Friday, 12 October 2012

Grande Sertão @ Minas: Heart of Brazil

This week the King's Brazilian Institute and the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies hosted Minas: Heart of Brazil, a festival celebrating the rich culture of the Minas Gerais, an often overlooked area of the country. As the festival organisers explain:
"Most cultural and educational events presenting Brazil to UK audiences have tended to focus on a limited repertoire of images and locales, typically those of Rio de Janeiro, the northeastern state of Bahia and its capital, Salvador, or the Amazon. Although a less familiar international tourist destination, the southeastern state of Minas Gerais arguably boasts the richest and most diverse of the country’s cultural traditions and history. The economic heartland of colonial Brazil during its gold mining boom in the eighteenth century, Minas was home to a startling concentration of Baroque culture in architecture, sculpture, painting and music, and the first literary and intellectual movement to sow the seeds of Brazilian nationalism. African slave labour in the colonial mines left an important legacy of Afro-Brazilian festivals and traditions such as the congados, as well as numerous maroon communities or quilombos in the interior of the state".
The six day event - which finishes tomorrow (Saturday 13 October) with music and food at The Oxford in Kentish Town from 7pm to midnight - brings together music, cinema, poetry and theatre. It sounded amazing, and I would have loved to have gone to all of it, but as it's an extremely busy week for me, I only made it to one event: the screening of Geraldo e Renato Santos Pereira 1965 epic Grande Sertão.

The film is an adaptation of Grande Sertão: Veredas (1956) a classic novel by João Guimarães Rosa, which narrates life in the wild Minas Gerais backlands at the turn of the 20th century. Voted one of the top 100 novels of all time, became famous both for its original style of writing, an unusual mixture of archaic and colloquial language, and its homoerotic themes, which remained highly taboo at the time of publication. As an old and not yet lovingly restored film, the sound was pretty bad, but it didn't make a difference to me as it turns out I really don't speak Portuguese very well yet! There were no subtitles either, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that dialogue really wasn't that necessary for following the storyline. It helps that a good 70-80% of the film is either drawn out battle scenes, as rival groups of mercenaries or jagunços attack each other, or shots of the mysterious and unforgiving landscape of the backlands. The idea that looks speak far louder than words is proved by this film though - I thought maybe I was reading too much into the overt sexual tension between the two main characters, Riobaldo and Diadorim, but it turns out that is the main plot point. As you can guess, then, little actually happens in the film beyond lots of people killing each other and some long lust-filled looks, but as a portrait of a place very really seen on screen - beautifully shot in sepia - I found it quite mesmerising.

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