Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, 1967

Commissioned by Italian typewriter manufacturing company Olivetti in 1966 to showcase the construction of Brazil’s newly completed modern capital, Brasilia (and who then promptly shelved the completed work, perhaps because of its implicit critical inquiry), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s exquisitely shot, articulate, and impassioned film, Brasilia, Contradictions of a New City, as its name suggests, is a tale of two cities: one, a paradigm for racial and social integration and progressive urban living; the other, an unattainable (and unaffordable) idealized promise land of unlimited employment that can only be reached by boarding congested rural buses or commuting from neighboring shantytowns that have sprouted along the city limits, housing other pioneering migrant laborers who, years earlier, made the same journey in search of similar opportunity. A tour of the city’s cross-grid traffic system, described as the intersection of two major axes (that implicitly form an ‘X’ mark), provides an astute introduction to the city’s novel urban design, relegating the placement of cemeteries to the outskirts of the major axes so that funeral processions (and symbolically, death) never cross the city’s major intersection. Juxtaposing Brasilia’s all modern architecture and meticulous construction of planned communities with interviews of blue collar workers living in makeshift houses, itinerant workers from the provinces who leave their families behind to work in the city’s ongoing construction projects, and low level civil service employees who were forced to relocate their often large families into cramped apartments with the centralization of government offices in the new capital, de Andrade reinforces the dichotomy of urbanization and gentrification as intrinsic processes of institutionalized socioeconomic segregation (a theme that also surfaces in José Luis Guerín’s En Construcción.

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