For seven days in February of 1922, to mark the centenary of Brazil’s independence from Portugal, artists in São Paulo organized exhibitions, concerts, and poetry readings that broke the mold of hitherto socially-accepted art forms. Painter Emiliano Di Cavalcanti and poet Mario de Andrade, among others, showcased works that strayed from European styles and sought instead a local sensibility, pursuing gestures that stirred audiences and provoked critics with their radical autonomy.
A hundred years since the catalytic event known as Semana de Arte Moderna (“Modern Art Week”), and on the bicentennial of the nation’s independence, a film series co-presented by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and Triple Canopy will celebrate the rise of Brazilian modernism and its enduring resonance. From February 11-15, six films traversing six decades of Brazil’s cinematic history will be showing at the multidisciplinary art center’s Rose Cinemas in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Fort Greene.
Writer and translator Katrina Dodson, who programmed the series, notes that 2022 may be a pivotal year for Brazil, with an upcoming election that could unseat conservative President Jair Bolsonaro.
“I wanted this series to highlight questions that Brazilian artists and writers continue to ask about history and the effects of colonialism, which connect to the 1920s modernist movement, when artists were trying to expand their ideas of how to represent Brazil and what it meant to be Brazilian by looking beyond the dominant European or North American aesthetics and incorporating rural folk traditions, Indigenous cultures, and African influences,” Dodson told Hyperallergic.
“I call it a ‘contradictory pluralism’ because these were mainly cosmopolitan, relatively white artists in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, so there were some inevitable limitations on their perspectives of how to represent ‘the people,’” she added.
Among the titles featured in Brazilian Modernism at 100 is Mário Peixoto’s 1931 silent film Limite, an avant-garde masterpiece about a man and two women who are marooned at sea. Famously inspired by an unsettling André Kertész photograph, the poetic work unfolds to the music of Claude Debussy, Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and others.
The series also highlights classics of the Cinema Novo movement of the 1960s and ’70s, when Brazilian filmmakers turned their cameras toward social inequities and class conflicts. In Antônio das Mortes (1969), directed by Glauber Rocha, the eponymous protagonist hunts the cangaceiros of the Brazilian countryside, peasants-turned-bandits who rebelled against wealthy landowners. The film illustrates the realities of repressed rural populations while exploring connections between folklore, mysticism, and politics in the northeastern region of the country.
“I included Glauber Rocha’s Antônio das Mortes not only because it’s an incredible film, but also because it captures the hybrid, mixed-race nature of Brazilian social life, in its folk traditions and syncretic religions, along with the feeling of a country where the archaic and the hyper-industrialized continue to exist side by side,” Dodson said.
Two US premieres will make their debut at BAM: Júlio Bressane’s semi-autobiographical film Miramar (1997) and the more recent documentary Searching for Makunaíma (2020), directed by Rodrigo Séllos. The latter chronicles the fictional Indigenous hero of de Andrade’s 1928 modernist classic Macunaíma. Brazilian Modernism at 100 will coincide with Dodson’s new translation of the novel, to be published by New Directions in 2023.