Self-taught Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos is not only one of the most innovative directors in Brazilian film, he is also well-respected for his work to promote the status of Brazilian national cinema. In his youth, dos Santos studied law, worked as a journalist, and was very active in the cultural and political activities of the Communist Party. He had always been a fan of cinema and also loved reading Brazilian novels. In film, he began in the early '50s as an assistant director. In that capacity he taught himself the basics of production. He also gained experiences in acting, editing, producing, and writing scripts. His first feature film, done in neorealist style, Rio, 40 Degrees (1954), remains a groundbreaker in that it is the first to critically and realistically chronicle the plight of Brazil's impoverished. His 1963 film Barren Lives, an examination of a landless family's attempts to survive in the backlands, is considered a masterpiece and a landmark of cinema novo. He later abandoned neorealism in favor of more experimental political allegories that utilized more artistic, and highly symbolic imagery. Internationally, the best known of these is How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971). Over the next decade, dos Santos attempted to create a "popular cinema" to reflect contemporary Brazilian culture. The fourth Estrada da Vida was the most successful commercially. His 1984 film, Memorias do Carcere, adapted from a book by Graciliano Ramos, is also considered a masterpiece.