by MARIANA A. C. da CUNHA
Glauber Rocha’s Black God, White Devil (Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, 1964) portrays the rural peasant searching for ways to overcome his social condition while moving between religious fanaticism and social banditry. The Brazilian film is concerned with inventing a renewed form of narrative, which creates a tension that is evident throughout the film: a tension between modes of narrating and spatial construction. The careful arrangement of narrational elements breaks with the transparency of realism. Black God, White Devil displays numerous references in its composition, such as the Eisensteinian montage, the Western genre landscapes and the Brechtian actor method, which are structured alongside the Brazilian literary storytelling tradition of the cordel. The combination of these references creates a non-linear narrative because it suggests the emergence of different spatialities and temporalities that hold the tension between narrative and spectacle. The aim of this article is to investigate the role and meanings of these spatialities and temporalities in the construction of the landscape as a stage of revolt. In Black God, White Devil the landscape is the element that cements the articulation and disarticulation of narrative and spectacle, thereby enabling the emergence of images of revolt. The relationship between landscape and revolt unfolds with the narrative’s exploration of the emblematic characters.
Rocha’s preoccupation with cinema’s aesthetic is evident in his 1965 essay “Aesthetic of Hunger,” presented at a retrospective of Latin American cinema in Genoa, Italy. The most vociferous filmmaker of Cinema Novo claims that hunger is the nerve of the social and political problems of Latin America. Indeed, Rocha stresses that the commitment to hunger was a commitment to the truth – the opposite of what Hollywood’s film industry proposed. Rocha and his fellow Cinema Novo directors transformed this commitment into a political problem and proposed violence as the only tool to express hunger. Cinema Novo, the filmmaker argues, transposed this hunger into violence and initiated a revolutionary cinema.  This was, as Johnson affirms, an alternative to “Hollywood’s polished, efficient, idealistic illusionism.” This engagement with a new language was based on Brazil’s social reality and ethics that would permeate its aesthetics.
Scholars of Cinema Novo have written extensively about the cultural and political context of Brazilian cinema in the 1960s and about the style and content of specific films. As a general comment on the first phase of Cinema Novo (classified as such by Johnson and Stam, according to whom the phase ranges from 1960 to 1964; 1964 also marks the year of the coup d’état and the start of the military dictatorship), Johnson and Stam claim that filmmakers employed the production style and methods of the Italian neo-realism and the French nouvelle vague. In particular, these movements used non-professional actors, location shooting and a low-budget production strategy to produce an independent cinema that opposed Hollywood’s commercial aesthetics and was “based on the talent of specific auteurs.” As Ismail Xavier claims, it is important to go beyond the ideological debate that surrounds Glauber Rocha’s cinema and be attentive to the form, that is to say, to be attentive to “the political meaning of the mise-en-scène.”
Black God, White Devil’s narrative focuses on a schematic group of characters that are brought together in the plot. Manuel (the henchman) after killing Coronel Moraes (the landowner) flees to Monte Santo with his wife Rosa. They go to follow Sebastião (the fanatic preacher). After the episode where Rosa kills Sebastião, the couple meet Corisco (the cangaceiro) and his group, and decide to join them. But they are soon found by Antônio das Mortes (killer of cangaceiros) who kills Corisco. After their escape from being killed, Manuel and Rosa’s final act is to run away to the coast, which is suggested in the film’s final image of the sea. The director sought to bring together different temporalities and spatialities in the form of the different historical characters represented. These historical characters have been transformed into mythical characters in the Brazilian imaginary and are iconic images of revolt and revolution in the popular culture of the Brazilian Northeast. For Xavier, Glauber Rocha’s cinema crosses emblematic spaces and brings together “social memory” and “popular imaginary.”
