Chanson Pour Traverser une Rivière, directed by Ruy Guerra as a segment for Loin du Vietnam [Far from Vietnam], coordinated by Chris Marker, was excluded from the final version of this collective film. This «broken relationship» interests me as a symptom and starting point for broader reflection about how Guerra’s very personal, nomadic, filming activity was articulated with the broader activism pursued by internationalist filmmakers. Guerra participated in Brazil’s Cinema Novo, in Third Cinema movement and in the Mozambican government’s effort to use cinema for «nation projection» (Frodon). How did Guerra’s cinematographic work in these different contexts reconcile the goals of «Internationalist Cinema» with the need for national projection through films of a new African nation, Mozambique? Can an historic analysis on Ruy Guerra’s film as «accented films» (Nacify 2001) enlighten us in this quest while trying to understand the singularity of his film practice? Can this filmmaker’s nomadism provide the key to understanding his cinema as a heterotopia (Foucault), through which a «space-palimpsest» is projected on the screen, moulded by the director and by the spectator in function of their experiences, with multiple voices and different accents, but not determined by a national project?
Key words: Internationalist Cinema; Ruy Guerra; «accented films»; Third Cinema; New Cinema; Nouvelle Vague
This is a contribution to a reflection on the genealogy of the emergence of the New Cinema movements through the analysis of the «centrality» of the film director Ruy Guerra (b. 1931) given his triangular relationship between Africa, South America and Europe, resulting from his travels between these different geographic zones but also due to a balance between his subjective drives and the objective constraints which affected his work.
As a Dionysian author, Guerra’s emotions and intuitions are essential keys in order to understand his imaginary universe. Barros (2009, 313) points out:
Ruy Guerra is a filmmaker who directs according to authorial principles, in that he builds a work (more experienced than rationalized) of a personal nature, which emerges from the need for expression as opposed to the conscious search for a media impact or box office results. There may actually be such an impact, but it is secondary in relation to the spirit (Dionysian, in this case a bearer of madness, and madness as creation) that dominates. [...] The complex personality of Dionysus is the one that best represents the cinema of Ruy Guerra [...] (Brunel, 2000, 242).
By exploring his own cultural experiences, and producing symbolic representations of his distinct personal outlook, Ruy Guerra’s cinematographic universe was marked by a communion between questions of auteur cinema and the ideology of engaged cinema.
Internationalist Cinema with its Eyes on Asia and Africa and Feet in Europe
Caméra-œil (1967), Jean-Luc Godard
1967 was marked by military conflict in Vietnam and labour strikes in France. Loin du Vietnam (1967) was a starting point in terms of the emphasis that New Cinema movements placed on colonialism as a source of existential malaise. The film brought together the Rive Gauche members of the Nouvelle Vague with filmmakers such as Joris Ivens and William Klein, who collectively produced an internationalist cinematographic utopia. Loin du Vietnam is emblematic of the convergence between political cinema and the social and political upheaval that culminated in the events of May 1968.
In January 1968, the French magazine Cinéma no. 122 focused on this encounter between workers and film intellectuals.i First of all, it evoked the fact that, in March 1967, the filmmakers had responded to the call from the Popular Cultural Centre of Palente-les-Orchamps to go to the factory Rhodiaceta, in Besançon, that was paralyzed by a strike. The enthusiastic report describes the «true friendship» that arose between the film directors who had come to support the workers and the trade union officials who brought cinema to the labour dispute. This spirit was embodied, among other things, in the project, À bientôt, j'espère [Until Soon, I Hope] (1967-1968), that lay at the origin of the Medvedkine groups, from which some segments were later incorporated in the final version of Loin du Vietnam.
In parallel with these developments, Brazil’s Cinema Novo had gained international notoriety via the triad Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol [Black God, White Devil] (Glauber Rocha, 1964), Vidas Secas [Barren Lives] (Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1963) and Os Fuzis [The Guns] (Ruy Guerra, 1964).
Ruy Guerra studied film at Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques (IDHEC) in Paris between 1952 and 1954, then moved to Brazil and participated in the creation of the Cinema Novo movement. He then returned to Europe in 1967, thereby escaping Brazilian regime’s censorship. Even before filming Sweet Hunters (1970), he was invited by Chris Marker to participate as a director in the first Rive Gauche collective film that aimed to use cinema as a weapon - Loin du Vietnam. The title of the short film that Guerra directed for this project was Chanson pour traverser une rivière [Song to Cross a River], initially entitled Les tigres de papier [The Paper Tigers]ii.iii
The idea for Loin du Vietnam had been conceived the year before, since some Rive Gauche filmmakers felt the need to take a stand and produce a film that would convey their opinions about the Vietnam War.
When Loin du Vietnam premiered at the Cinema Casino in Besançon, before an audience of workers and trade unionists, Jacqueline Meppiel explained to the audience that at the beginning there were frequent meetings between all the directors and weekly projections of documentary films about North Vietnam and the war, in order to enable the team to become familiarised with the situation.
