LIMITE - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

Brazil, 1931

Director: Mario Peixoto

Production: Mario Peixoto; silent, black and white; running time: 120 minutes. Released 17 May 1931. Filmed in the South littoral of Rio de Janeiro.

Producer: Mario Peixoto; screenplay: Mario Peixoto; photography: Edgar Brazil; editor: Mario Peixoto; musical director: Brutus Pedreira; director's assistant: Rui Costa.

Cast: Olga Breno ( Woman number 1 ); Taciana Rei ( Woman number 2 ); Carmen Santos ( The Whore ); Mario Peixoto ( The Man at the cemetery ); Brutus Pedreira ( Man number 2 and the pianist ); Edgar Brazil ( The Man asleep at the cinema ); Faciana Rei; Raul Schnoor.



de Mello, Sãulo Pereira, Limite, filme de Mario Peixoto , Ediçao Inelivro/Funarte, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1979.


Andrade, R., and others, Il Cinema Brasiliano , Silva Editore, n.d.

Rocha, Glafuber, Revisão critica do cinema brasileiro , Editora Civilização Brasileira, Rio de Janeiro, 1963.

Bernadet, Jean-Claude, Brasil em tempo de cinema , Paz e Terra, 1977.

Ferreira, Jairo, Cinema de invenção , Embrafilme/Max Limonad, São Paulo, 1986.

Gomes, Paulo Emilio Salles, Crônica de Cinema no Suplemento Literãrio , Embrafilme/Paz e Terra, Rio de Janeiro, 1982.

Salem, Helena, 90 Anos de Cinema, Uma adentura brasileria , Editora Nova Fronteira, Rio de Janeiro, 1988.

Peixoto, Mário, Limite: "Scenario Original," Rio de Janeiro, 1996.


Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), 25 July 1970.

Azeredo, Ely, Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), 28 August 1977.

Ferreira, Fernando, O Globo (Rio de Janeiro), 26 May 1978.

Rocha, Glauber, Folha de São Paulo , São Paulo, 3 June 1978.

O Estado de São Paulo (São Paulo), 11 June 1978.

Schiller, Beatriz, Jornal do Brasil (Rio de Janeiro), 2 May 1979.

Mello, Sãulo Pereira de, 50 Anos de Limite (pressbook), 1981.

Bassan, R., "Le mythe Limite," in Avant-Scène (Paris), April 1983.

Chnaiderman, Miriam, "Filmes que olham," Folha de São Paulo , 8 October 1988.

Mello, Sãulo Pereira de, Ver Limite (São Paulo), December/January/February, 1990.

Folha de São Paulo , 17 May 1991.

Variety (New York), 10 August 1992.

* * *

On May 17, 1931, the first public screening of Limite , directed by the 19 year old novice Mario Peixoto, took place in a cinema in downtown Rio de Janeiro. It is said that commotion and controversy broke out at the end of the screening. Despite the immediate enthusiasm of some intellectuals, the film failed to work any magic on the public or distributors. After a few more screenings, Limite was withdrawn, and remained, for the next 50 years, in the dark, surrounded by mystery and controversy. It is, without a doubt, the most legendary of all Brazilian films.

During these 50 years, everything has been said about Limite — even that it was never made. The career of its creator only added to the mystique. Mario Peixoto, who wrote, produced, directed, and acted in (he is the man in the cemetery) the film died in 1992, leaving two unfinished films dating from the 1930s ( Onde a Terra Acaba and Maré Baixa ), an autobiographical novel, poetry, and an unfilmed screenplay, A Alma Segundo Salustre. He spent the greater part of his life in isolation on an island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, near to some of the Limite locations, surrounded by his art collection.

In 1978, 20 years of restoration work by the physicist and intellectual Plínio Sussekind Rocha and Sãulo Pereira de Mello put Limite back on the screen, at its original speed of 16 frames per second. The difficulties of making the film in the first place were known; its re-emergence showed that it had lasted through the laborious reconstruction process and that it continued to exercise its magic, despite an absence of 50 years. Three hundred critics and film specialists, consulted in 1989, rated Limite the most important Brazilian film.

Inspiration for Limite —the chained woman on the cover of the magazine Vu —came to Mario Peixoto, then a student in Paris, in 1928. To tell the story of Limite , however, is to over-simplify its aesthetic range, to denigrate its daring narrative and the impact of its form. The psychological depth of its characters is lost in description; its mystery becomes banal. Limite stands apart from everything else that was happening at that time in the embryonic Brazilian film industry for its audacity in a context that permitted no experimentation. Through flash-backs, it tells the story of three characters, a man and two women, who are adrift at sea. The film's free narrative style can be traced to the European fashion avant-garde of the 1920s, its editing to influences of the Soviet school. Its setting, however, is genuinely Brazilian, with its seascapes, luxuriant vegetation, and typical scenes of doors and window frames in poor villages.

The restorer of the film, Sãulo Pereira de Mello, defines the film: "Limite is a cosmic tragedy, a cry of anguish, a piercing meditation on human limitations, a painful and icy acknowledgment of human defeat. It is a tragic film, a glacial tragedy."

More than a mere vehicle for one or three stories, Limite expresses defeat and desolation, and the impotence of the three characters, adrift forever, at outs with the forces of nature. This defeat is shown through the careful editing, paced and rhythmical, replete with dissolving images (such as the wheel of a train which becomes the wheel of a sewing machine) or the alternating close-ups which reshape parts of the body (feet, eyes, neck, mouths, hair) and inanimate objects (the magnificent sequence of the sewing accessories—buttons, cotton reels, scissors). Another example of skillful editing which produces a highly impactful scene takes place in a cinema, during a Chaplin screening. Mario Peixoto rapidly alternates clips from the film with shots of the cackling mouths of the audience, producing a sequence of high drama.

Virtually minimalist portrayals express human despair, not through broad gestures or exalted utterings, but through inert bodies, blank and forlorn stares. Dating from the transition from silent to spoken films, Limite has but three titles, and imparts an eloquent silence, punctuated only by a superb sound-track, organized by Brutus Pedreira (who also acts in the film), including compositions by Eric Satie, Debussy, and Stravinsky, among others.

Mario Peixoto's castaways exhaust the limits of their strength and their hope; they live an impotent challenge to the forces of nature, perhaps the principal element in the film. The timing of the scenes, the imaginative framings and the rhythm and tension of the editing are impressive; the beauty of the images is registered by notable photographer Edgar Brasil. His camera, unlike his characters, enjoys total freedom, either to remain motionless or to spin 360 crazy degrees to capture the final storm.

A young man's only film, in no manner does Limite appear to be the work of a novice. At every level the high standards and confidence of a director who had fully honed the tools of his trade are evident, as are his existentialist convictions. Today, Limite , available in video and shown at several international festivals, is exposed to fresh scrutiny which renews its impact and mystery. But the riddle of its creator, perhaps an unwitting victim of having reached his creative limits with his first film, persists; Mario Peixoto spent the next 60 years of his life as a voluntary castaway from his time, reliving the isolation of the characters of his first and only film.

—Susana Schild

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