BYE BYE BRASIL
(Bye Bye Brazil)
Director: Carlos Diegues
Production: Produçoes Cinematográficas L.C. Barreto; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes. Released 18 February 1980 in Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo. Filmed in north, northeast, and central Brazil in 1978–79.
Producer: L. C. Barreto; associate producers: Walter Clark, Carlos Braga, Luciola Villela; screenplay: Carlos Diegues and Leopoldo Serran; photography: Lauro Escorel; editor: Mair Tavares; art direction: Anisio Medeiros; sound: Victor Raposeiro, Jean-Claude Laurex; music: Chico Buarque, Roberto Menescal, and Dominguinhos.
Cast: Betty Faria ( Salomé ); José Wilker ( Lorde Cigano ); Fábio Júnior ( Ciço ); Zaira Zambelli ( Dasdô ); Príncipe Nabor ( Andorinha ); Emanoel Cavalcanti ( The Mayor ); Carlos Kroeber ( The Truck Driver ); Jofre Soares ( The Old Projectionist ); Marieta Severo ( The Social Worker ).
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" Bye Bye Brazil is about a country which is just finishing and making way for another one which is just beginning. I can't say exactly what is finishing, nor what is beginning. I am merely recording this unique moment, this dividing line in the story of four people, who, like any of us, seek their place in the new order, and in life." Carlos Diegues, one of the founders of the Cinema Novo movement, used these words to define his eighth film, in which he remained true to one of his favourite themes: "The search for freedom and the desire for greater happiness." This theme had already been exploited in his fine trilogy on historical Negro figures— Ganga Zumba, Rei dos Palmares (his first feature, made in 1963); Xica da Silva (1975), and Quilombo (1983).
In the case of Bye Bye Brazil , the principal character is Brazil itself, experiencing in 1980, an incipient democracy. The country is viewed through the eyes of a troupe of circus artists whose talent for survival is greater than their ability to attract audiences to their performances, held under a patched big top in small towns in the Brazilian hinterland. In a country where so much has disappeared, the people's anxious longings for bread and circuses remain intact, although audiences of the new Brazil now favour the circus provided by the electronic media.
Fifteen thousand kilometers of the North, Northeast, and Central Brazil were covered in the filming of Bye Bye Brazil , following the tracks of the Caravana Rolidei (a play on the word "holiday"). The troupe is led by Lorde Cigano (Lord Gypsy), a loquacious and charismatic wise guy, played by José Wilker. His partner in bed and on stage is the sensuous Salomé, the Queen of the Rumba (Betty Faria), while Andorinha (little sparrow) is the Muscle King (Principe Nabor). The grandiose noms de guerre of the artists are in sharp contrast to the troupe's meagre accessories—a single truck—and with the poverty stamped on the faces of whatever spectators they attract to their performances.
The Rolidei Roadshow starts its progress in a tiny town in the Northeast, on the banks of the São Francisco river. The roguish Lorde Cigano promises the audience that he will fulfill the dream of every Brazilian: he will make it "snow" in the dry lands of the interior. And sure enough, "snow" flakes start to fall on the humble and ignorant audience, to the accompaniment of "White Christmas," sung by Bing Crosby—a magical moment of filmmaking. A struggling musician, Ciço (Fábio Júnior) is enchanted by the magic of the troupe; he is sick of the river and longs to see the sea. Together with his pregnant wife Dasdô, he joins the Roadshow. Their destination is rich Altamira, deep in the Amazon rainforest, symbol of the easy money obtained from illegal logging and goldmining, sustained by near-slave labour.
In a path which never runs smooth, the troupe stops to see the sea—but the waters are polluted. They come across entire towns mesmerized by a single television set, proudly occupying the town's main square. "In the old days, politicians used to promise bridges; now they promise a television set," grumbles Lorde Cigano, unable to muster an audience for his show. Dominated by the fish's skeletons— as the magician refers to the television antennas— Bye Bye Brazil reveals a country whose regional characteristics run the risk of disappearing as a result of the massification of conduct and expectation produced by television.
In Amazônia, amongst the survivors of a "civilized" Indian tribe, they meet an old Indian woman who listens to her transistor radio, which seems to be glued to her ear, adores Coca Cola, and dreams of flying in an aeroplane. In Brasília, a social worker extols the wonders of the city—a city whose planners forgot to build low-income housing, relegating the workers to the outskirts of the city. Rejected and left to fend for themselves in their hereditary misery, the people co-exist with portents of progress, symbolized by televisions and the jets which take labourers to work for foreign exploiters in the Amazon. To seek redemption and happiness becomes a lottery, with few winning tickets; nor is the straight and narrow necessarily the path to success. In this confrontation between the past and the present, old traditions are nostalgically laid to rest. No audiences queue for tickets to The Rolidei Roadshow, a remnant from the time when entertainment was live and itinerant. Likewise, an old man who made his living showing classic Brazilian films on a portable screen in the town squares no longer bothers to set up his equipment.
As the members of the troupe discover a Brazil in constant transformation, they also discover each other. The art of survival requires certain concessions; thus Lorde Cigano has no qualms about abetting the prostitution of Salomé when the money runs short. Ciço falls in love with Salomé, while Lorde Cigano is taken with Dasdô, and the context of sexual liberty combined with the idea of a country which was also in search of more freedom. The couples split up in Belém, to meet years later. Each lives their own version of fulfillment. Ciço and Dasdô perform in a dance hall on the outskirts of Brasília, in a more "modern" way. Lorde Cigano has made money through the illegal gold market and now sports a modern truck with neon lights with Frank Sinatra singing Aquarela do Brasil on the sound system and a team of chorus girls. As Lorde Cigano says at the beginning of the film, "dreams are only offensive to those who don't dream."
With one eye on the paradoxes which permeate Brazilian society and the other on reverie, Carlos Diegues produces a bittersweet X-ray of a country undergoing change. The fluent narrative, impregnated with farce, humour, sensuality, and music broaches the varied aspects of the human, social, and geographic condition of the country. The principal characters retain their own identities, despite the highly dissimilar contexts in which they find themselves; they interact spontaneously with the host of motley secondary characters they meet along the way. Regional differences are well illustrated by the varied sound track, and the beautiful photography of Lauro Escorel's photography captures the lushness of the vegetation as well as the barren inlands, and rich regional detail, gleaned from market, river, and roadside scenes.
The key to the success, in Brazil and overseas, of Bye Bye Brazil lies in the solidarity of the viewer with the picaresque characters and their quest for a better life. It is dedicated to the people of the 21st Century, and does not flinch from the reality of the present nor does it discard the dream: in the final scene, Lorde Cigano and Salomé take to the road again, and drive off into the sun.