The narrative of Black God, White Devil is, at first glance, composed of binary oppositions: rich versus poor, cangaceiros versus fanatics, good versus evil, God versus the devil and landowners versus peasants. When the spatiality is carefully examined, further oppositions are revealed: Monte Santo versus the plain, internal versus external and the sertão versus the sea. These oppositions reveal the tensions between the frame (parergon) and the dramatic action (ergon). Known to be the founding dichotomies of Rocha’s aesthetic, these are analysed here as spaces of continuity and discontinuity. Rather than focusing on the oppositions this analysis looks for the elements of negotiation between narrative and spectacle. What is argued here is that image, sound and narrative are radically articulated and disarticulated by the different subjectivities constructed by the camera, which are in turn articulated by the presence of the landscape in the film. The landscape is, therefore, at the core of the negotiation between narrative and frame.
From the outset the presentation of the landscape of the sertão reveals the tone of the narrative strategies at stake in the film. It is evident from the images that compose the opening credits of the film that the cinematic space is divided into the space of the earth (physical and human) and the space of heaven (imaginary and sacred). The film’s opening image is a long travelling bird’s eye view of the landscape. While apparently providing an objective image of the landscape with its barren vegetation and arid earth, the aerial camera also evokes a God’s view of the sertão. This wide view is followed by extreme close-up shots of dead animals decomposing under the sun. As Xavier has noted, these images are “emblematic of the drought afflicting the region.”[] The juxtaposition of these images suggests a clear intention to associate the landscape with a narrative constructed by extremes. Firstly, this association is presented by opting for strongly contrasting images that almost erase the middle tones between black and white. The absence of a whole range of greys evokes the devastating presence of the sun without shadows. In this case, far from purifying the scene, the excess of light conceals and blinds. Secondly, it is achieved by opting for the contrast between long shots and close-ups. This strategy uses the observation scale to eliminate medium distances. This radical dislocation between shots places the spectator at the limit of two relations established with the space: the gaze either goes very near the subject in the frame or radically distances itself from it.
The movement from the long shot of the lifeless landscape that privileges the mineral setting of sand and stones to the close-up details of the dead animal points to an exhaustion of the conditions for survival and a negation of life. Another feature of this first sequence is the presentation of a synthetic style in the film. Rather than following the rhythm of the action, the montage accelerates the action by synthesising its temporal curve. According to Xavier:
No significant action is performed by Manuel in his first appearance in the film, but the insertion of the character in the landscape highlights the oppressive conditions of the sertão as indicated by Xavier. The henchman is portrayed looking down at the dead animal. Then, the camera frames Manuel’s body walking towards his horse. As he mounts the horse, another image, this time a high angle long shot, frames Manuel riding away. This sequence starts and ends with an aerial image whose point of view is impossible to identify. It is a higher gaze that often imposes itself over the other narrative devices in the film such as the cordel song that is vocalised by Júlio, a blind repentista (poet-improviser), which recounts the story of Manuel.
The aesthetic and narrative power of the landscape is suggested in a following scene, when the preacher Sebastião is introduced in the film. Poignantly, it starts with a shot of the sky that slowly pans down and frames a group of peasants gathering around Sebastião. The narration of the cordel poem that recounts the story of Manuel is played in the background. The encounter between Sebastião and Manuel is constructed of shot–reverse shot sequences from different angles. This multiplication of angles of vision, which confuses the spectator, shows discontinuous images of the environment and the sertão is presented as a fragmented space. There is a succession of shots and reverse shots from Manuel’s point of view in frenetic movements and that of Sebastião, until Manuel rides away, leaving the frame. The last shot of this sequence returns to its previous position behind the vegetation. The camera peeps through and shows the preacher and his group chanting religious verses and walking in the sertão. These shots behind the vegetation accentuate the presence of the landscape. It is a strategy that reaffirms the presence of the camera that witnesses the story through the layer of the landscape. Furthermore, the persistent framing of the landscape indicates the prevailing presence of the apparatus. The camera, thus, is agitated and anxious. It moves. It changes position. Rather than a film setting that situates the linear development of events, the sertão is constructed as a landscape that has a crucial aesthetic and narrational role that is not subordinated to the plot but is constantly challenging narrative linearity.
