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The best way to fully enjoy this Marxist-inspired, doctrinal,
cinéma-vérité documentary about the middle classes in Rio de Janeiro in
1967 -- when Brazil, under a recent military coup, was exhaling the
last breaths of relative freedom in the arts and the media, before
stifling in the dark, violent, full censorship era that began in late
1968 and lasted until the early 1980s -- is to put its ideologically
manipulative, fanatically biased voice-over commentary into proper
historical perspective. Or maybe to half-smile condescendingly at its
pamphletarian radicalism, now that 40 years have passed and Utopia is
dead and buried. The film's agenda is to X-ray the middle classes ("the
social class that never has any say in its own future") as a monstrous
cancer hampering social evolution with their political alienation,
greedy individualism and petty mentality. The elderly, the religious,
the military, the office clerks, the housewives are mocked at and
declared "beyond salvation"; youngsters (especially students, of
course) might still have a chance if...
Director Arnaldo Jabor (in his feature-length debut at 26) followed the cinéma-vérité lessons of Rouch ("Chronique d'un Été") and Pasolini ("Comizi d'Amore"), taking his hand-held camera and Nagra recorder to Rio's streets, bars, offices and small apartments and lets people actually speak out (even if the dooming didactic voice-over narration makes fun of most of them). And what we hear and see forms a familiar portrait of typical capitalist society middle classes (then and now): children want to play and misbehave; playboys want to have fun, party, ride fast cars and get laid; futile girls worry about men, marriage, clothes and make-up; politically- aware students worry about how to combine individual happiness with fighting social injustice; elderly people talk about family, failed dreams, struggling for survival and changing morals. It's impossible to dislike them: their superficiality, hopes, contradictions, battles and frustrations are unmistakably human.
Jabor would eventually treat Brazilian middle classes with more complexity, sarcasm and sense of humor in great films like "Toda Nudez Será Castigada" and "Tudo Bem", but "Opinião Pública" will nevertheless appeal to fans of Brazilian and Latin American politically-aware cinema. It will also appeal to fans of Rio de Janeiro in the "golden years", a still hedonistic and human-scaled city, before overgrowth, rampant violence and the series of disastrous governments took their toll. It may be shocking for contemporary audiences to find out that, if the main problems are still the same 40 years later -- political incompetence, corruption, poverty, famine, public health, social injustice -- the endemic violence which plagues Rio today hadn't yet begun to take shape; it's simply not mentioned as a big problem by any of the interviewees.
PS: See if you can spot actress Leila Diniz in the "Sheik de Agadir" sequence; marvel at the avant-la-lettre Tropicalist iconoclasm of Chacrinha's TV program; and watch that GREAT party with beautiful young people being young and beautiful and having fun like there was no tomorrow -- youth will always be youth, I guess.
Arnaldo Jabor is one of the greatest Brazilian directors and this
documentary is his first film. In 1964, Brazil had a military coup,
installing a dictatorship through many years. With this documentary, Jabor
intends to show the political alienation of the Brazilian middle-class. He
randomly selected persons, maybe without any statistical technique, asking
them questions about future, fears, objectives, concluding how alienated
they were. This film is addressed to a very specific part of the Brazilian
audience, such as students or professionals of history and cinema, or
nostalgic or curious persons, who wants to see how was the ideology and
thinking of that naive generation. A great chance to see images of
Chacrinha, Yoná Magalhães, Henrique Martins and the cast of famous Brazilian
soap-opera `O Sheik de Agadir', Clovis Bornay, Wanderley Cardoso and other
personalities of my childhood. My vote is six.
Title (Brazil): `A Opinião Pública' (`The Public Opinion')
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