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Brazilian Women’s Filmmaking: From Dictatorship to Democracy by Leslie L. Marsh (review)

From: The Americas
Volume 70, Number 3, January 2014
pp. 571-572 | 10.1353/tam.2014.0036

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Women have long had an important presence in Brazilian cinema as actors, directors, and producers. Starting in the late 1910s and continuing into the early 1950s, Carmen Santos, the founder of the Brasil Vita studios, starred in several films and produced numerous others, including major works by film pioneer Humberto Mauro. Gilda de Abreu followed suit in the 1940s and 1950s, directing or scripting such films as O Ébrio and Coração Materno. The late 1950s and early 1960s witnessed the emergence of major new female actors; however, women tended to remain in front of the camera during the period dominated by the Cinema Novo movement and not in directing or producing. It was only in the 1970s that the number of women directors began to increase, and that is where Leslie L. Marsh’s book begins in its attempt to provide a sense of films directed by women from that time until the mid 2000s.

The introductory chapter offers an informed overview of the challenges faced by women as they sought to make films in a country emerging from 21 years of dictatorship, namely, lingering forms of censorship and the difficulty of obtaining production financing through government-sponsored programs. In reality, those problems affected Brazilian film production as a whole—particularly new directors—and not just women filmmakers. Marsh notes appropriately, yet perhaps ironically, that few of the women directors she interviewed “agree that […] ‘films by women’ or ‘women’s cinema’ exists” (p. 38). Rather, they see themselves as filmmakers, not “women filmmakers.”

The next two chapters focus on the work of Ana Carolina and Tizuka Yamasaki, respectively, against the broader backdrop of Brazil’s process of political redemocratization in the 1970s and 1980s. In such films as Mar de Rosas (1978), Das Tripas Coração (1982), and Sonho de Valsa (1987), Ana Carolina draws from the aesthetics of marginal cinema and surrealism to develop a “feminist critique of the female condition and women’s rights most notably through a refusal to collaborate with a masculine imaginary” (p. 47). Yamasaki, on the other hand, uses a “melodramatic mode to offer feminist interventions in the reconstruction of Brazilian politics and cultural identity” in such films as Gaijin: Os Caminhos da Liberdade (1980), Parahyba, Mulher Macho (1983), and Patriamada (1985).

The following chapter deals with independent or alternative film and video production, with a special focus on the work of Eunice Gutman in Rio de Janeiro, the Lilith Video Collective in São Paulo, and SOS-Corpo, an NGO, in Pernambuco. In each of these cases, the directors or groups use their work as a mode of social, political, and cultural intervention. Gutman has a long history as an independent filmmaker, with a special focus on “the disenfranchised, popular cultural practices, and the roles of women in society” (p. 125). The Lilith Collective was responsible for the first feminist television series in Brazil and worked in diverse areas related to race and gender in Brazil. With its videos and activist stance, SOS-Corpo produced videos to provide information on reproduction and women’s health, making “sex an issue of public concern” (p. 141).

The final chapter is in many ways the least satisfactory. The 20-year period that has seen the resurgence of Brazilian cinema after the crisis of the early 1990s has clearly been the most active in terms of women’s participation in the film industry. The author offers an informative overview of the period, but devotes no more than a scant paragraph to just two directors: Betse de Paula, whose 2005 comedy Celeste & Estrela portrays the difficulty of making films in Brazil, and Sandra Werneck, whose work is analyzed in the broader context of films dealing with youth culture. Numerous other directors warrant greater attention. Despite the perhaps necessarily limited focus of the final chapter, the author has clearly laid the groundwork for further research and writing and has made a significant contribution to the study of Brazilian cinema in the United States.

Copyright © 2014 Academy of American Franciscan History
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Randal Johnson. "Brazilian Women’s Filmmaking: From Dictatorship to Democracy by Leslie L. Marsh (review)." The Americas 70.3 (2014...

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