In an early episode of Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s delirious, bawdy, idiosyncratically fragmented, and bluntly allegorical film, Macunaíma, the eponymous hero, having been abandoned by his impoverished family in the forest, encounters an ogre who then proceeds to placate the hungry child by feeding him a piece of flesh carved from his own leg – a grotesque gesture that the ogre takes as an implicit acceptance that binds them to a mutual destiny. In hindsight, this correlated image of anthropophagy and implication serves as an appropriate introduction to the recurring themes inherent in de Andrade’s cinema. Adapted from author Mario de Andrade’s seminal modernista novel, the film also bears the characteristic imprint of the tropicalism movement in its melding of indigenous folktale and carnivalesque satire to create an acerbic commentary on the continued, deep polarization of post-colonial Brazilian society, as manifested through its inequitable treatment of race, sexuality, and privilege. At the heart of this wry self-reflection is the picaresque adventure of the precocious innocent, Macunaíma, the youngest child of a family of jungle dwellers who, upon the death of the family matriarch, sheds his dark skin in an enchanted spring and embarks on a journey to the city with his brothers, where he encounters a brave new world of wealth, empowerment, decadence, and insurgency. Using cannibalism as a metaphor for the evolution of Brazilian culture as a consequence of exploitation in the aftermath of colonialism (of national resources and the subjugation of people), capitalism (of workers in the pursuit of profit), and imperialism (of industrialized countries in their economic domination over underdeveloped nations) – in essence, the dynamic consumption and assimilation of other cultures into the forming of an indigenous, often contradictory national character – de Andrade creates a droll and absurdist tale on urban alienation, essential identity, and the irrepressibility of the human spirit.
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