Yes, that’s right Brazilian westerns, was there such a thing as a Brazilian western genre, well yes there was, and apparently films are still being made in the country that have to them something of a leaning towards the flavour and appearance of a western. Ok they are nothing like the westerns that we are used to from America or Europe but from what I have seen over the past few weeks they are certainly gritty, down to earth, and filled with great villains and just as many heroes and anti-heroes. Some are action movies, others have a more romantic storyline, but mostly they are about the poor people of the countryside who are doing battle with the rich or the authorities. In a way they are very much like the Zapata western sub-genre of movies within the Italian western collective of films. Downtrodden peasants or individual characters being bullied and abused by corrupt overlords who in most cases do get their just deserts. And of course, cruel bandits that also prey on innocent people. I thought I would take a look at an example or two from the genre, as well as when possible briefly discuss the films distinct musical flavours within the scores and the composers who worked upon them. I say just a few examples because the info is quite sketchy at times, but I will do my best to bring to your attention another genre that can be categorised as obscure.

In 1950, filmmaker Lima Barreto joined the film studio Companhia Cinematográfica Vera Cruz, he had been invited by its then president Alberto Cavalcanti who had been impressed with the way he told stories in film.  After releasing two documentaries that were  successful for the studio, entitled Painel and Santuário. Barreto was given the opportunity to helm a feature film. The director always had in mind a project and this was to make a movie about Captain Virgulino Ferreira da Silva or Lampião as he was known.  It was an idea that he had been formulating since the early 1940’s, but his plans and thoughts were not translated into production mode until 1952, with the movie going ahead despite the reluctance by Franco Zampari, Vera Cruz’s founder. Although  Barreto initially went to Bahia which is a state situated in the Zona da Mata in the Northeast region of Brazil, and did research for the project, he in the end shot the film in Vargem Grande do SulSão Paulo, the production dragged on for some nine months after it experienced numerous problems.

With the movie O Cangaceiro, or The Brigand/The Bandit, finally being released in 1953, and although it is essentially a western, is placed in the category of being an action/adventure. Set in the time of the Cangaceiros in the backcountry which is in the North and Northeastern areas of Brazil, the sadistic Capitão Galdino Ferreira (Milton Ribeiro) and his band of cutthroats abduct the schoolteacher Olívia played by Marisa Prado, the bandits think that they will be able to demand a huge ransom for her return.

However, one of the bandits, Teodoro (Alberto Ruschel) falls in love with the woman and escapes with her to the barren backcountry and is subsequently pursued by his once partners in crime.  As the pair make their way through the arid landscape Olivia too falls in love with Teodoro and tries to convince him to leave the countryside and move into the city. But Teodoro tells her that he could never leave his land and has made up his mind that he will die in his beloved backcountry where he was born. “O Cangaceiro” is one of the best films that has been produced by Brazilian Cinema and certainly the most superior movie released by Companhia Cinematográfica Vera Cruz.  

The cinematography which is in in black and white gives us a stunning introduction with backlight on the marauders as they ride in single file on the horizon. The film was distributed by Columbia Pictures and was sold to eighty countries in total becoming so popular in France that it remained in cinemas for five years.

The term Cangaceiro was already used to refer to groups of poor peasants who inhabited the North-Eastern deserts, wearing leather clothing and hats, carrying carbines, revolvers, shotguns, and the long narrow knife known as the Peixeira. After it was finally released it soon became a national and international success, winning several awards, including the Adventure Film Award at the 6th Cannes Film Festival 1953. But it was poorly received in retrospect despite being praised at the time of its release and still managed to successfully establish a popular subgenre in Brazilian cinema. This genre is often referred to as Nordestern which combines the words “Nordeste” (Northeast) and “Western”. 

This first foray into this territory was followed by a number films such as Carlos Coimbra‘s A Morte Comanda o Cangaço (1960), Lampião, o Rei do Cangaço (1964)  Corisco, o Diabo Louro (1969), and Aurélio Teixeira‘s Os Três Cabras de Lampião

It also established Cangaço as a subgenre in Brazilian cinema; subsequently, Cangaço would be featured as a theme for comedy in such examples as Os Três Cangaceiro  and A Ilha das Cangaceiras Virgens.

The musical score for O Cangaceiro was by Gabriel Migliori, who was born on November 9th, 1909 in São Paulo, SP, Brazil. He was a composer, known for writing music for both concert hall performance and also for motion pictures, his well-known film scores include  The Bandit (1953), The Given Word (1962) and Lampiao, King of the Badlands (1964). He died on January 12th, 1975.

The soundtrack featured “Olê Muié Rendeira“, which was performed by popular vocalist Vanja Orico and was also presented in an instrumental variation, within the movie. The somewhat raw, crude, and natural appearance of the film and its characters attracts and fascinates, making this a piece of cinema that can certainly hold its own against many classic westerns or action adventures that were around at the same time or came afterwards, and surpasses many of those in its content and the way in which it was acted, directed and photographed.

The story was re-made in Italy in 1969 as Viva Cangaceiro, which starred popular actor Tomas Milian in the central role, and had a score by Riz Ortolani. The plot deviated a little from the original concept, but the story was essentially the same. This remake most definitely being a western.

