Bye bye Brazil
By Carlos Diegues (Brazil, 1979)
Reviewed by Living Abroad Contributing Editor Volker Poelzl
“Bye Bye Brazil” is a masterpiece by Brazilian director Carlos Diegues. Diegues started out as a director in the 1960s and was part of the influential “Cinema Novo” (New Cinema) movement, which brought new realism to Brazilian cinema and focused on strong social and political messages. After the military coup in 1964 Diegues spent several years in exile. After his return to Brazil in the early 1970s he continued his work creating movies covering less controversial subject matter. Bye, bye Brazil (1979) is the most popular movie of that period, during which Diegues also directed Xica da Silva (1976) and Quilombo (1984)--both movies that deal with the topic of slavery in Brazil. More recently, Diegues directed several internationally successful movies such as Tiêta do Agreste (Tieta, 1995), Orfeu (1999), and “Deus é Braisleiro” (God is Brazilian, 2002).
What makes Bye, Bye Brazil such a great movie, is how aptly it captures not only the spirit of the period, but also of the Brazilian mentality, myths, and ideals that still characterize the country today. Diegues appropriately dedicated the movie “to the Brazilian people of the twenty-first century,” since the movie’s main theme is how people deal with a changing country in their day-to-day lives and how they always hope for a better future.
Filmed in the late 1970s just before Brazil’s military leaders decided to hand over the country to civilian rule, and when censorship was no longer as fierce, “Bye Bye Brazil” is a subtle and clever portrait of a country in the throes of change. The movie follows a group of variety artists on their journey across Brazil and reveals a country torn between progress and tradition. In the beginning, the caravan is still highly successful by presenting its traditional variety show of magic, acrobatic stunts and music in small towns in the interior of Brazil’s Northeast. But soon it becomes clear to the group’s leader “Lord Gipsy” that the times are changing and that the “fish bones” (a term he uses to describe TV antennas) are beginning to replace the traditional entertainment provided by their variety show. The troupe’s members soon realize that in order to stay afloat in this new Brazil, they have to say “bye-bye” to the old Brazil and adapt to its changes.
On their journey across the vast expanse of Brazil the variety troupe picks up an accordion player from the Northeast. His parting words to his old father sums up the theme of the movie: “I want to get out of here, dad. I want to see the ocean. The river just doesn’t do it for me any more…” But while he yearns for new experiences, he is also forced to confront the fact that his old way of life is out of fashion and so are his traditional northeastern accordion tunes, which are no longer as popular as the international disco music emanating from televisions everywhere.
The movie captures the dominant frontier spirit of the time, when millions migrated to the Amazonian frontier and moved from the impoverished countryside to the capital Brasília in search of a better life. As becomes evident in the movie, the late 1970s were a time when opportunism was rampant, and when everybody was looking forward to a new Brazil, a Brazil full of opportunities for anyone with the courage to seek them. And these opportunities were said to be open for everyone in the new and distant frontier of the Amazon, a land full of gold and precious stones, where, according to “Lord Gypsy,” the leader of the variety troupe, “everybody is rich and where trees are as tall as skyscrapers.”
The movie also cleverly pokes fun at the sense of inferiority Brazilians felt toward the world’s more developed nation during that time. When Lord Gypsy magically creates snowfall in the small circus tent (with the help of coconut flakes), he exclaims: “Snow in Brazil, just like in every other civilized country of the world.”
Although ‘Bye Bye Brazil’ is several decades old, it continues to be a great metaphor for Brazil and its people, who never give up hope for better and brighter future.