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  • The Romantic Battle of Carlos MarighellaThe Year in Brazil
  • Sergio da Silva Barcellos (bio)

When the sun went down on January 1, 2023, it felt like a heavy iron door was closing and sealing off the hardships of four years of authoritarian rule. And that first day of the new year was filled with relief and renewed dreams. Seven days later, Brazil woke up from the stupor of the "festa da democracia," the celebration of democracy that inaugurated President Lula da Silva, to witness acts of vandalism perpetrated by former President Jair Bolsonaro's supporters, based on misinformation and falsehoods, mirroring what had happened in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. Watching the horrific destruction of public buildings in the capital of Brazil, I could not avoid thinking of Carlos Marighella (1911–1969), a communist, and in the eyes of the military dictators, the number one enemy of Brazil. More precisely, I thought of the biopic about him that was finally released in theaters in 2021, despite all of the far-right government's attempts to ban it. Although it was not a time to praise the life and feats of a communist, Marighella (2019), directed by actor and director Wagner Moura, brought back crowds to the movie theaters to watch a Brazilian movie. The public success of this movie merits careful analysis because of its genre and the ambivalence of its hero, who is portrayed through the last eighteen months of his life.

I was born in 1964, the same year as the military coup d'état, and grew up amid the violence, censorship, and propaganda of the military administration. As democracy slowly returned and new false promises were made by questionable public figures, I learned to doubt screen heroes, as well as utopian ideologies and messianic leaders. When I marched with crowds demanding direct elections for president in the early 1980s, I was aware of the consequences of the leftist guerilla actions in the bloody final years of the 1960s. Democracy returned to the country with forgiveness for all involved: victims and perpetrators, tortured and torturers. Brazil lacked initiatives like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission or the Trial of the Juntas in Argentina, which is brilliantly portrayed in [End Page 5] the film Argentina 1985 (2022). Instead, popular movements demanded the end of the dictatorship, political opening, and democratic transition, which slowly took place after 1985. However, some figures from the fight against military atrocities remained taboo, including Carlos Marighella. My experience of watching Marighella amid the intolerance in Brazilian society promoted by former president Jair Bolsonaro assumed a new dimension. I was not watching the biopic of an extremist communist, the author of O Minimanual do Guerrilheiro Urbano (Mini-manual of the Urban Guerilla), which was praised by Jean-Paul Sartre, and the mastermind of several bank robberies intended to support political actions against the military government. Caetano Veloso wrote a song about Marighella, affirming that communists held on to dreams and that there couldn't be a life without utopia. Watching the movie brought back his words to mind, and made me feel like I could believe again in some utopia.

The movie revives the story of a Black man, born to an Italian immigrant father and an Afro-Brazilian mother, who from a young age had no doubts that he would inscribe his name in the history of the Communist Party in Brazil. In the 1930s, Marighella was arrested four times, always returning to his political activities with the Communist Party of Brazil, until 1948 when the party was banned, and he began clandestine activism. After a visit to China to learn about the Chinese Communist Revolution, Marighella rebelled against the party and founded his own organization, the Aliança Libertadora Nacional (National Liberation Alliance). Motivated by the belief that the guerilla should opt for armed confrontation with the military establishment, he orchestrated several bank robberies and kidnappings to raise funds for the cause. Although without his approval, the ALN was the organization responsible for the kidnapping of American ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick in 1969, which prompted the regime to intensify its efforts to eliminate the members of the organization. Some...