A Brazilian Pied Piper
Brazilian filmmakers have enjoyed a reputation for being some of the most prestigious and talented in Latin-American cinema. From early works, such as O Cangaceiro by Lima Barreto (1953), one of the most emblematic Brazilian films, to Black God, White Devil (1964) by Glauber Rocha, to Vidas Secas (1963 ) by Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Brazilians have helped pioneer New Wave cinema in this hemisphere. Always steeped in the enchanted world of magical realism, these films are deeply rooted in Brazilian culture and traditions, where the creators of literature, poetry, and painting have always found their inspiration.
The Call of the Oboe (O Toque do Oboe), the opening film at this year's Brazilian Film Festival, begins with a melancholic sequence that shows a sleepy Latin-American town where nothing ever happens but burials and where the sole member in the funeral cortege is the gravedigger. But everything begins to change when Augusto, a famous but sickly Brazilian musician, arrives in the small village. Augusto plays his oboe evocatively and magically, attracting villagers and even making a dead man rise from his coffin in curiosity. Augusto's arrival stirs the air, stimulating new love affairs and passions in the once quiet town. Aurora, the chief of police's mistress, for example, finds in the musician an opportunity to reopen her father's cinema. Closed because there was no one to perform the soundtracks for the silent films, the movie house soon becomes the home for Augusto's oboe performances, eventually drawing in crowds of villagers. There, through the silent films, the young ones discover the meaning of love while the older ones recall their lost youth. Day by day the musical notes from the oboe begin to revive the village.
Claudio MacDowell's film is tender and imaginative, his greatest achievement being a gallery of bizarre characters, including a switchboard operator who manages to talk to God through the telephone, and the town prostitute, a 70-year-old woman who reopens her brothel to please an old admirer. The film's narrative structure is simple, though not tight and clean. It combines, with questionable success, the central plot with segments from silent movies, some sad and hopeless, others with a touch of black humor. The cinematography by Toca Seabra is interesting, lending a special feel to outdoor textures and enhancing the look of decay and forlornness to the village.
For decades Brazilian cinema was infused with political themes, reflecting the turmoil on the continent. In the Seventies Rocha formulated his "Aesthetic of Hunger" theory, which expressed the concern about social stagnation and violence in Third World nations in highly politicized films such as The Age of Earth (1980). Although a less radical current could be found in movies like Macunaima (1970), a metaphoric representation of Brazilian idiosyncrasies by Joaquin Pedro de Andrade, Brazilian cinema suffered for years from the stigma of its own ideological weight. Today the Brazilian film industry struggles with a new identity crisis, created by new market-driven values that at times competes with those traditional cultural and aesthetic values.
The Call of the Oboe is a good modern piece of Brazilian-inflected magical realism, though its slow pace conspires against its proposed satirical style. Perhaps with a better command of the narrative structure Oboe would have achieved the gracefulness of a Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, Bruno Barreto's 1976 film that interlaced the lives of its characters in a more ironical and noninhibited way.
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