Cast Carmen Santos (Carmen), Maury Bueno (Christovam), Luis Sorôa (Roberto), Máximo Serrano (Máximo), Nita Ney (Neuza), Pedro Fantol (Juliano Sampaio), Adhemar Gonzaga (Carmen's father), Augusta Leal (Aunt Martha), Ely Sone (Tufty), Rozendo Franco (Franco), Humberto Mauro (Farmer's Servant) Production Brasil English Title Blood of Minas Producers Carmen Santos, Homero Cortes Dominques, Agenor Cortes de Barron Cinematographer Edgar Brasil
Presented at SFSFF 2005
Print Source Cinemateca Brasileira
Musical Accompaniment Mauro Correa and the Latin American Chamber Music Society
Essay by Shari Kizirian
By the time Brazilian director Humberto Mauro began making films in the mid-I 920s, the early heyday of Brazil's golden age of cinema had already faded into oblivion. The Bela Época of Brazilian Cinema began in 1908 with the true crime dramas of Antônio Leal — his film Os Estranguladores (The Stranglers) was the first of its kind in Brazil. That same year, his A Mala Sinistre (The Sinister Suitcase, 1908) became the country's first box office hit. Also popular were Alberto Botelho and producer Cristóvão Guilherme Auler's filmes cantanies, movies with live singing performed behind the screen. Both these genres — the crime drama and filmes cantantes — shared equal screen time with the more polished imports from the U.S. and France.
Brazil's parity on domestic movie screens ended when an economic recession caused by dramatic drops in coffee and rubber prices combined with the arrival of North Americans eager to exploit South American audience potential. The Bela Epoca was over by 1911, and by 1913 only three Brazilian fiction films made it into production. According to film historian John King, by the 1920s the United States claimed 80 percent of Brazil's domestic market share, France claimed six, and Brazil, a mere four percent. Brazil had become Hollywood's fourth largest export market, in line behind Britain, Australia and Argentina.
Brazilian film production ended up dispersing throughout the country, creating what contemporary critics dubbed Regional Cycles. These cycles represent the work of filmmakers who produced movies in isolation, without any centralized production facilities or access to distribution outlets. Among the cycles, the Catagüases Cycle was the most vigorous, and its director, Humberto Mauro, was the only one who would become recognized as a master filmmaker.
While Brazilian cinema experienced its quick rise and decline, Mauro, born in 1897, was growing up in the interior of the country in the state of Minas Gerais (General Mines). As a young man, he attended engineering school in Belo Horizonte, the capital of Minas Gerais. Returning home after one only year, he was able to work by installing electricity in neighboring farms. For a short while he lived in Rio de Janeiro, working as an apprentice and later as a technician for the city's power company and for a private shipping company. With his improved skills and money saved, he moved back to his hometown of Catagüases and started his own business as an electrician and technical repairman. At 20, he married Maria Vilela de Almeida, who, under the pseudonym Lola Lys, would star in one of his films, Thesouro Perdido (Lost Treasure, 1927).
An able technician, Mauro became interested in radio, photography and theatre. His artistic pursuits brought him into the circle of Pedro Comello, a painter and photographer with whom Mauro began making movies. Their first joint production was Valadião, 0 Cratera (Evil Valadião, 1925), a short comedy shot on a 9.5mm Baby-Pathé camera, for which they traded in a stamp collection. They never finished their second film, Os Trés Irmãos (The Three Brothers), a melodrama written by Comello with Mauro as assistant director. Their third and final collaboration was Na Prima Vera da Vida (In the Prime of Life, 1926), starring Comello's daughter Eva, who would later became a star in Rio under the stage name Eva Nil. It was the first film in what would become the Catagüases Cycle.
After breaking out on his own, Mauro continued the Catagüases Cycle, turning out three back-to-back features: Thesouro Perdido (1927), which starred Mauro's wife and brother; Braza Dormida (Smoldering Embers, 1928) and finally Sangue Mineiro (Blood of Minas, 1929). All these stories are set in the pastoral backdrop of rural Minas Gerais, with natural surroundings affecting the action and emotion of the plot, and with characters played by a dedicated cadre of local performers. The plots revolve around tensions between urban sophistication and the promise of rural salvation. In Sangue Mineiro, (which includes scenes shot at Rio's Cinedia Studios), a young woman in love with her sister's beau despairs and attempts suicide. She is rescued by two boys and brought back to a family farm, where she finds the time to heal and possibly find love again. This retreat offers its own complications, however, as she becomes enmeshed in another love triangle.
The Catagüases Cycle is marked by Mauro's use of the region's streams and waterfalls, rolling hills and valleys, creating what cinema historians named "lyric cinema." The films reflect Mauro's own conflict between remaining in his beloved hometown or moving to a city that could provide a more solid infrastructure for filmmaking.
In order to finance Sangre Mineiro, Mauro required the help of actress and producer Carmen Santos. She had already appeared in films by several other directors, including Cinédia Studio's Adhemar Gonzaga. After an argument with Gonzaga, she abandoned Rio for Minas Gerais, where Mauro welcomed her talent and connections to money. She covered all the bills for Sangue Mineiro, Mauro's last silent film.
Despite his artistic achievements, Mauro could not attain financial security. Adhemar Gonzaga, who had recognized Mauro's artistry and technical proficiency, was continually trying to lure him to Rio. Finally, after struggling with financing and the lack of distribution opportunities for his pastoral works, Mauro acquiesced to Gonzaga, directing (and reworking) the script for Labios Sem Beftos (Lips Unkissed, 1933), his first talkie. In exchange, Gonzaga agreed to produce Mauro's own script, Ganga Bruta (Brutal Gang, 1933) about is man who kills his wife on their wedding night and escapes to the countryside. This film is considered Mauro's masterwork.
Life in the city, however, proved equally difficult for Mauro. At Cinédia, he became a kind of journeyman, alternating among various jobs, including cameraman, best boy, grip and even actor. Despite all this work, Mauro was forced to pick up odd jobs between productions, sometimes going door-to-door to sell cheese from Minas Gerais or floor-polishing equipment. Eventually, he found a permanent position at the National Institute for Educational Cinema (INCE), where he would be technical director until 1967.
While at INCE, Mauro made hundreds of short educational and government propaganda documentaries. He was even able to direct several features, including The Discovery of Brazil (1937), a reenactment of Pedro Alvares Cabral's landing in the New World. In the 1950s and 60s, a generation of rebellious filmmakers formed Cinema Nôva, a national cinema movement that rejected the Hollywood model of filmmaking. These filmmakers made their own discovery of Mauro's early works and began re-circulating his films, which gained national and international attention. Mauro collaborated with several of the directors, even writing dialogue in Tupi, a 16th-century Tupinambás language, for Nelson Pereira dos Santos's How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman (1971). Another one of the movement's leading directors, Glauber Rocha, dubbed Mauro, who died in 1983, "the father of Cinema Nôvo." To forget Mauro's films, Rocha once wrote, would condemn Brazilians to "a future of sterile experiences out of touch with the vivid sources of our sad and famished people, yet living in an exuberant landscape."
Shari Kizirian is a freelance writer and editor based in Rio de Janeiro. She coedits the Silent Film Festival program book.