Macunaíma (1969)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Satire  |   Run Time - 100 min.  |   Countries - Brazil  |   MPAA Rating - NR
  • AllMovie Rating
    7
  • User Ratings (0)
  • Your Rating

Share on

Review by Josh Ralske

It's difficult for those not immersed in Brazilian culture to get a handle on the significance of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade's surreal farce, Macunaíma. It's an undeniably silly and crude movie, but as with the novel it's based on, the film offers a far-reaching and surprisingly cogent analysis of Brazilian society at the time of its production. De Andrade offers a broadly amusing critique of racial stereotypes. Macunaíma (Grande Otelo), "a hero with no character," is a lazy whiner from the moment of his birth. His magical transformation into a white man (Paulo José) does nothing to change his nature, but has a tremendous effect on how others see him. The film's one true revolutionary character, the sexually aggressive Cí (Dina Sfat, José's wife at the time), pointedly blows herself up. An Italian industrialist, Pietro Pietra (Jardel Filho) steals the muiraquita, Macunaíma's cultural legacy, and seems to devour half the country. Literally. Cannibalism is a pervasive theme of the film, from the hero's bizarrely funny encounter with an ogre who offers the hungry Macunaíma a piece of flesh from his own leg, to the film's gory climax at Pietro Pietra's wedding. These metaphorical allusions give the seemingly lightweight film a surprising allegorical heft. For all its aesthetic shortcomings and its occasionally impenetrable (to the outsider) politics, it's startling to realize that the film was produced shortly after a military dictatorship had placed severe constraints on artistic freedom in Brazil, which could easily have crippled the nascent Cinema Novo movement. Macunaíma's low-minded vulgarity served the function of disguising the film's higher aims and circumventing the censorious mindset of the times.