Martin Lefebvre suggests that cinematic landscapes emerge with the rhythm of the film between narrative and spectacle:
In line with Martin Lefebvre, Harper and Rayner state that “landscape involves the isolation of a certain spatial extent and a certain temporal length.”The authors emphasise the importance of the frame, which “suggest[s] a reading and limit[s] the range of interpretations”, in the depiction of cinematic landscapes. Landscape’s definition, drawn from the fields of geography and visual arts, refers both to a slice of territory and to a genre of painting where nature – or the outside space – is its main subject. In painting, the idea of landscape as a “space freed from event[s]” was a consequence of a shift from the landscape as an accessory (parergon) to landscape as subject-matter (ergon), which occurred with the birth of a new way of seeing, a new relationship between humans and the land in the transition from feudalism to capitalism during the Renaissance. Landscape was therefore a subjective human experience, and implied an observer. The use of the rules of perspective implied a distant and outside gaze. This is why the geographer Denis Cosgrove defines landscape as a “way of seeing”. Martin Lefebvre argues that not all natural or outside spaces in cinema are landscapes, and he establishes a distinction between setting and landscape, which is primarily based on the space’s relationship to narrative. Hence, a setting is a basic requirement in every narrative film: it is the space where action and events take place. But landscape, as opposed to setting, is concerned with the autonomous character of the cinematic space.
At various moments in the film, Sebastião is depicted preaching to his followers on a hill, which is a significant characteristic of the topography of the region. What characterises the image of Monte Santo is the path made of stones that goes from the bottom to the top, cutting the screen diagonally. As Manuel decides to join Sebastião, who promises a land of green grass and milky rivers, the henchman is depicted climbing up the hill with his wife Rosa, while the preacher’s prophecy dictates that the poor will become rich and the rich will become poor. As Xavier suggests, “metaphorically exploring the topography of the mountain, the narration crystallises the idea of proximity to heaven and immanent ascension.” The path characterises the space-time passage between antagonistic universes: the city and the countryside, the pure and the impure, the sacred and the profane. It is a way up or a way down, from which the characters ascend to the utopian paradise or fall into the harsh reality of the barren landscape. It is on this path of stones that Manuel pays for his sins by carrying a heavy stone on his head and climbs the path on his knees to purify his soul. Two long takes depict Manuel’s suffering as he climbs Monte Santo, while Sebastião appears detached, unemotional.
The sequence leads to a scene where, in Monte Santo, the camera portrays Rosa’s trance in the middle of the praying fanatics, which concludes with her murder of Sebastião. Rosa’s trance represents the highest degree of exasperation and revolt that encompasses the whole sequence: the restlessness of the gaze of the camera towards Manuel and the uneasiness with which it follows his martyrdom become even more heightened in the depiction of Rosa’s despair. According to Avellar, this is the aesthetic that marks the whole film. The scenes “appear on the screen marked by the tension of the gaze: nothing, no image, no action, no tranquil and quiet attitude, no silence means tranquility. Black God, White Devil is at all times agitation, anxiety, indignation.” Rosa’s act of revolt leads to the appearance of Corisco in the plot, when the peasant couple join the cangaceiros.
With the exception of two scenes that break the continuity of the mise en scène, the second half of the film is dedicated to the encounter between Manuel, Rosa and Corisco, the cangaceiro. The representation of Monte Santo in the first half of the film is displayed through different cinematic techniques to construct an autonomous landscape that is constantly fragmenting and disarticulating the logic of the narrative while imposing a cartographic view of the territory from a “higher” perspective. The introduction of Corisco in the narrative privileges the relationship between the characters and the landscape as a stage for their radical performance of revolt. As Xavier noted, Corisco is introduced in the film with a horizontal pan shot:
From this pan shot that presents a close-up view of the cactaceous vegetation, the camera moves horizontally and zooms out rapidly to depict a clearing in the sertão. Surrounded by arid vegetation, the area becomes the stage for Corisco’s expression of revolt.
