The Pornographer could also be called The Movie Buff. This 1970 film
“The film is a joke on homages,” Callegaro told a Rotterdam audience, adding that his goal was to “to please friends and anger censors.” Dissertations lie unwritten on how Boca films fought the dictatorship, and one of the key ways was through comedy built on a continual bursting of expectations. Among the film’s funniest jokes is its general lack of nudity; locked in a bare, sterile room with a typewriter, Metralha has little time for women. Go further and see an intellectual refusing engagement with his society. Stop there and see a punk.
Carlos Reichenbach’s Lilian M: Confidential Report, made five years later, is an equally weird comic-book tragedy. It came out toward the end of the Cinema Marginal movement, but has much in common with the Margin’s key films. For one thing, it’s self-referential. The opening shot is of a tape recorder running as a man and a woman talk off screen. “What’s your name?” “Célia Olga.” “No, your name in the film.” “Lilian.” “No, your real name in the film.” “Maria.”
She’s one woman who’s been split into many. She narrates her life in flashback to a film crew, who we revisit from time to time (after one especially shocking tale, the boom guy shakes his head and mutters, “Unbelievable”). She started her life, calm, quiet, and dull, on a farm with a loving husband, until the day a loud salesman came asking for water. “Don’t judge a man by his tie, but by his talent,” the little guy muttered, and soon showed a talent for sweeping her away with city dreams. But then he died in a horrific car crash (shown in slow motion, the screen drenched in red), and she made her way on her own.
In classic picaresque fashion, the woman bounces from one lover to another, and the film spins satirically by making each stand for a different link in the social chain. There’s the straightforward farmer, who believes hard work will get you to heaven; the social-climbing salesman who thinks you can get rich fast; the millionaire who values improving the country, though talks more than acts (“The nation works, thanks to our financial contributions”); and his son, battling Dad through a bohemian life as a dancer. The possibility of the young man being gay or bisexual bursts one of the movie’s many bubbles. Sexual liberation is social liberation, a lesson this lady learns, too, and teaches others. A few scenes later, her millionaire sits on the bed, weeping. He howls, “My moral!”
Brazil’s censorship board tended to punish overtly political content more so than sexual scenes, not understanding that sex was political. As a result, filmmakers like Callegaro and Reichenbach could load free love into their movies, and amid the madcap anarchy (I haven’t yet mentioned the wheeler-dealer called the Grasshopper, who tries to sell the heroine some good land in China), give hope for a freer world. “Being happy is an art,” someone tells her, “You need to practice it.” But how?
One of Célia/Lilian/Maria’s lovers has a sister, who sits in the house all day, longing for something long lost. That’s not a fate she (and perhaps any woman) can tolerate, and so keeps running, and running. The movie ends only because the crew’s tape runs out. This woman’s story never will.
The Rotterdam International Film Festival runs from January 25—February 5.