The directors had established a list of terms - such as “escalation” and “independence” - which they thought illustrate the cinema. Part of this approach remained in the final version because, for example, Claude Ridder’s sequence is actually an illustration of the word “escalade” (escalation). But the project somewhat deviated from the initial idea of Vocabulaire and each director chose the things that interested him or her and also what they could achieve. In other words, Bill chose to go to America, because he’s an American and Joris Ivens, who was already in Hanoi, chose to show us things that were happening in North Vietnam. Claude Lelouch, who was working for his film Vivre pour vivre, went to Saigon and South Vietnam, where he filmed the sequence on the aircraft carrier. Alain Resnais chose to shoot a fiction sequence in Paris, etc. Michelle Ray[-Gavras], [...] arrived from Vietnam with the material she had filmed during her stay there. She spontaneously joined the team. (Cinéma nº 122,40)
Meppel did not however explain why the short films proposed by Jacques Demy and by Agnès Varda and Ruy Guerra had been excluded from the collective film.
In the article “Far From Vietnam: a ‘Left Bank’ Collective Film” (Jump Cut, 53, summer 2011), Thomas Waugh summarised what was written about the collaboration between filmmakers from diverse backgrounds, in order to highlight the fact that the precarious nature of this collective soon became apparent. Based on information provided by Agnès Varda, he stated that the collective didn’t like Jacques Demy’s proposal - involving a Puerto Rican soldier and a Vietnamese prostitute. However Waugh did not explain why the proposal made by Guerra - who is referred to as the «Brazilian expatriate» - was not included in the final version. Christophe Chazalon, in the online article “Films Collectives de Chris Marker” states that the short films made by Agnès Varda and Ruy Guerra were not included in the film’s final cut.iv
In turn, the episodes directed by Ruy Guerra and Agnès Varda (who were nonetheless given a mention in the credits sequence) were not included in the final film, primarily due to issues of structure and duration rather than lack of quality. By contrast, the film by Jacques Demy […] was rejected from the outset.v
During the preparation of her biography on Ruy Guerra (due to be published in 2017), the Brazilian historian Vavy Pacheco Borges interviewed Chris Marker who specified that it was Jacqueline Meppiel who decided to exclude Guerra’s film from Loin du Vietnam.vi In fact, both Varda’s and Guerra’s films included references to South Vietnam, which exposed the flaws of French colonialism.vii According to the cameraman Theo Robichet, who was also interviewed by Borges, the film, based on the script written by Guerra in partnership with his colleague from the IDHEC, Phillipe Dumarçay, was filmed in 16mm during a 15-20 day shoot, in Saint Pol de Léon in Brittany. The complaints made by fishermen in Brittany were the backdrop to the story. According to Pacheco Borges, in the film a former soldier in Indochina –, a «mercenary representative of the wholesalers’ union», played by Russ Moro – tries to undermine the fishermen's cooperative. Vavy Pacheco Borges summarises this part of the story as follows:viii
At the moment when he fails, he receives a visit from a friend, a young American officer, accompanied by two girls. The American spends his last 24 hours with his friend from Brittany before leaving for his “noble mission” in Vietnam. There is a long dialogue in a bar, in which the two get increasingly drunk and discuss “the military vocation of a country, the failure of France as a colonial power and the great American imperialist vocation”. The film ends with the American ex-soldier’s stupid death at sea, drunk, holding up an artichoke in his hand, as a metaphor for the Statue of Liberty.
In his book Loin du Vietnam, 1967 Laurent Véray cites the discussions that occurred during the film’s production meetings, adding that the minutes are preserved in the archives of the film's distributor, La Sofra.ix In an exchange of correspondence, the distributor’s chairwoman, Claire Winter, wrote to me stating that Véray was the last researcher to inspect the files, prior to classification of the materials, and that during this classification process many of the records were lost. Winter confirmed that her office has no materials related to Guerra’s film.
I regard this exclusion of Guerra’s short film from Loin du Vietnam as a symptom, a starting point for a broader reflection. In this project to change society through cinema, to what extent was Guerra’s participation in the New Cinema movements and also in Mozambique’s «national projection» (Frodon 1998) articulated and connected with the activity of the Rive Gauche filmmakers? How do one and the other reconcile the internationalist ideal of cinema and the desire to achieve a transformed cinema based on national projection via cinema?
Old Problems. New Cinema(s)
Issue no. 176 of Cahiers du Cinéma, March 1966, presents the case of Brazil’s Cinema Novo. In the editorial, Jean-Louis Comolli analyses the new cinema movements from a broad and comprehensive perspective. He identifies evidence of a «new» cinema and stresses that the Nouvelle Vague was the «yeast of an international revolution». He points out that what has changed under the influence of French cinema is not cinema per se, but a certain idea of the cinema that had prevailed up until that time (Cahiers du Cinéma, 176, March 1966, 5): «the concept of an entertainment industry had ended. The mutation did not take place so much in terms of film as a work of art but rather at the level of film as an object of consumption», he suggests.
