Antonio das Mortes isn’t interested in your petty politics—at least, not yet. As behooves a figure of such massive, mythic proportions, the eponymous killer of canguaceiros (outlaws and rebel leaders) is in competition and dialogue only with himself. Between his handiwork in 1964’s Black God, White Devil, an earlier film by Glauber Rocha, and this 1967 Cinema Novo touchstone (its original title: O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro), he seems to have finished the job, and the canguaceiros, conclusively. So when news of Cairana, a new claimant to the name, reaches Antonio (Maurício do Valle, thick, brooding and dressed for the hunt), he and his gun and machete set out into the Brazilian steppe—the sertão—and toward eventual sea change, free of charge.
But this is all widely known; by his death at 42, Rocha had made ten features, including Terra em Transe and Barranvento, which remain among the most recognizable artifacts of a movement in cinema that’s perhaps cited more often than it’s seen—making this ongoing Spectacle series all the more precious. And if the works of Cinema Novo directors have few easily identifiable tropes in common, Antonio Das Mortes surpasses this in being two or three movies within itself: it is at least a mystical epic, twisted Western, allegory, and vivid song-and-dance flick, and at most a remarkable synthesis of all these, one man’s vision of a land at odds with itself.
Also among the Spectacle’s screenings, How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman may present a titillating version of Brazil’s colonial past, and Macunaíma an uproarious jaunt through its founding myths, but Antonio cuts through time with ease—here he is in a duel, and here by a rural highway, trudging, all his hard-earned meaning open to question once again.