to the works that are referenced, but to debate the proposals brought about by Brazilian Modernism.

“How to think about culture, the role of the intellectual and history? More than a tribute [the objective of the work] is to think about what this modernity was for modernists ”, said the researcher about the questions raised by the film.

The work also brings parallels between the relationship between the cultural movement of 1922 and cinema novo, a film genre in which the director was a part. This is because both activities were somehow frustrated, as indicated by the researcher.

While Modernism failed to reach the popular classes as its founding intellectuals had hoped, cinema novo was barred by the civil-military dictatorship that installed itself in Brazil in 1964.

Photo: Personal archive
Ranny Cabrera, FFLCH researcher – Photo: Personal archive
Other cultural references evidenced by the author in the film are called chanchadas, a genre that was very successful in the country between the 1930s and 1950s. who is part of the cast of O Homem do Pau-Brasil.

The reference may lead to questioning whether the choice of the director was an attempt to attract the public, as happened with the film Macunaíma (1969), also directed by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade. But, for the researcher, the resource also serves to portray in the film, using comedy, a dramatic political reality.

Modernist allusions are also in the plastic arts exhibited during the production, in addition to the so-called magazine theater and other forms of popular culture.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Scene from the movie O Homem do Pau-Brasil – Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The film was not seen by a large audience at the time, and therefore there are few comments and criticisms recorded about it, according to Ranny. Still, the writings found during the research demonstrate that it generated controversy.

“Neither Greeks nor Trojans pleased. There is an audience that didn’t like it because they thought that the clipping of the works made a caricature of Oswald, and some have a perception that the film is somewhat traditional, conventional.”

For the researcher, the film has an epic conception of history, which does not dramatize Oswald de Andrade, while it does not transform him into a hero. “The film wants to think about the issues that mobilize Brazil. And between the lines, he leaves these contradictions very well marked, both in the assembly of the image and sound and in the references he brings”, said the researcher, stating that the work proposes a self-criticism on the role of artists and intellectuals in the country.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The research and the researcher
Ranny Cabrera has a degree in Arts with specialization in Portuguese and French from USP and a double degree in Foreign and Regional Languages, Literature and Civilizations from the Université de Paris-Sorbonne. She also holds a degree in Philosophy from Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie.

The development of her dissertation had a Capes scholarship (Coordination for the Improvement of Higher Education Personnel), linked to the Ministry of Education.

In addition to the film itself, books on Modernism and period newspapers were his great sources of research, as well as having access to the original script of the work, archived at the Cinemateca Brasileira.

“ My advisor, Professor Anderson Gonçalves, has always helped me a lot, at this time of pandemic and lack of access to the library and university space, which made things a little more difficult. We think that academic research and a dissertation are something individualistic, but actually the most interesting thing is when you manage to have space to discuss with other people”, commented Ranny.

The dissertation will be defended, that is, presented to an examining board, in the first half of 2022.

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