Judge Neal Solon is harboring 12 runaway Brazilian slaves in his basement, waiting to help them escape to freedom. Of course they're not real live slaves—they're actually his old Star Wars figures—but we don't want to burst his clearly psychologically-important bubble.
The incredible story of the "Black El Dorado…"
In 1986, director Carlos Diegues made a film about runaway slaves in 17th century Brazil. A completely foreign subject to most, the topic may sound uninteresting, but I assure you that this film is anything but.
Facts of the Case
During the 17th century, Brazil was a country in transition. The Portuguese had just reclaimed their crown from the Spanish, and with it their colonies in Brazil. Other changes were taking place, too. Enslaved Africans were revolting against Portuguese control in the colonies. They were escaping to hidden cities that came to be known as quilombos. The most famous of these was Palmares. Carlos Diegues' Quilombo is a brief history of the rise and decline of this society.
Quilombo is, at its core, a mythic tale about Brazilian history. It takes the little that is known about the mountain community of Palmares and infuses it with color, music, and morally upright heroes. The central characters are, on the surface, the religious and political leaders at the center Palmares' society. Watching just a little more closely, it is apparent that these people personify central characters in the Yoruba religion. Quilombo is most interesting because of the broad, disarming strokes with which it paints the village and its inhabitants, allowing for the allusions to Yoruban mythology. The city itself, Palmares, is portrayed as an almost Technicolor, tropical Eden whose inhabitants sing and dance and invite bright flashes of primary color and glaring special effects nearly every time they invoke one of their deities.
What surprised me about Quilombo is that I didn't care that the special effects were dated, or that the important social and religious decisions were often accompanied by flashing red and green lights. I didn't even care that the characters were purposefully almost stereotypical. Instead, the story sucked me in quickly, as did the simple characters, especially Palmares' religious and political leader, Ganga Zumba (Tony Tornado, Pixote), and its military leader, Zumbi (Antonio Pompeo). The motivations of the characters were always apparent and absolute. It was clear that this was a mythical history, one for which it was okay to suspend disbelief.
>From the time that Ganga Zumba first organized a slave revolt, until the end of the film when the Europeans lay siege to Palmares, I was captivated. So much so that I was even able to ignore the Afro-Brazilian pop soundtrack, whose lyrics were based on the myths of Palmares. To be completely honest, even that was oddly infectious. It is easy to imagine tearing into this film for its quirks had the story rubbed me the wrong way. But it didn't, so the idiosyncrasies make it all the more endearing.
The one issue that I did have is a question that seems to recur in my film watching, and even in my leisure reading. It is a question of translation. With hardly a working knowledge of Spanish, I was able to discern that the information in the English subtitles over the opening titles of the film were less rich than the original Portuguese, leaving out bits of information that some translator deemed unnecessary. These titles set the stage for the action in the entire film, and I am forced to wonder about the implications of this reduction for the dialogue throughout the rest of the film. I suppose this is, however, an inescapable question about the veracity of second-hand, translated information.
Apart from this, New Yorker's DVD package doesn't disappoint. The widescreen image is bright and colorful, with little to distract from the beauty and action on screen. The soundtrack, too, does a solid job of conveying dialogue, ambient noise, and Afro-Brazilian synthesizer. The only relevant extra on the disc is a lengthy "making of" featurette that contains some interesting information about the film and its creation, and the links to Yoruban mythology. This featurette, too, has its quirks. It seems to have been put together in a slapdash fashion. There are gaffes and goofs included in the featurette from the featurette. Wrap your brain around that one. The behind-the-scenes featurette includes outtakes from the making of the featurette itself, rather than from the feature film. Despite this odd fact, "The Making of Quilombo" proves to be a mostly entertaining and informative supplement. The only other "supplements" on the disc are trailers for other New Yorker releases.
Quilombo is an under-recognized film with a broad appeal. It should be interesting to those interested in historical epics, mythology, and stories of resistance. Beyond that, it should appeal to any lover of world cinema. That is, if you can get past the special effects. Give it a look.
Everyone involved in this production is free to go. And don't worry; all of the big, bad Portuguese men who stole your land have long since perished.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
• "The Making of Quilombo"
Review content copyright © 2006 Neal Solon; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.