ANTONIO DAS MORTES (72) (second viewing: 60)

Directed by: Glauber Rocha (1969)

Starring: Mauricio do Valle, Odete Lara, Jofre Soares, Othon Bastos

The Pitch: In late-30s Brazil, a bounty-hunter is hired by a landlord to kill leftist bandits, but becomes politicised and sides with his prey against his employer.

Theo Sez: Actually had a much lower rating in mind throughout much of this famous (but pretty ragged) slice of "Cinema Novo", but the thing wins you over, riding out the rough spots with its combination of bleached rural landscapes, shamanic beats and all-out weirdness. The leftist agitprop - calling for peasant-class solidarity against the oppressor, with Antonio presumably standing in for the police or armed forces - is a little quaint today, though not off-puttingly so (it's good to be reminded of a time when the Third World had its own fiery voice, before the revolutionary spirit was IMF'd and McDonalds'd out of existence), but the real attraction lies in the sense of operatic abandon, clearly in the same ballpark as Leone and (what I've seen of) Jodorowsky : when people start rolling around on the ground for no apparent reason, with the soundtrack erupting into high-pitched wails and screaming, you know you've crossed the border into full-blown dementia. The whole film is a tension between stark and sensual - stylised folk-customs (traditional dance, or a duel where every move is ritualised) within a loose, clearly contemporary setting (trucks on the highway, conversation round a pool-table) ; mythical overtones (like the echoes of the St. George legend) set against goofy populism (like a toe-tapping action climax backed by what sounds like a rough Brazilian version of "The Devil Went Down To Georgia") ; long takes and static camera interrupted by bursts of flashy style ; the sere landscapes, theatrical performances and strict political beliefs ranged against its eclectic feel for music and sheer flamboyant appetite for cramming lots of different stuff together. The result is rather like a spaghetti Western as it might be written and performed by the villagers from A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS after the Man With No Name has moved on, under the guidance of a Commie troublemaker from the big city. Heavy in parts, but also quite hypnotic. [Second viewing, April 2020: I actually completely agree with this, good job younger me! Alas, I just couldn't shift from the lower rating mentioned in the first sentence to full-on embrace this time, maybe because all-out weirdness and 'lots of different stuff', in itself, no longer does it for me (though I appreciate the flamboyance). Also the subtitles on my old Mr. Bongo DVD were distractingly bad and riddled with typos, beware viewers.]