The Given Word (1962)
"O Pagador de Promessas" (original title)

 |  Drama  |  1 June 1962 (France)
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A simple yet devout Christian makes a vow to Saint Barbara after she saves his donkey, but everyone he meets seems determined to misunderstand his intentions. Will he be able to keep his promise in the end?



(screenplay), (based on a play by), 1 more credit »
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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Leonardo Villar ...
Zé do Burro / Donkey Jack (as Leonardo Vilar)
Glória Menezes ...
Dionísio Azevedo ...
Olavo, the Priest
Geraldo Del Rey ...
Bonitão / Handsome
Roberto Ferreira ...
Norma Bengell ...
Marly, the Prostitute
Othon Bastos ...
Antonio Pitanga ...
Coca, the Capoeira Fighter (as Antonio L. Sampaio)
Gilberto Marques ...
The Galicean
Milton Gaucho ...
Police Officer
Enoch Torres ...
Police Inspector
Carlos Torres ...
Coca's Friend
João Di Sordi ...
Police Detective (as João Desordi)
Veveldo Diniz ...
Sexton (as Velvedo Diniz)
Maria Conceição ...


Zé-do-Burro has only one worldly possession, his donkey, that he named Nicolas and considers to have a sole like himself, a law abiding Christian just a trifle naive. During a tempest, Nicolas is seriously wounded, and Zé-do-Burro, out of despair, makes a promise: to carry a cross as large as Christ's, to the altar of Saint Barbara - the nearest being in the city of Bahia. He vows to do so in a Candomblé session, dedicated to the goddess Yansan - that in the popular belief corresponds to that Christian saint. Nicolas fully recovers from his illness, and Zé-do-Burro produces a large cross with his own hands and tools, and then carries it on foot to Bahia, accompanied by his wife, Rosa. He has to stay by the church's closed door, and the only person who comes to meet them is Bonitão, the local pimp, who offers to take Rosa to a pension while Zé-do-Burro keeps his promise of staying by the cross. Next morning, the priest is surprised but satisfied with the faith shown by Zé-do-Burro - ... Written by Artemis-9

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Release Date:

1 June 1962 (France)  »

Also Known As:

Payer of Promises  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Film debut of Leonardo Villar. See more »


Referenced in To Each His Own Cinema (2007) See more »

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User Reviews

THE GIVEN WORD (Anselmo Duarte, 1962) ***1/2
23 April 2011 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

This Brazilian religious satirical drama emerged the surprise "Palme D'Or" winner at the Cannes Film Festival over such heavyweight contenders as ADVISE AND CONSENT, DIVORCE – Italian STYLE, THE GODDESS, L'ECLISSE, THE INNOCENTS, MONDO CANE, THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC and THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL! As can be seen from that list, there were a number of other acerbic and/or spiritually-themed movies, which makes its selection for the Grand Prize all the more amazing and remarkable (but, in the long run, certainly not unjust)!; it was also up for the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar but lost out to the equally heart-felt SUNDAYS AND CYBELE. In hindsight, this is undoubtedly one of the unsung masterpieces of World Cinema which, in spite of the acclaim which clearly met its original release, has fallen through the cracks over the years: I, for one, was unfamiliar with both film and director (even if a number of vintage Brazilian efforts occasionally crop up on late-night Italian TV).

Anyway, the film begins with a man carrying a life-size cross across country (often battling the elements) with his wife in tow; I expected the story to unfold in flashback so that we come to learn why he was doing his – but, actually, we follow his often incredible vicissitudes once he reaches his destination. In fact, he had promised Saint Barbara to make this sacrifice (which invariably leaves him bruised, exhausted and eventually hungry) if she healed his wounded and extremely devoted donkey – amusingly, it takes some time before we actually realize he is doing all this for the sake of an animal! What starts out as a harmless eccentricity is soon turned into a circus a' la Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) and leads, inevitably to tragedy. First off, the couple arrive in the middle of the night so that they find the church closed. Soon, they are approached by a man who, being a pimp (seen beating up his 'lover' for the miserly night's takings!), we know he is up to no good and that his offer of a helping hand can only have selfish ends (specifically his intentions over the newly-arrived, attractive-looking and obviously gullible woman); indeed, he persuades her to spend the night at a hotel nearby, while her husband sleeps off his fatigue on the damp church-steps!

The next morning, people gather for mass but the man is still resting there; the parish priest is naturally curious of his presence and interrogates him as soon as he wakes up. However, the latter proves an unswerving obstacle to the fulfillment of the all-important promise once the poor and naïve outsider mentions the word "candomble'" (a form of local witchcraft)!; incidentally, the film is preceded by a prologue in French explaining this phenomenon (which, it is said, was often deceptively performed in the name of official saints of the Catholic Church!). Still, the man is so honest that he is adamant in accomplishing his task – also because he fears that, if he does not, and simply goes back home his donkey will have a relapse (by the way, the animal is mentioned so often throughout that one wishes we had been able to see it, even if only in a photo or something…though, of course, I understand that it was merely used here as a symbol)!

Gradually, all kinds of people begin to converge upon the scene: notably a bar-keeper across the street who relishes the consequent influx of 'traffic' in his establishment, a couple of photo-journalists who arrive to conduct an interview and take pictures (only to blow the incident so out of proportion as to land the hierarchy of the Church and, eventually, the Police onto them!), a sneaky poet peddling his gift for verse on the street for his own political ends, an obese black lady into the propagation of Paganism who constantly invites (tempts?) our involuntary martyr-hero to offer his cross at the altar of her false god and, of course, the pimp still after the girl (whose presence his own 'fount of income' will not take sitting down and, sure enough, the two women are soon at each other's throat in full view of the crowd, ever-ready to lap up an out-of-the-ordinary occurrence!). Another fault the priest finds in our protagonist is that, by opting to carry a cross, he has put himself up to the level of Christ – which the journalists are all-too-ready to exploit and, lo and behold, he is being played up as a crusader for the common people, asked rhetorical questions about Mankind's future and even expected to perform miracles on infirm locals!

As is the Brazilian trademark, the church-steps eventually become the venue for ritualistic folk dancing but, with the appearance of the Police (brought in by the pimp when he realizes the woman has slipped from his grasp – incidentally, her husband tolerates the affair for the time being but warns her she will have to answer for her conduct on their way back!), the situation soon gets out-of-hand, escalates into a riot, pistol-shots are fired, and our hero drops dead on the spot! When they see this, the locals take it upon themselves to have him keep his word regardless: they tie him to the cross and, using it as a battering ram (which he had earlier attempted himself in desperation), manage to get them inside the church. As the crowds follow or else disperse, the man's wife is left all alone...

Strikingly made and persuasively acted, THE GIVEN WORD is really one of the most potent religious parables ever...and I cannot help wondering whether Bresson and Bunuel – two of my favorite film-makers and among cinema's greatest purveyors of Spirituality – had the opportunity to watch it back then and, if so, what their opinions may have been like (perchance the former was inspired by this for his own Christian allegory built around a suffering donkey i.e. BALTHASAR {1966}!!).

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