Essentially a parable of 20th Century Brazilian politics, Glauber Rocha’s 1967 Entranced Earth, with its poetic metaphors, psychological insights and personal perspective, demystifies both the right and the left and shows us what rises from the ashes of political destruction: ecce homo.
Within Glauber Rocha’s tour de force of Cinema Novo (Brazilian New Wave) there lies every Brazilian who has ever lived. For the film speaks of what typifies people’s feelings towards politics: a historical disenchantment. Paulo, the protagonist of Entranced Earth a.k.a. ‘Land in Anguish’ [Terra em Transe] is the epitome of Brazilian disillusion with the political class, and more pertinently, with political life in general. Perhaps, it is to do with the centuries of entrenched inequalities and the blind ignorance of some pressure groups. Or maybe it comes from a fatal flaw in the people’s DNA. What is certain however is that this masterpiece contains the story of Brazil.
In the fictional country of Eldorado, poet and journalist Paulo Martins (Jardel Filho), disillusioned with former right-wing political ally Porfírio Diaz (Paulo Autran), goes to the region of Alecrim, where he meets communist activist Sara (Glauce Rocha). There they decide to help left-wing populist politician Felipe Vieira (José Lewgoy) with his campaign to become governor. After Vieira is elected, he betrays his liberal agenda and breaks his promises, in order to side with powerful landlords. Martins, once again disenchanted with the whole thing, returns to the capital of Eldorado. There he tries to use the media against the corrupted politicians and is betrayed again. At the end, the only thing left to do is to take up arms.
Entranced Earth not only deals with age-old Brazilian problems as it is loaded with Brazilian traits and personality disorders, but it also depicts a place in conflict with itself. There is in Eldorado (this fictionalized proxy for any Latin American state) a struggle between the defence of certain ideals and the understanding that a more pragmatic approach might bear better fruits. There lies the schizophrenic nature of Brazilian politics. No such thing as the Brazilian Dream exist – unless one counts the one starting at the airport, to be lived somewhere else. Why is that such creative people seem utterly unable to direct their own destiny? Since the masses – in the film as in reality – are a key contributing factor in the maintenance of the status quo, one has to question the effectiveness of the democratic process.
..‘Power Attracts the Worst and Corrupts the Best.’ – Edward Abbey
This enormous country, covered by fertile soil and blessed with wonderful weather, is neither too poor or dysfunctional to fail nor dynamic enough to crawl its way out of the hole. Surely the irony of the place’s name has not been lost on the audience. Like the California of the 1800s, Eldorado (or Brazil) is indeed a land of incalculable riches, but prone to a state of lawlessness. If even in healthy democratic nations it is legitimate to ask about the limits of democracy, then imagine how many questions one would be entitled to ask of a country with such a troubled history. When is it reasonable to deny people their right to decide on matters for what they know nothing? On the other hand, when is it justifiable for the people to take up arms and topple their government?
The highly allegorical nature of the movie will surely alienate many people, although, one might argue, this very personal take on the paradoxes of politics is necessary to explain why things never change in Brazil. The story is mainly guided by the protagonist Paulo Martins and as such it has a strong subjective dream-like feeling. And although its message of disenchantment comes from this individual’s poetic diatribe, it also has a universal appeal. Perhaps paradoxically, that’s the reason for the disconnection between the naturally artistic vein of the people in this continental nation and their inability to effect change. Every single person understands reality only from his or her own perspective and therefore is incapable of reaching working compromises. Obviously, this is a very simplistic way of understanding the issue, but essentially, Brazilians are taking things too personally.
Perhaps it is this national trait that pushed the country into the hands of a military dictatorship as a last resort against the perceived threat of communism in the mid-1960s. The movie can also be understood as a dialogue between the people and this dark period in Brazilian history. On the verge of losing his power, Felipe Vieira, the politician who was supposed to improve the plight of the people but then betrayed them, sums up the eternal feeling of hopelessness: ‘The contradictory forces that guide our lives have now throw us into this political deadlock, a situation so very common to those who take part in the big decisions.’ And then Martins, astutely asks: ‘Who is genuinely innocent here?’
That’s the poet’s contribution to the political discourse. He does by instinct what politicians are supposed to do by oath. After putting a mirror in front of us and thoroughly investigating the issues, politicians could guide us through the best course of action. They could check up on their prejudices, and on ours too! I know, this might be asking too much (not only in Brazil, but anywhere in the world!) of them and yet I believe that it is our right to demand such an attitude. After all, they keep repeating that they’re our public servants. And as their masters, we deserve to command as we please.
In the 1960s, Entranced Earth tried, not only to deal with the paradoxes of the modern political process, but also to show how the whole scenario is created and then perpetuated. Since then, nothing has changed: the nation still seems to be entranced.