O Aleijadinho, 1978

In the frenzy of festival coverage, a few noteworthy films always seem to slip through the cracks, and for me, this was the case with Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s short film, O Aleijadinho, screened during the filmmaker’s retrospective sidebar at the 2007 New York Film Festival. In hindsight, the film intriguingly prefigures Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Antonio Gaudi in the way de Andrade presents the portrait of Baroque sculptor and architect, Antonio Francisco Lisboa (nicknamed Aleijadinho – “the little cripple” – after his degenerative illness late in life) as the reflected art object itself, rejecting the presentation of intangible, biographical facts for the texturality of created images. By incorporating Brazilian modernist architect, Lucio Costa’s insightful observations of Antonio Francisco’s work in the mid 1700s, de Andrade reframes the experience of art through the perspective of an interpenetrating, living culture, where public spaces serve as sites of both conscious and subconscious engagement. This ideal of a cross-pollinating, egalitarian society is initially suggested in the concept sketches for the House of Governors, an envisioned cultural intersection for students, tradesmen, priests, scholars, artists, and musicians. Now facing the Museum of Inconfidência – the “birth of civic awareness” embodied by the colonial-era martyr, Joaquim José da Silva Xavier (also called “Tiradentes”, the subject of de Andrade’s feature film, The Conspirators) – de Andrade reinforces the integral connection between art and social revolution. De Andrade further illustrates this idea of an evolving, organic culture by tracing Antonio Francisco’s work in progress projects chronologically, moving back and forth from a handful of churches that he would work on throughout his entire life: from the voluptuousness of forms that reflected his youthful exuberance during his apprenticeship with his father, architect Manoel Francisco de Costa Lisboa at the Rosary of Mariana Chapel in Ouro Preto; to the honing of his craft in the carved interiors of Our Lady of Pilar; to his maturation as an artist during his independent commission for the Church of St. Francis of Assisi at a time when a distant, European Renaissance began to influence (or more appropriately, culturally impose) indigenous art, to the Passion Figures and Twelve Prophets of Our Lady of Good Jesus of Matosinhos Sanctuary in Congonhas de Campo that reflected his own struggle with disfigurement, loneliness, and agony. Alternating between sectional and panned sequences, de Andrade eloquently captures the interrelation between the individual and society, microcosm and grand design, the isolated process of creation and the cultivation of a native culture.

© Acquarello 2008. All rights reserved.
First published in The Auteurs Notebook, 03/12/08.