A year earlier, in the manifesto Uma Estética da Fome [An Esthetic of Hunger], Revista Civilização Brasileira 3, July 1965, Glauber Rocha affirmed that for European observers «the process of artistic creation in the underdeveloped world is of interest only insofar as it satisfies a nostalgia for primitivism. This primitivism is generally presented as a hybrid form, disguised under the belated heritage of the ‘civilized world’, a heritage poorly understood since it is imposed by colonial conditioning». Rocha suggested that Latin America is still a colony and that the tragic originality of the Cinema Novo movement in the context of world cinema is precisely hunger, wherein the greatest misery is that «its hunger is felt but not intellectually understood». Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement understands the hunger that «the European and the majority of Brazilians have not understood. For the European it is a strange tropical surrealism. For the Brazilian it is a national shame».
Glauber therefore proposed a revolutionary cinema, in form and content, which he viewed as a distant art, both in terms of its mercantilist concerns [«the commitment of Industrial Cinema is to untruth and exploitation», he writes] and its purely formal concerns, as an art form committed to the truth.
From Cinema Novo we should learn that an aesthetic of violence, prior to being primitive, is revolutionary. It’s the initial moment when the colonizer becomes aware of the colonized. Only when confronted with violence does the colonizer understand, through horror, the strength of the culture he exploits. As long as they do not take up arms, the colonized remain slaves; a first policeman had to die for the French to become aware of the Algerians.
Violence portrayed by the cinema is assumed as aesthetic violence. Rocha concluded:
Cinema Novo cannot develop effectively while it remains marginal to the economic and cultural process of the Latin American continent [...] The economic and industrial integration of Cinema Novo depends on the freedom of Latin America”. [...] “This is why we do not have more in common with cinema from around the world. Cinema Novo is a project carried out in the politics of hunger and, for that very reason, it suffers all of the resulting weaknesses in its existence.
Therefore, in his article History of Cinema Novo, on Framework no. 12 (1979, 19-27), Rocha focused on the fact that the Third World’s «avant-garde» would be very different from that of the «developed» world. He stated that the problem is not to decide between the national and the universal. The problem is creating art from insufficiencies and on the basis of these foundations to build a way of thinking that is still in a process of evolution. This will engender an international style of art: that of the «avant-garde.» Creation, he claimed, is the only stimulus for the development of styles in the Third World. «A cinema that wants to create and seeks cultural quality obtains, at various levels, political results» (Rocha 1979, 19).
Guerra’s Exilic Camera
In permanent exile – from Mozambique, Portugal or Brazil – and constantly travelling, Ruy Guerra positioned himself as a member of this avant-garde. In fact, he wasn’t solely a political exile. He was also an intellectual exile. This dual condition as an exile - for political reasons and due to the freedom of conscience that he always claimed for himself – pushed him into a marginal position in the context of the Cinema Novo movement. He clearly assumed this in the personal interview that he gave in the Cahiers no. 178, two issues after the edition that featured an in-depth article on the Cinema Novo movement. This is also demonstrated by the manner in which his participation in the collective that directed Loin du Vietnam was terminated – or suspended by the group. Censorship and relative marginalisation were the conditions that resulted from affirmation of his personal cinema. From the New Cinema movements, this highly personal cinema retained an aesthetic of imperfection, simplicity and lack of resources. On the other hand, he participated in Third Cinema movement due to his condition as a nomad, without, however, ever undermining his personal imaginary universe - concerned with power relations and based on a poetic gaze transposed to cinema, rooted in hope.
The dossier of Cahiersdu Cinéma no. 176 dedicated to Cinema Novo was entitled «Revolution in cinema». The opening article, written by Marco Bellochio, stated that cinema should be political. Bellochio affirmed that this requirement was particularly keenly felt in a «backward» country such as Brazil. He explained: «The value of the Cinema Novo movement comes from respecting this violent necessity. It serves in order to change the very reality that engenders its existence». Bellochio claims that neo-realism expressed a revolution that had already ended, whereas Brazil’s Cinema Novo is the most important of all the New Cinema movements, to the extent that it can cause a revolution. In the “Petit histoire du Cinema Novo” presented by Cahiers, Guerra’s Os Cafajestes [The Unscrupulous Ones] is classified as «aggressively Nouvelle Vague, with quotes from Godard, Resnais, Antonioni, etc., as being cynical, irreverent». The irreverent Ruy Guerra was invited to the “Encounter with the Cinema Novo” but didn’t show up and wasn’t a member of the group that, in this issue of Cahiers, told the movement’s story.