When focusing on Corisco’s character, the film draws on the Brechtian performance technique of an epic character. The actor’s performance is directed at the camera, which constantly reminds the spectator that the actor is part of a theatrical stage. Corisco’s monologue recounts Lampião’s death and is a crucial moment of Black God, White Devil. It reinforces the aesthetic choices made by Glauber Rocha that were suggested in the first sequence of the film: the accentuated emphasis on extreme distances and tones. This is visible in the zoom that goes from the long shot of the clearing to a close-up of Corisco and his companion Dadá, and in the highly contrasting images of the dry earth and vegetation. In the first long shot of this sequence the characters are not identified. The camera zooms closer and places Corisco at the centre of the frame as he spins with his rifle in his hand.
Several characters are carefully placed in the clearing, among whom are Corisco, Manuel and Rosa. There is a slow-paced movement of the characters in this scene with the exception of Corisco’s brusque movements, which differ from the slow gestures of the others. Corisco’s revolted gestures are completed by the stylistic devices used in one powerful scene: the monologue performed by Corisco re-enacting his final conversation with Lampião. This monologue is a flashback, in which Corisco predicts the ambush that would kill the group’s leader Lampião. This is an unconventional narrative device that breaks with the linearity of the storytelling and challenges the space of the viewer along with the relationship between character and cinematic space. Without the mediation of a narrator, Corisco re-enacts the dialogue and is at once Corisco and Lampião. He begins by announcing: Lampião died, but he still lives inside Corisco’s body. The slight difference in the tone of his voice distinguishes the two personas, which are portrayed by a handheld camera.
The camera is tilted up from a lower angle below Corisco’s eye level and points towards his face. One long uncut shot presents the dialogue uttered in direct speech. In an extreme close-up, Corisco starts the dialogue in which he tells Lampião that the macacos are close by and that he dreamt of Lampião’s assassination. At a lower angle the handheld camera barely moves. Instead, it stays still and witnesses the performance. The actor crouches down slightly to play Corisco and stands tall to play Lampião. What is particularly interesting, as Avellar has pointed out, is the constant negotiation of the space between the staging of the characters and the movement of the camera. Avellar suggests that in this long uncut sequence Corisco is both shot and reverse shot. But instead of an edited sequence of juxtaposed shots, there is only one long shot where the camera and the character movements (framing) are the strategies that distinguish between the personas Corisco plays in this dialogue. In the construction of the myth of Lampião this continuous shot is responsible for the dramatic cutting of space. The face of Corisco, which occupies the entire screen, is the dramatic space of the scene. For Xavier, the use of the handheld camera and the extended duration of the shot expose a different subjectivity in the film, which is not mediated by a character but by the camera:
After Corisco’s last statement the camera zooms out. Then, the off-screen sound of a shotgun announces Lampião’s death. The use of the close-up in this long sequence reveals a tension at the level of the cinematographic scale. The frame of the action of the dialogue between Corisco and Lampião radically closes on the face of the actor. This radical juxtaposition of long shots of the landscape and close-ups of Corisco relies on the boundaries of the screen, which gives the same measure to the landscape and the human face.