Then in 1997 another remake from Brazil this time, Just as its same name predecessor was, this film is a fictional version of the story of the “cangaceiros.” These were bandits who sacked towns and spread terror throughout Northeastern Brazil in the 1930s. This group of outlaws is led by Captain Galdino (played by Paulo Orgulho) and his wife Maria Bonita (Luiza Tome).

Bacurau is a 2019 Brazilian-French offbeat western film, written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles.  It stars Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino, Silvero Pereira, and Karine Teles. The film which is a co-production between Braziian and French studios has a storyline that revolves around Bacurau, a fictional small village in the Brazilian sertão that is beset by strange happenings following the death of its matriarch, Carmelita (Lia de Itamaracá), at the age of 94. The film was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival,  and won the Jury Prize.

Around mid-way through the movie there is a scene that might be a familiar scenario for western fans and could be from any number of American/Hollywood produced sage brush sagas. We see a herd of horses from a neighbouring farm come stampeding through the village of Bacurua, after deciding that something is wrong two villagers ride out to investigate, on their arrival at the farm they find everyone that lived there has been brutally murdered. In any other western movie whether it be American, German or in certain circumstances Italian this would be an indicator that their own village could be in danger. Maybe this is the work of renegades on the warpath?  But this is a movie set in contemporary times, so that does not it seem come into the equation. Before this event the films plot reveals that there is an ongoing dispute over water rights from the local river, with water being stopped from flowing upstream in a corruption scheme which the wealthy mayor of Serra Verde, Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima), is the major driving force behind.

He visits Bacurau to gain its residents’ sympathy and secure their votes for an upcoming election attempting to gain favour with them by plying them with with old food and run down books but no water, but the townspeople all hide and avoid him. A tanker truck of water finally arrives for the town, but it has been riddled with bullets. As the two villagers attempt to leave the scene of carnage at the farm, they are shot dead by a couple on motorbikes. This couple then meet up with a group of mainly Americans, who are led by Michael played by Udo Keir, who becomes angry with the couple who despatched the villagers as killing two people will deprive the group of two chances to score “points.”

After being given instructions through earpieces, the remainder of the group then turn their attention to the couple and execute them, but after this begin to squabble about which of them delivered the fatal shot and who is entitled to the points. This evoked memories of the Wild Bunch for me when two of the bounty hunters argue about which of them shot one of the Bunch in the street at beginning of that movie. The group of motorcyclists  then start to hunt down the villagers, but one of the villagers, Pacote played by Thomas Aquino, seeks out Lunga a revolutionary portrayed by Silvero Pereira who is being hidden by the villagers. Pacote convinces Lunga to join his efforts in fighting back against these murderous foreigners, the townspeople then arm themselves and decide to fight back.  

The foreigners then go too far an kill a nine-year-old boy and cut off electricity to the village. The next day, the foreigners who think that they have beaten the villagers re-start their hunting but are overpowered and killed by the locals, with the exception of their leader who they hold as a prisoner.  Tony Junior shows up to collect the foreigners in a luxury minibus. But when he sees that the villagers have killed them all he attempts to deny all knowledge of the group, until Michael calls out to him for help. The mayor is held and then is sent away to die in the desert, half-naked and tied up to a donkey, while Michael is buried alive in an underground cell shouting “This is only the beginning“. It’s an interesting if not somewhat off the wall movie, that even has a UFO in the story, which in some respects can be compared with Italian, German and American made westerns and even El Topo came to mind when I was watching it.  

Music is by Mateus Alves and Tomas Alves Souza, who provided the film with an eclectic mix of styles and a fusion of sounds, that range from thematic interludes to more rock orientated cues, and a handful of electronic pieces. It’s a score that features a number of artists, but is one that is worth a listen and available now on digital platforms via Plaza Major.

Brazilian Western original title Faroeste Caboclo (2013) is an adaptation of the eponymous song by Renato Russo who is a famous Brazilian singer and composer who purveys his lyrics and music in a very similar way to that of Bob Dylan, he is essentially a storyteller with his tales being set to music. The adaptation is both a social and romantic drama that has a Shakespearean tragic conclusion.  It centres upon the story of the love that the bandit Joao do Santo Cristo has for the Architecture major student Maria Lucia, the film is set in Brazil in the early 80s. In a conflict of interest, drug dealers and the police fight with one another while the end of the military dictatorship in the Capital of Brazil, is taking place. With the wanderings and boredom of a young rocker, who lived in a city still being built, are the backdrop for this story.

Another good example of this genre of film, directed by Rene Sampaio, the film was met with mixed reviews but overall many who went to see it enjoyed it, it’s a gritty, down to earth and stylish gangster story, but purveyed also in the style of a western. Brazilian Western will surprise you leave you craving more. The visual style and the presentation in this movie is exceptionally well done and it’s a film that you will enjoy if you are trying to avoid the main stream of Hollywood. Music is by Fabiano Krieger and Lucas Marcier. I suppose one has to ask ones self is this really western? Maybe not, but it has affiliations with it.

So, this has been my flying visit to the Brazilian western, as I said not the typical western as we all know it, but still an interesting take or version of the genre.