In 2011, Thomas Waugh described him as a «Brazilian expatriate». In the early 1960s, Michel Capdenac, in the magazine Les Lettres Françaises, dubbed him as a «Mozambican black». Such inaccuracies abound and illustrate Ruy Guerra’s ambivalent position even within the Cinema Novo movement. His career is that of a nomad, of an outsider. His cinematographic work is marked by the director’s movements around the world. His camera, which is just as nomadic as his personal gaze and sensibility, films in Africa, Europe and Latin America, and is nationless. The main exception, perhaps, is the projection that he carried out and helped to achieve for the Mozambican nation, after he returned to his native country, which he described as being nothing more than a «gangrenous compass of hope [...] that stubborn insomnia within a living dream».x
Guerra did not view himself as being a native of Portugal. As the son of colonists, he was born with the stigma of being a «second-class Portuguese» citizen. In the wake of the April 25, 1974 revolution, when democracy was restored in Portugal, it was Glauber Rocha who joined the collective of Portuguese directors that shot the film As Armas e o Povo [The Weapons and the People] (1975), and who predicted that the Cinema Novo of the 1970s would be born in Portugal.
Guerra’s aspirations instead took him to the «living dream» that he felt existed in Mozambique at that time. He had grown up in Mozambique, where his amateur films had been confiscated and censored by the Estado Novo dictatorship (1926-1976) and he had been imprisoned, at the age of only 17, for having signed pro-democracy manifestos. He had then left this Portuguese colony and moved to Europe in order to complete his studies. International Police for Defence of the State (PIDE) briefly arrested him upon his arrival in Lisbon and after completing high school in Portugal, he then moved to Paris, where he studied film at IDHEC. He lived in a house with about forty people, of which about three quarters came from all over the world, and he later revealed that this experience had a major effect on him.
In July 1967, Ruy Guerra was interviewed for Positif no. 86 (4-16). One of the interviewers, the film critic Robert Benayoun, revealed that when he stayed in Rio de Janeiro there was always the concern to make clear that Guerra isn’t Brazilian.xi This was followed by the inevitable, direct question - if the fact that he comes from Mozambique influenced the judgment that he brings, as an auteur, to the situation of Brazil and to the heart of the Cinema Novo movement, and whether this meant that he was always placed apart from his colleagues. However Guerra circumvented the question that he was somehow marginalised. He explained that it was no accident that he moved to Brazil. He was not able to make films in Mozambique because there was no film industry there. Guerra added that he also couldn’t make films in Portugal because he would be sentenced to prison there and it had no film industry. When Benayoun suggested that there are films made by Ernesto de Sousa, Manoel de Oliveira and Artur Ramos, Guerra interrupted him and cited the name of Paulo Rocha, who he considered to be a very fine filmmaker, and also Fernando Lopes, who he said made a very interesting film, Belarmino, but he claimed that it was virtually impossible to make films in Portugal.
Guerra transposed the plot of Os Fuzis /The Guns to the Northeast of Brazil, but he had originally planned to shoot the film in Greece or Spain, where he had lived. However he preferred to live and film in Brazil. Like Fernando Pessoa, who said that his homeland was the Portuguese language, «I missed speaking Portuguese. I never wanted to stay in France. I had proposals to stay there but I never wanted to, because language is very important for me and I never imagined living in a country that didn’t speak Portuguese» (Antunes and Costa 2013, 475).
Besides sharing the same language, Guerra also had affinities with Brazilian culture, as he explained in 1967:
[...] Brazil interested me. As a Mozambican, I was more conditioned by that country than by Portugal, because of things such as literature, the Negro problem, etc. Mozambique is a miniature Brazil. From an early age I was familiar with the literature of the country, I had an affinity with it. During my journey to Brazil, there was therefore a mixture of a specific set of circumstances and my own desires (Cahiers du cinéma,189).
He arrived in Brazil to film a project that was subsequently aborted. When he realised that he had no money to return to Europe, he thought about working locally. The Brazilian cinema at the time was dominated by «chanchadas» which the Cahiers then described as «low-comedies». Asked about this by the Cahiers, Guerra explained that Os Cafajestes [The Hustlers] (1962) was the first film that differed from these films, which were purely commercial fodder. All the critics agreed that it was a new beginning for Brazilian cinema. It was also, he admitted, the first film to be attributed to the Cinema Novo movement.
According to Guerra, the film’s success was primarily due to the strong national sentiment experienced at the time, rather than the film qualities. The need for a national cinema was widely sensed. The film’s eroticism and European Nouvelle Vague style did the rest, he told Positif no. 86.
The military dictatorship in Brazil, as well as censorship of his films, led Guerra to move once again. In 1967 he returned to Paris. However he continued to be an outsider and a singular voice.
