REVIEW: DVD Release: Antonio Das Mortes

Film: Antonio Das Mortes
Release date: 28th June 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 100 mins
Director: Glauber Rocha
Starring: MaurĂ­cio do Valle, Odete Lara, Othon Bastos, Hugo Carvana, Joffre Soares
Genre: Western/Drama
Studio: Mr Bongo
Format: DVD
Country: Brazil/France

Director Glauber Rocha was the leading light of the Brazilian Cinema Nuovo, which revolutionised cinema in that country during the 1960s. But the movement was stunted by the emergence of the Generals, who feared its radical films posed a threat to them. One of those films, Antonio Das Mortes, won Rocha the Best Director award at Cannes, and his popularity in Europe and America was assured. Because of the problems in Brazil, Rocha decided to start filming in Africa and Spain, but instead of moving on to bigger and better things his popularity declined. He turned to alcohol and drugs, dying at the age of 43 in 1981.

Antonio Das Mortes is the sequel to 1964’s epic God And The Devil In The Land Of The Sun. Das Mortes appears in the first film as a hit-man nicknamed ‘Cangaceiro Killer’, hired by the local church to kill the last Cangaceiro (‘Pirates Of The Desert’). In the sequel, he plays the main protagonist, returning to Jardim Das Piranhas after being hired to take down another Cangaceiro, twenty-nine years after they had seemingly been wiped out (almost single-handedly by Antonio).

Colonel Horacio is the blind landlord desperate for Antonio’s help, not wanting to share his land with people led by Coirana. A duel leads to Coirana’s lengthy but inevitable demise, during which Antonio comes to the realisation that he is fighting for the wrong side. Coirana is merely an idealist, a leader of the hopeless and the hungry whose families were destroyed by post-colonial exploitation. Colonel Horacio and Police Officer Mattos are disturbed by Antonio’s decision not to finish off Coirana when he had the chance, and sensing betrayal, they panic - lies and deceit suddenly spilling from every open wound.

Mattos sees his chance to overthrow the Colonel and tries to convince Antonio to kill him. When he refuses, Horacio’s wife Laura, who Mattos has been having an affair with, convinces him to kill the Colonel, but he isn’t brave enough. Horacio catches wind of the affair, and hires Mata Vaca to murder Mattos and his betraying wife Laura. Holed up in a bar, Laura decides the only way out is to kill her cowardly lover, sparing her life. Vaca continues his unforgiving rampage, wiping out the families and devotees Antonio had sided with, searching for the Cangaceiro Killer to end the feud. A shootout at the church is inevitable - bringing with it a climax and resolution that finally offers meaning to Antonio Das Mortes’ life, an existence devoid of anything for the last 29 years...

Although technically a sequel, Rocha’s story is just as powerful regardless of its predecessor. The only thing it lacks is a revealing backstory that might explain Antonio Das Mortes’ motives and thoughts. Too often he carries a silent, passive demeanour, even when all hell breaks out around him. All we know is that he refuses to be paid for the assignment - curious to see if the rumour of one remaining cangaceiros is correct. Being proud is all well and good, especially if you claim to be the man who killed the last pirate, but sometimes it’s quite comical to see him just standing there like a statue as others fight and argue around him.

The first act is a slightly plodding affair; too much talk and not enough action. It isn’t until Antonia fatally stabs Coirana that things start to happen, and a plot lacking in direction suddenly explodes into life - twisting and turning to reveal genuinely exciting moments. In fact, sometimes it’s all a little too much; especially a love triangle, with a character called Teacher, only becoming obvious when Laura is dispatched in the final act. There’s a bizarre scene where the drunk Teacher is smothering her in kisses (to reveal his crush on her), as she is draped over the dead body of her dearly departed lover, crying her eyes out, before returning his affections in kind.

But without Teacher’s help, Antonia would never be able to confront Mata Vata and his disciples, all baying for blood. In fact, even he and the vengeful Teacher, good with a rifle, shouldn’t be able to survive without a single scratch - the shootout climax wouldn’t look out of place in an episode of 24, as Das Mortes picks off each foe one by one with disappointing ease.

The soundtrack offers more backstory than the screenplay, and the chanting and ritual songs from the disciples add another layer to the tension, drawing the viewer in, especially in the film’s manic second act. It really is rather exhilarating and a powerful trick by Rocha, complementing the stark and natural beauty of a Brazil that is no more.

The potential Glauber Rocha had is evident in this violent film. Some revelations are a little hard to swallow but the films power is undeniable, and worthy of your attention. DW

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