Passionate Story of a Bandit:'Augusto Matraga' Is at 5th Avenue Cinema Movie From Brazil by Santos Arrives
Published: September 18, 1971
por Vicent Canby
Roberto Santos's "The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga" (Hora e Vez de Augusto Matraga), which opened yesterday as part of the Fifth Avenue Cinema's retrospective devoted to Brazil's Cinema Novo, seems, on its surface, to be one of the least revolutionary films to come out of that revolutionary film movement.
Only by its uncompromised passion and by its almost romantic appreciation for the landscapes and characters and attitudes that are unique to the bleak, rural regions of northern Brazil can it be identified as one of those socially concerned Brazilian films, made in the nineteen-sixties, in a wave of protest against the commercialized Brazilian cinema.
"The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga," based on a popular Brazilian novel I haven't read, reflects a universe in which the rewards and punishments are doled out in a decidedly pre-Marxian manner. Augusto Matraga is a very bad man, a farmer who likes to terrorize the countryside just for the hell of it, who treats his wife like a servant, and who rapes a virgin and then murders three members of her family when they object.
He is, in fact, so spectacularly evil that his sudden repentance—after he has been beaten up and branded and left for dead by an outraged citizenry — can only be accepted as a poetic truth. Nursed back to health by an old black couple whose barren lives are devoted to Christ, Augusto vows to live in peace and poverty until, as he has been promised by a priest, his hour will come. The hour that comes (the priest has told him, with an absolutely straight face, that every dog has his day) permits Augusto to certify his conversion in a duel to the death with a bandit chief, who is, perhaps, the only man he has ever loved.
Like some of the later later Cinema Novo films (I'm thinking of Glauber Rocha's "Antonio Das Mortes"), "The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga," which was made five years ago, has the narrative symmetry of a folk ballad, but it is told without the flamboyant fantasy, the self-conscious surrealism and what one critic has called the "Third World humor" of the more recent, so called "tropicalist" Cinema Novo films. (Third World humor, I've found, is more often firmly committed than funny.)
Maybe because I saw it at the end of a week that has been notable for the unrelieved insipidity of the new films, I found myself responding to and being moved by "The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga," by its humanistic concerns, by its order and by its conviction that the most squalid spirit — mean movie critics as well as mean farmers, I assume—can stand in hope of redemption.
In view of all the passion expended, Santos has obtained some remarkably restrained and effective performances from his cast, particularly from Leonardo Vilar, as Augusto, and Jofre Soares, who looks enough like Nick Ray to be his brother, as the quite genial bandit chief. Aside from a fondness for skies photographed through filters that turn clouds into cotton balls, Santos never imposes on the production the sort of picturesque sensibility that, in some other Cinema Nova films, looks like condescension.
"The Hour and Turn of Augusto Matraga" belongs, in its style and spirit, anyway, to the early days of the Cinema Novo, which now, I'm told, has been effectively destroyed by the various Brazilian Government and film-industry elements. This film is decent evidence of the talent and the enthusiasm that, for a short time, made Brazil a very exciting place to make movies in.
THE HOUR AND TURN OF AUGUSTO MATRAGA (HORA E VEZ DE AUGUSTO MATRAGA), directed by Roberto Santos; screenplay (Portuguese with English subtitles) by Mr. Santos, based on a novel by Joao Guimaraes Rosa; director of photography, Helio Silva; music, Geraldo Vandre, Released by New Yorker Films. At the Fifth Avenue Cinema, Fifth Avenue near 13th Street. Running time: 110 minutes. (This film has not been classified by the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Administration at this time.)
Augusto Matraga . . . . . Leonardo Villar
Matraga's wife . . . . . Maria Ribeiro
Bandit chief . . . . . Jofre Soares
Priest . . . . . Mauricio Do ValleNY Times