The Birth (of the Images) of the African Nations
Brazil’s Cinema Novo was set against the transformation of film theory and practice that took place in the 1960s with the emergence and theorisation of Latin American Liberation Cinema, dubbed as Third Cinema.xii In this context, and in addition to Hacia un Tercer Cinema [Towards a Third Cinema], by the Argentines Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino, and Por un Cine Imperfecto [For an Imperfect Cinema], by the Cuban Julio García Espinosa, other «revolutionary» film manifestos simultaneously appeared at that time in North Africa and the Middle East. These films - that advocated armed struggle and addressed the class struggle - were an inspiration for both Brazil’s Cinema Novo, which was nonetheless linked to a national film tradition, and for an auteur such as Guerra who, here and there, in his interviews, cites references and demonstrates that he was just as engaged as Glauber Rocha, although he never expounded his theories on this subject.
If the Nouvelle Vague changed the way of seeing cinema - questioning its conception as an entertainment industry, Third Cinema (and within this context, Cinema Novo) contributed to an alteration to the modes of making cinema adopted by the Rive Gauche auteurs. When Godard created the Dziga Vertov Group (1968-1972), that was dedicated to making «political films politically», he didn’t limit himself to changing the topics addressed in the films, but instead framed such films within a broader project of social transformation through the desire to transform the modus operandi of cinema. The project of the Medvedkine Groups (1967-1973) - which involved Chris Marker, Bruno Muel and Antoine Bonfanti, amongst others - was no longer sufficient for Godard.
After these groups, inspired by Soviet avant-garde cinema, had been de-activated, Godard re-encountered Ruy Guerra, after the declaration of independence of Mozambique. The «encounters» between Godard and Guerra had been recurrent, ever since À bout de souffle [Breathless] (1960) had left its mark on the Cinema Novo, via Os Cafajestes, passing through Loin du Vietnam and finally in Africa that, for both directors, led to a confrontation between the filmmakers imaginary universes and personal investigations and the political strategies of projection of the fledgling Mozambican nation.
The movement of filmmakers and film technicians linked to an internationalist ideal was obviously not limited to Mozambique, although this case is the most studied and best known, especially given that film studies tend to isolate the emergence of the cinemas of the new African nations. Convened by Luandino Vieira, Bruno Muel, Antoine Bonfanti, Marcel Trillat and Jacqueline Meppiel, linked to Unicité, trained technicians for Angolan Public Television (TPA), which was also responsible for using 16 mm film to record the nascent years of the new Angolan nation. Chris Marker, after having been invited by Luís Cabral, spent six months in Guinea-Bissau in 1976, helping to think about the creation of Guinean national cinema. During his stay he worked with Flora Gomes and Sana Na N’Hada, Josefina Crato and José Cobumba Bolama - who Amílcar Cabral had sent previously to Cuba to study film. These connections demonstrate that a concerted study is still required, which addresses, articulates and furthers analysis of the relationship between the internationalist line of the Nouvelle Vague, influenced by the aesthetics and action programme of Third Cinema, and the emergence of national cinemas in the new Portuguese-speaking nations in Africa.
Although Guerra was not in Lisbon to film the Carnation Revolution alongside the filmmakers of the Portuguese Cinema Novo, he once again stood at the forefront - as he had been when he participated in the project, Loin du Vietnam, as a representative not only of Brazilian Cinema Novo but also of Third Cinema - to think about the challenge of creating a Mozambican Film Institute.
Ruy Guerra went to Mozambique, as is well known, in order to help create the National Film Institute (INC) - one of the pillars of FRELIMO’s cultural policy. It was necessary to train technical staff. «I went and I don’t know whether I had the utopian spirit to stay there or not. I was unsure, but I quickly discovered that I couldn’t readapt myself to the country on a definitive basis» (Antunes and Costa, 2013, 481). He admits that he felt the calling of his youth in order to respond to his desire for the independence of Mozambique. It was an enticing obligation and a short redemption for having been absent from the liberation struggles, due to his career obligations. He explains that he was also delighted to be commissioned by FRELIMO «to bring qualified people to the country and train young Mozambicans to [...] work in the different areas of cinema». The famous issue no. 300 of Cahiers depicted Godard’s adventure in Mozambique. It included the article “Nord contre Sud ou Naissance (de l’Image) de une Nation” [“North against South or the Birth (of the Image) of a Nation”], in which the filmmaker explained what this process involved, in the summer of 1978. He aimed to study television before it existed in the country and «flooded [...] Mozambique’s entire social and geographical body.» With this goal in mind he aimed to study the image, the desire to create images and the production of such desires and their distribution. He thereby aimed to study the situation and take advantage of its exceptional nature - the independence of a new-born country and the image that, little by little, it creates of itself.
The proposal, enthusiastically described by Godard as «two or three things on the margin of television to think about television with an audience of thirteen million people still on the margin of the world», effectively confirms and negatively reinforces Glauber Rocha’s remark concerning the European observer in Uma Estética da Fome. Godard’s project couldn’t be further from, for example, the project developed in Angola by Ruy Duarte de Carvalho – who, at that time, while working for TPA, recorded Presente Angolano - Tempo Mumuíla [Angolan Present – Mumuíla Time](1979), that depicted nomadic hunters, valuing this historical moment and balancing his vision of it with that of the current reality of Angola, that was accelerating due to the process of construction of the nation, pressured by the model of development and technological progress.
