Plot: Erendira (Claudia Ohana), a young girl in a nameless Latin American land, lives with her witch-like grandmother (Irene Pappas) in a ruined mansion. One night she accidentally sets the place on fire, and her grandmother says she must work to pay back the damage. She and her grandmother set out on the road, where Erendira becomes a travelling whore. An itinerant photographer accompanies them. Episodes with a nunnery and a political campaign demonstrate the repression of the Church and the charlatanry of politics. Erendira meets a young idealistic man, Ulisses, who decides to rescue her and slay the grandmother. The grandmother proves harder to slay than expected, Ulisses' idealism is daunted, and Erendira's newfound freedom leaves her with an uncharted path across the desert.
In an interview with Pat Aufderheide on the film's 1984 release, Guerra said, "This is a story about the liberation of a human being. What is left open at the end of the film is what she will do with it. There are subsidiary themes--the refusal of love, because love can be repressive if it is not exercised responsibly. The grandmother is simply selfish in her love.
"Their relationship also reflects the terms of underdevelopment. The girl only has her sex and the grandmother uses that asset cynically. She, the grandmother, believes that the ends justify the means, that the conquest of power is enough. Ulisses is a 'prince charming,' but he's really empty. His love is about three oranges and a pistol. The photographer is someone who is limited to seeing what is happening in front of him. And he ends up getting eliminated. It's not safe on the margins. He doesn't want to get his hands dirty, but an artist has to get his hands dirty, more than anyone else."
Style: This is an explicitly allegorical film, made in an attempt to bring the "magical realist" style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who wrote the script, to the screen.
Magical realism is a term used to capture the living contradictions of societies in the active process of underdevelopment and neocolonialism, although it originated in Weimar Germany, where it referred to the mystery in the mundane. The great Cuban writer Alejo Carpentier refurbished the term as "our marvellous American reality" in the '50s, and in the heated days of '60s militant cinema in Latin America, filmmakers tried to put it on screen. "The fiesta of metaphors, of allegory, of symbols is not a carnival of subjectivity; it is the attempt at a rational analysis of a deformed reality, deformed by European culture and suffocated by American imperialism," said the late, mad but brilliant Brazilian cinema novo director Glauber Rocha. (For more in video on magical realism, see La magia de lo real, including an interview with Garcia Marquez.)
The tale, which is fabulous in style, is told with fairy-tale intensity--bright, symbolic colors; acting and mise en scene that abjures the psychological; deliberately cheap special effects.
Guerra explained in interview, "I wanted to portray the fantastic as normal. All the special effects are the simplest possible--the butterflies, for example. I wanted for the spectator to take off in his own imagination, from the material, not to resolve the fantasy for him. I've heard criticisms that these were simply bad special effects, but the goal was to create special effects that fit in with the reality we were trying to describe. Magic is false, but it exists. That is the great contribution of Garcia Marquez. He shows us that the most fantastic is very close to us.
"Magical realism is appropriate to a culture where technology hasn't yet dominated the life of man, where mankind still has the capacity to grant the unknowable as real."
Background on director/film: Ruy Guerra, who was born in 1931 in Mozambique, educated in Europe and has worked most of his creative life in Brazil, was one of Brazilian filmmaker Glauber Rocha's foremost compatriots. Erendira, like his later films such as Malandro and Fable of the Beautiful Pigeon-fancier, has impressive production values, differing dramatically from his earlier work as a practitioner of "poor" cinema committed to Brechtian distancing. But there are continuities, embodied in Guerra's search for the 'irrational magic,' as Rocha once put it, of Latin reality.
His first feature, the 1962 Os Cafajestes, putting front and center of the frame violent thugs and tracing their coming to self-awareness, shocked audiences so much the film was banned at home and in the U.S. In the internationally-heralded Os Fuzis (The Guns, 1964), the army arrives in the desert northeast where millenial prophecy is as common as hunger to suppress a peasant movement; the film coolly documents the event--from both sides. It's two films in one, colliding with each other in a brutal motion that replicates the social reality. After years of suppression under dictatorship, Guerra's next film, The Gods and the Dead (1971) plunged frontally into the magical world where allegory expresses a higher reality. He was making, among other things, a bold filmic answer to stern leftists who demanded a cinema verite of misery. Guerra spent some time in Mozambique after independence, making among other things a re-enactment of a ritual drama in which villagers recall a famous massacre, Mueda.
He continues to produce features with an international market, although his latest films have not been received well.
Film production context: This film has a 16-year long history. Garcia Marquez wrote Erendira as a film script, which was then lost. He then wrote it as a novella, and worked with Guerra on the new script. He was pleased with the result, claiming that it was the first film that truly captured the magical realism of his prose. (Many films have been made of his scripts, starting perhaps with the Mexican Arturo Ripstein's Tiempo de Morir in the early 1960s.)
The film was made as an international co-production, with some Help from the Brazilian government film agency and with private international money. The international cast, including Irene Pappas as the grandmother, Helped to raise finances. This is an example of an international co-production that does not lose its cultural integrity.
Importance: Erendira is an example of a filmic style that imaginatively expresses felt cultural reality. It is also an example of sophisticated production on themes of underdevelopment.Other reading:
Last updated on September 17, 1996
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