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The Red Light Bandit (#110 of 2)

Rotterdam 2012 Rogério Sganzerla’s The Red Light Bandit

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Rotterdam 2012: The Red Light Bandit
Rotterdam 2012: The Red Light Bandit

“It’s a western about the third world,” the news ticker says at the start of 1968’s The Red Light Bandit. Its hero, played by Pablo Villaça, is a soulful, slim rapist and murderer from a favela, whose mother tried to abort him so that he wouldn’t starve. He’s here to complete “the most complete of all criminal districts”: the Boca do Lixo.

The Red Light Bandit is an electric, legendary movie, one Brazilian cinephiles know practically by heart. Its director, Rogério Sganzerla, was 21 years old when he made it, and the anarchic energy of his “Zorro of the poor” could only have been captured by someone so young. Imagine a city kid drunk on comic books and radio plays and getting the neighbors to act them out with him. Then imagine, through the fantasy, a city revealed. “A punk tried to take a wallet from another punk,” a cop says. “However, both were penniless.”

Rotterdam 2012: The Option

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Rotterdam 2012: <em>The Option</em>
Rotterdam 2012: <em>The Option</em>

In the 1960s, a branch of Brazilian cinema emerged so daring, thrilling, and varied that in hindsight people disagreed even over what to call it. For critic-filmmaker Jairo Ferreira, who chronicled the movement, its unconventional narratives and formal audacity made it the “cinema of invention”; for filmmaker-critic Glauber Rocha, briefly a member but chiefly part of the rival Cinema Novo movement, its films were “udigrudi,” a Brazilian spin on the American underground. The consensus term, finally, was Cinema Marginal, and though many of the movement’s titles were censored by Brazil’s military dictatorship, it meant marginal and not marginalized. To be marginalized implies a passive victimization; to be marginal can—and often did—suggest a proud self-definition.