The diary of Godard’s stay in Mozambique, published in Cahiers, states that Godard had lunch with Ruy Guerra, in Hotel Polana, on August 25. This was followed by visits to the INC and conversations with the film students. Another entry records a subsequent work meeting, on 30 August, in which Guerra participated with other members of the film institute. On 1 September they had dinner in the former yacht club with other friends. Godard was delighted with the cinematic perspectives open to Ruy Guerra:
Without wanting to put him on a pedestal, Ruy’s current situation is
The passion of the crowds and the individual for the lively spectacle.
Ruy perhaps enjoys a unique situation at this precise moment in the
history of the Third World and filmmaking.
As a filmmaker who has directed several “big” films for an
international audience, Ruy carries within him a deep desire to tell
stories, to convey happiness and unhappiness via men’s and women’s
faces, gestures and bodies, filming the adventures of either ordinary
people or fabulous characters.
And then, as a child of this country, and as a country in the infancy of
its independence, awakened in the middle of the colonial night, he
must keep his eyes open and not let himself go.
But don’t let himself go where? And how can one show the way, or
simply find it and then tell others what one has found? How can one
In Ruy’s precise movements and goals, filled with awkward strength,
that gently seek to find the right measures, we feel that here, in this
part of the world, there is finally a chance to find an answer to this question.
(Cahiers du Cinéma, 300)
Ruy Guerra sought to find this answer, not through the creation of the INC, but via a personal project that he proposed at the time to the Mozambican government and which occupied him for several months. The project involved setting up a travelling film projection system in communal villages, to do public education work. But his arduous work was misinterpreted and «was nipped in the bud».
The director felt that he had nothing else to do in Mozambique except direct a film about the massacre that took place in Mueda, on June 16, 1960, during the colonial administration, before the outbreak of the war of liberation. The resulting film, Mueda, Memória e Massacre [Mueda, Memory and Massacre](1981), was a historical re-creation of the events based on the different theatrical representations of the event which, from 1968 onwards, began to be staged by the local people, and was presented as the «Mozambique’s first independent fiction film». Classification of the film as fiction is highly debatable. Guerra was primarily interested by the collective process of reflection on history that underpinned the staged re-creation of events. Using a dual temporality - his camera moves between the popular audience of the stage performance and the testimonies collected in the present day, in order to stage the past – Guerra consciously opted for a documentary-style recording, in order to use cinema to capture the aforementioned process of reflection.
Mueda, Memória e Massacre (1981), Ruy Guerra
Produced in precarious conditions, this project was a return to a «cinema of hunger», also in a more literal manner. There was almost no food in the region during the shoot and the choice to use black and white film for Mueda was determined by Guerra’s insistence that the film should be shot entirely in Mozambique. The story of the film’s production process and its subsequent censorship has been revealed in the research of Raquel Schefer or Catarina Simão. We now know that the original film was censored, partially re-filmed and re-edited, in an attempt to tailor it to the «official vision of the historical event» (Schefer, 2015, 2).xiii According to Schefer «the missing images reveal an archaeology of the cultural project of the party of [Samora] Machel and reveal the contradictions between theory, ideology and political praxis that characterize the Mozambican revolutionary period» (2016, 707).
This episode reveals the different expectations associated to post-independence cinema and once again underline the tension between Guerra’s auteur films and the national projection in progress based on images.xiv
A “Minor Cinema” – Ruy Guerra’s Accent
Hamid Nacify (2001) coined the concept «accented cinema», which I apply herein in order to think about Guerra’s place in the film projects in which he was involved. Nacify’s concept is an aesthetic response to the experience of displacement as a result of exile, migration or diaspora. On the basis of this concept he establishes a genealogy of «accented cinema» which distinguishes different types of cinema made by exiled directors, directors that pertain to the diaspora or those with a post-colonial identity and ethic. Guerra does not fully pertain to any of the categories conceived by Nacify. However the utility of this concept is that it enables us to think about Ruy Guerra beyond the framework of the new cinema movements or the internationalist movement that had a major impact on cinema at a certain moment in time. In his nomadic wanderings he participated in these movements, but his own place was always that of a displaced person. This idea illuminates Ruy Guerra’s position in his geographical and cinematic wandering. It endowed him with unique and poetic conditions, to participate with fully-aware and fine-tuned consciousness in Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement and, more generally, in so-called Third Cinema.
Nacify stresses that what underlies the «accented films» is that they reflect the auteur’s «dual consciousness»: knowledge concerning the dominant modes of film production and the filmmaker’s awareness as a displaced individual shaped by the forms of cultural production, marked by exile and diaspora that preceded him or her.