The scene after the death of Corisco (a death representing the end of the cangaço) is the flight of Manuel and Rosa from the sertão; this ends with an image of the sea. This final sequence is constructed by a horizontal travelling shot of the characters running away. Rosa stumbles and falls during the trajectory but neither the camera nor Manuel stops to look back. As the camera gradually positions itself in front of Manuel, who seems to be desperately attempting to reach it, the shot cuts to a sequence of the sea from a bird’s-eye view angle that is travelling the coastline. The abrupt cut suggests that Manuel does not reach the sea. The film juxtaposes the two images of the prophetic words of Sebastião, reiterated by Corisco’s prediction and by the narration of the cordel poem. However, as the camera traverses the sertão and is followed by Manuel, it detaches the meaning from God and the devil (Sebastião’s mystic significance and Corisco’s insistence on the eternal war in the sertão). The narrative of the cordel poem secularises the land when it sings: “the land belongs to men / It is neither God’s nor the devil’s.” The pan shot, which suddenly cuts to the sea, suggests a landscape always in movement, always mutating and always in the making. Rural to urban migration is allegorically represented. It is not a linear construction that logically articulates the narrative, space and time. Here, the final expression of revolt is suggested in Manuel’s escape from the oppressive landscape in the long take.
Through different aesthetic and narrative strategies, Black God, White Devil radically articulates different subjectivities through which the landscape of the sertão emerges as a space of revolt and revolution. The iconography of the sertão’s landscape is depicted as a stage for the narrative’s emblematic characters: from the preacher Sebastião, who revolts against the newly established Republican order, to the bandit Corisco, who revolts against the powerful landowners. When the film focuses on Sebastião the landscape is split between heaven and earth, which are represented as real and imagined spaces and are connected by the path that leads to the salvation in Monte Santo. Whereas when the film focuses on Corisco the landscape is depicted as a stage in which the cangaceiro performs his theatrical monologue. Here, the body of Corisco is scrutinised by the camera from his face (close-up) to his typical costume and is explored as a landscape. The duration of Corisco’s close-ups, which are closely examined by the camera, can be compared to the examination of the landscape of the sertão in long shots. It is the manifestation of the character’s utmost subjectivity, which is constructed by the camera’s framing and point of view. Glauber Rocha used various narrative devices that combined to continuously articulate and disarticulate narrative and spectacle. Image, sound and narrative often contradict each other making the spectator aware of the camera, which orders, transforms and rearranges the landscape through its various angles, framings and points of view.
The relationship between landscape and revolt in Black God, White Devil becomes evident in the examination of the film’s aesthetic and narrative strategies. The exacerbated characteristics of the sertão indicated that the territory lends itself to a cinematic construction that places the frame (the parergon) in the foreground. Glauber Rocha’s preoccupation with the creation of a revolutionary cinematic aesthetic is in continuous dialogue with his concern with historical and popular narratives.
 With regards to the aesthetic of this film, Johnson writes: “Black God, White Devil deals with the real while denying realism as a mode of representation. Its narrative plays with contrasts, juxtaposing sometimes agonizing temporal dilations with frenetic camera movements and rapid montage.” [Johnson,Cinema Novo x 5, 130.]
 The lyrics for the cordel poem used as a narrative device in Black God, White Devil were written by Glauber Rocha and the music composed by Sérgio Ricardo.
 Rocha, “Estética da fome,” 63-67.
 Ibid., 65-6.
 Johnson, Cinema Novo x 5, 120.
 They include the work of authors such as José Carlos Avellar, Jean-Claude Bernadet, Randal Johnson, Paulo Emílio Salles Gomes, Robert Stam and Ismail Xavier, among others.
 Johnson and Stam, Brazilian Cinema, 32-3.
 Xavier, Sertão mar, 7.
 In the Brazilian Northeast’s rural society, Virgulino Ferreira da Silva, best known as Lampião – the most prominent character of the cangaço movement, was the leader of a group of cangaceiros for two decades in the beginning of the twentieth century. This movement of social banditry, acutely associated with violence and criminality, is also said to have in the figure of the cangaceiros the mark of a failed society. The movement cannot be dissociated from its place of origin, the sertão. In a place distant from the urban civilisation, with histories of messianic movements violently ended by the powers of the Republic, justice was in the hands of the local landowners, where customary laws were replaced by institutional ones. [Jasmin, “A Guerra das Imagens,” 16.] Hobsbawm affirms that: “The point about social bandits is that they are peasant outlaws whom the lord and state regard as criminals, but who remain within peasant society, and are considered by their people as heroes, as champions, avengers, fighters for justice, perhaps even leaders of liberation, and in any case as men to be admired, helped and supported.” [Ibid., 20.] In Brazil, the cangaceiros have been transformed into national symbols of resistance and revolt: “It was in the 1960s and 1970s that a new generation of intellectuals transformed the cangaceiro into a symbol of Brazilianness, of the fight for freedom and the power of the oppressed.” [Ibid., 164.]
