Intellect’s Directory of World Cinema series makes a welcome return by delving into the burgeoning and enticing landscape of Brazilian cinema. As well as being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, the film industry in Brazil is also experiencing a mighty resurgence of late, with almost 100 commercial features released in 2011 compared to a paltry fourteen back in the mid-nineties. Those recent features which have managed to attract large domestic audiences as well as sizeable international crowds are covered (the Elite Squad films are sadly given short thrift), and Intellect’s rigorous approach pulls in a whole host of figures and movements which have shaped the industry into what it has become.
The works covered are thoughtfully divided up into thematic chapters, ranging from the early years of Brazilian cinema, through to gender and documentary, and finally to the road movie (the most noteworthy being Walter Salles’ breakout hit Central Station). Salles is also profiled in a section looking at three of the country’s influential filmmakers. It’s nice to see the name José Mojica Marins amongst that trio, billed here as “a South American auteur”. Marins was the creative figure and star of the infamous Coffin Joe series of darkly camp horror films which begin in the sixties and proved popular enough the stretch five decades, despite the creator occasionally dipping into the realms of sexploitation in order to pay the bills.
Editors Louis Bayman and Natalia Pinazza also find a welcome space for one of Brazil’s biggest imports from the past, Carmen Miranda. Perhaps faded from the public consciousness nowadays, this Hollywood starlet with her signature pineapple-emblazoned costume was hugely iconic, and that look is very much evident in all popular culture of today. The book is constructed in such a way that readers are able to use it as a casual reference guide and can peruse through the titles of films or the genres covered without having to read it all in a linear fashion. The more essay-led sections which take up the early chapters shouldn’t be overlooked however, as they offer an illuminating exploration of a changing political and social nature of film- making in the country. At 280 pages, Directory of World Cinema: Brazil offers a comprehensive view on the subject without overwhelming the reader, and is both an indispensable guide for cineastes looking to broaden their repertoire and an informative starting point for those new to South American cinema.