Guerra was extremely aware of the modes of film production. Indeed his nomadism gave him a heightened awareness of different modes of filmmaking. This awareness of the objective constraints on filmmaking methods, and other factors, allowed him to create a career trajectory that was as free as possible, in which cinema wasn’t his only activity. His awareness as a displaced person did not mean that he was immersed in sorrow, but instead it led to an imaginary universe constituted in a space of freedom - cinema as an extremely dense heterotopia, that is not only that which is organized by the two-dimensional screen on which three-dimensional spaces are projected, but also a heterotopia in which the screen projects a space-palimpsest that may be moulded by the director and by the viewer, in function of their experiences, with multiple voices and various accents, and not determined by a national project. Guerra’s oeuvre is marked by the relationship that he maintains, as a nomad, with the places where he has lived. Simultaneously his oeuvre explores his individual understanding of the world, in particular the manner in which he learns about the world through the prism of the culture of the society in which he has settled.
«Accented cinema» criticizes the dominant cinema. Its meaning is also construed through critical juxtaposition of elements from different universes, languages and cultures, based on an aesthetic of imperfection. Guerra clearly pursued this aesthetic, and praised imperfect cinema, in which the use of his unfocused shots, for example, is a clear demarcation from the dominant mode of filmmaking. This «accented cinema» is therefore not only a «minority cinema» but also a «minor cinema» in the meaning attributed to this concept by Deleuze and Guattari. Guerra’s «minor cinema» assumes his marginalization within the context of the dominant cinema but, in a way, in the framework of the movement that questioned the former - the Cinema Novo - which he helped create.
In order so assume a minor practise, this cinema:
[...] accepts exile within the context of the mainstream discursive practices, formulating himself as a foreigner in his own language, stuttering and revealing his accent and the strangeness of someone who speaks out of place or who accepts and assumes a nowhere land as his desert, given the impossibility of a personal origin. Hence, the writer or artist doesn’t effectively need to form part of a minority, but simply to “find his own point of underdevelopment, his own patois, his own Third World, his own desert” (Deleuze, Guattari 1975, 28-29).
For Guerra, all art is political. The circumstances of his wandering around the world, often living under dictatorial regimes - even in De Gaulle’s France - inevitably left a deep mark on his work. He constantly focuses on power relations, emphasizing the political side of his films.
He does not carry with him, as proposed by Deleuze and Guattari, a «people to come.» This is because his attitude is not rooted in rationality. Instead it is based on what he calls «an act of survival» or faith, in the sense of a deep conviction – his belief in life.
Maria do Carmo Piçarra
Centre for Comparative Studies – Faculty of Letters / University of Lisbon, Portugal and Communication and Society Research Centre – University of Minho, Portugal
Rafael Antunes and António Costa, “Ruy Guerra, o Cineasta da Palavra”, Doc On-line,15, December 2013, www.doc.ubi.pt , pp. 471 – 492.
Eduardo Portanova Barros, “O Cinema de Ruy Guerra: Um Imaginário Autoral na Pós-Modernidade”. PhD diss., Pontifícia Universidade Católica, 2009.
Vavy Pacheco Borges.Paixão Escancarada - Ruy Guerra, Vida e Obra, forthcoming.
“Situation du Nouveau Cinéma – Brésil, Canada”,Cahiers du Cinéma, 176, March 1966.
Jean-André Fieschi and Jean Narboni,“Entretien avec Ruy Guerra”, Cahiers du Cinéma,178, May 1966.
Cahiers du Cinéma, 189, April 1967, pp. 52-56
Michel Capdenac, “Descobertas dos Cinemas da Fome”, Seara Nova,1437, July 1964, pp. 216-217.
Matthew Croombs, “Loin du Vietnam”, Third Text, 28:6, 2014, pp. 489-505.
Jean-Luc Godard, “Nord contre Sud ou Naissance de l’image d’une nation”, Cahiers du Cinéma, 300, May 1979.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Pour Une Littérature Mineure [For a Minor Literature], Les Éditions de Minuit, Paris 1975.
Julio García Espinosa, “Por un Cine Imperfecto”, Cine Cubano, December 1969.
Alexandre Figueirôa, Cinema Novo: a Onda do Jovem Cinema e Sua Recepção na França [Cinema Novo: Young Cinema’s Wave and the Reception in France], Papirus, São Paulo 2004.
Jean-Michel Frodon, La Projection Nationale. Cinéma et Nation [The National Projection. Cinema and Nation],Odile Jacob, Paris 1998.
Hamid Nacify, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking, Princeton University Press, Princeton 2001.
Pierre Pelegri, “Entretien avec Ruy Guerra”, Positif, 86, July 1967, pp. 11-12.
Maria do Carmo Piçarra, “Ruy Duarte: Um ‘Cinema de Urgência’ Para Resgatar Angola do ‘Hemisfério do Observado”, Angola, o Nascimento deUma Nação 3. O Cinema daIndependência, edited by Maria do Carmo Piçarra and Jorge António, Guerra & Paz, Lisbon 2015, pp. 101-138.