 Xavier, Sertão mar, 10.
 Xavier, “Black God, White Devil,” 136.
 Ibid., 136-7.
 Lefebvre, “Between Setting and Landscape,” 29. (Author’s emphasis).
 Harper and Rayner, “Introduction – Cinema and Landscape.” 16.
 Ibid., 17.
 Xavier, “Black God, White Devil,” 140-1.
 Avellar, Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, 74. Original version: “aparece na tela marcada pela tensão do olhar: nada, nenhuma imagem, nenhuma ação, nenhuma atitude tranqüila e sossegada, nenhum silêncio é tranqüilidade. Deus e o diabo na terra do sol é todo o tempo agitação, ansiedade, indignação.”
 Xavier, Sertão mar, 122. Original version: “A panorâmica vertical céu-terra transforma-se numa panorâmica horizontal, rasteira, na caatinga, da vegetação ao plano aberto que nos leva a Corisco, num movimento que é simultâneo ao verso do cantador que nomeia Corisco, o Diabo de Lampião. Tal inversão de eixo na panorâmica opõe a transição terra-a-terra, o enraizamento no baixo mundo do Diabo de Lampião, ao referencial elevado do santo.”
 See Avellar, Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, 46.
 The original English translation is “monkeys.” In the context of the cangaço it designates the jagunços: men hired by the government or local landowners to protect their private properties and kill those who threaten them.
 Avellar, Deus e o diabo na terra do sol, 14-6.
 Xavier, Sertão mar, 103. Original version: “… os planos-seqüência dessa fase do filme tendem a criar uma tensão que vem exatamente das peculiaridades da câmera na mão. Seu andar desequilibrado, sua liberdade de movimentos e sua trepidação denunciam uma subjectividade por trás da objectiva, revelam uma palpitação nas operações de quem narra de modo a nivelar sua experiência às das personagens.”
 This scene was studied by many critics, among which were Ismail Xavier, José Carlos Avellar, Randal Johnson. The last of these affirms that “what is important is the moment of transformation, the explosion, the ecstasy of resurrection, and not necessarily the results of the transformation.” [Johnson,Cinema Novo x 5, 135.]
 Original version: “E a terra é do homem / Não é de Deus nem do diabo.”
Avellar, José Carlos. Deus e o diabo na terra do sol: a linha reta, o melaço de cana e o retrato do artista quando jovem. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1995.
Harper, Graeme and Rayner, Jonathan, ed. Cinema and Landscape: Film, Nation and Cultural Geography. Bristol: Intellect, 2010.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Bandits. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2000.
Jasmin, Élise. “A Guerra das Imagens: Quando o Cangaço Descobre a Fotografia.” In Cangaceiros, edited by Élise Jasmin, 15-32. São Paulo: Terceiro Nome, 2006.
Johnson, Randal. Cinema Novo x 5: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Film. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.
Johnson, Randal and Stam, Robert. Brazilian Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
Lefebvre, Martin. “Between Setting and Landscape in the Cinema.” In Landscape and Film, edited by Martin Lefebvre, 19-59. London and New York: Routledge, 2006.
Rocha, Glauber. Revolução do Cinema Novo. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2004.
Xavier, Ismail. “Black God, White Devil: the Representation of History.” In Brazilian Cinema, edited by Randal Johnson and Robert Stam, 134-148. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.
Xavier, Ismail. Sertão Mar: Glauber Rocha e a Estética da Fome. São Paulo: Cosac Naify, 2007.