Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Premiere Brazil ’12: Matraga
who know their Brazilian cinema and literature will know Augusto Esteves,
a.k.a. Matraga, is one bad cat. The
protagonist of João Guimarães Rosa’s short story, adapted for the screen in
1965 by Roberto Santos, made a triumphant return, sweeping most of the prizes
at the 2011 Rio International Film Festival, proving Brazilians appreciate a
rugged convert. Once again, he sees the
light in Vinícius Coimbra’s Matraga (trailer here), which screens as
part of the 2012 edition of Premiere Brazil!, now underway at MoMA.
at drinking and whoring than farming, Esteves has made his share of enemies,
most definitely including Major Consilva.
Eleven of the local land baron’s gunslingers got the jump on him out in
the wild grasslands. It was a decent
idea, but they did not bring enough men.
They will learn from this mistake.
Using the incident as a pretext to banish his wife and child, Esteves
continues his reckless hedonism, pressing his luck. Beaten and branded, Esteves is left for dead
after pitching head first into rocky gorge.
However, a devout elderly couple nurses his broken body back to health and
puts his spirit on the path of righteous.
sometimes tempted to give into his inner demons, Esteves holds to the Christian
faith of his adopted parents, living with them in anonymous isolation. Eventually, the powerful landlord Joaozinho
Bem-Bem and his extra-legal posse of enforcers ride into Esteves’ village, like
a Brazilian John Tunstall and the Regulators, hoping to skirt a company of
legitimate government troops. Much to
their surprise, Matraga receives them in the spirit of Christian hospitality,
welcoming them into his home.
Recognizing a kindred spirit beneath Esteves’ pious exterior, Bem-Bem
feels an instant rapport with the reformed killer. Indeed, their fates will be intertwined.
Matraga is often billed
as a Brazilian spaghetti western and that is fair to an extent. Yet, Esteves is as much Paul on the Road to
Damascus as the Man with No Name. In
truth, it is quite a solid film, but it will be tricky finding the right
audience for it beyond Brazilian cinema showcases, such as MoMA’s Premiere. This is a brooding film that treats issues of
faith with deadly seriousness. Still,
when its go time, everyone gets down to business as the bullets fly.
impressively, João is convincingly fierce and conflicted as Esteves. He handles the fight scenes quite credibly,
but most importantly his depiction of the character’s hard won new faith is grittily
realistic and in no way caricatured.
Nonetheless, José Wilker earns most of the film’s style points as the
smoothly lethal Bem-Bem.
Coimbra and cinematographer Lula Carvalho were taken with the wide open vistas
of the Minais Gerais countryside, giving it the full John Ford treatment. Yet, what is most notable is the manner the
film stays true to the expectations of the western genre and the integrity of Esteves’
post-conversion character. That is quite
a trick. Partly a moody, unhurried art
film and partly a violent western shootout, is recommended fairly strongly for
patrons of Brazilian cinema and those drawn to dark morality tales when it
screens this coming Tuesday (7/17) and the following Sunday (7/22) as part of
the tenth annual Premiere Brazil! at MoMA.
Labels: Brazilian Cinema, Premiere Brazil '12