Glauber Rocha, “History of Cinema Novo”, Framework,12, 1979), pp. 19-27.
Raquel Schefer, “As imagens que faltam. As duas versões de Mueda, Memória e Massacre (1979-1980), de Ruy Guerra”, Atas do V Encontro da AIM. Lisbon, ISCTE. Retrieved from http://www.aim.org.pt/atas/pdfs/Atas-VEncontroAnualAIM-67.pdf. 2016. 706-718
Raquel Schefer. “La forme-événement: Le Cinéma Révolutionnaire Mozambicain et le Cinéma de Libération”. PhD diss., Université Sorbonne Nouvelle-Paris 3, 2015.
Fernando Solanas and Octavio. Getino, “Hacia un tercer cine”, Revista Tricontinental, 13 OSPAAAL, October 1969.
Giorgio Tinazzi, “Incontro con l’autore”, Bianco e Nero, v30, 11/12, Nov/Dec 1969, pp. 30-42.
Laurent Véray. Loin du Vietnam, 1967. Paris Expérimental, Paris 2014.
Maria do Carmo Piçarra (Communication Sciences PhD, New University of Lisbon) is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Centre of the Communication and Society Research of the University of Minho and the Centre for Comparative Studies of the University of Lisbon. Co-editor of Aniki – Portuguese Journal of the Moving Image, she is a journalist, film critic and programmer. She published Azuis ultramarinos. Propaganda colonial e censura no cinema do Estado Novo (Overseas blues. Colonial propaganda and censorship in the cinema of Estado Novo (2015), Salazar vai ao cinema I, II (Salazar goes to to movies) (2006, 2011), and co-edited, with Jorge António, the trilogy Angola, o nascimento de uma nação (Angola, the birth of a nation) (2013, 2014, 2015).
This work was supported by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology [Post-PhD Grant SFRH/BPD/93217/2013] and the translation was supported by the Centre for Comparative Studies – Faculty of Letters / University of Lisbon.
i “Interview William Klein and Alain Resnais”.Cinéma, 122, January 1968, pp. 37-55.
iiIn the Encyclopaedia of French Film Directors, Volume 1, by Phillipe Rége, Jean A. Chérrasse is listed as the co-author of the dialogues of the segment, identified as Les tigres de papier.
iiiConversing with the historian Vavy Pacheco Borges, I was able to ascertain, from the part of Ruy Guerra, that the film’s title was not inspired, as I had previously thought, from the name of the poem by Aimé Césaire, Petite Chanson pour Traverser Une Grande Rivière. According to Guerra, «the name was that of a song that we listened to at the time, which seems to have been of Vietnamese origin».
ivRetrieved from http://www.chrismarker.ch/films-collectifs-de-chris-marker.html
vIt should be noted that in 2012, 2013, Varda asked La Sofra to withdraw her name from the film’s credits sequence, because she does not consider that it should be included in her filmography. This can be seen in the version released in 2015, after the restoration of Loin du Vietnam.
I would like to thank Vavy Pacheco Borges for her generosity in sharing the information compiled in her biography of Ruy Guerra, Paixão Escancarada - Ruy Guerra, Vida e Obra.
viSouth Vietnam was part of French Indochina and its independence was only recognised in 1956. Its anti-communist government was supported by the US during the Vietnam War.
viiSouth Vietnam was part of French Indochina and its independence was only recognised in 1956. Its anti-communist government was supported by the US during the Vietnam War.
viiiVavy Pacheco Borges, Paixão Escancarada - Ruy Guerra, Vida e Obra, forthcoming.
ixThe Société Franco-Africaine du Cinéma was created in May 1958 by the sisters Catherine Varlin-Winter and Giselle Rébillon. It aimed to produce films in the newly independent countries, such as Chad and Nigeria. In the 1960s, it was renamed Sofracima and maintained its interest in questioning the status quo. That was when the collaboration with Chris Marker began. It is currently known as La Sofra.
x“My country “was written by Guerra in Mozambique after the country’s independence. «I have as a country / A black wing of wind / I have as a country / Crumbs of crimson acacias / I have as a country / the fleeting swords of dawn / I have as a country / a woman’s satanic velvet / I have as a country / a gangrenous compass of hope / In fact, I only have as a country / This stubborn insomnia within a living dream». Accessed http://www.ruyguerra.com.br/poesia.php?id=61&idioma=1
xiThe interviewers were Robert Banayoun, Michel Ciment, Jacques Demeure and Michèle Firk.
xiiDespite its many overlaps, we consider the «New Latin American Cinema» as a specifically aesthetic category, while Third Cinema is mostly linked to a political praxis of cinema.
xiiiWe now know that the version in circulation is the censored version.
xivJean-Michel Frodon (1998) states that, in order to exist, the nation – an «imagined political community» (Anderson, 1983) – shares with cinema a common need for projection. Like cinema, the nation exists in function of a reality that is revised and corrected according to a specific dramaturgy.