Article | Marighella beyond the canvases, by Carlos Malaguti

We kill the boss! Marighella is dead! It was with this phrase, sung in a celebratory tone, that journalist Rose Nogueira, a militant of the Ação Libertadora Nacional (ALN) and then imprisoned for her political activities, learned of the execution of Carlos Marighella, leader of the organization in which she participated.

Despite the scheduled and celebrated execution, Marighella was buried as a pauper in São Paulo. His body was taken to the capital of Bahia just 10 years later, in 1979, when his family managed to recover and move his bone remnants.

This is not an unusual story of the Brazilian military dictatorship, but when it comes to the mythical figure of Marighella, the existence of a well-connected plan to erase her image, known and feared, is evident.

:: “People see in Marighella’s fight as her fight in Brazil today”, says Wagner Moura ::

From his youth writing poetry in Salvador to the Constituent Congressman in 1946 and, later, a leader of the urban guerrillas, Marighella was a thinker of the politics of his time.

Among the many passages of the character through the effervescent 20th century, described by journalist Mário Magalhães in a book based on the film, director Wagner Moura chose his experience after the 1964 coup until his execution by the military dictatorship, five years later, to portray in the film: the clipping puts many of the spotlights on the electrifying action narrative, with a focus on the guerrilla facet of Marighella.

The option, however, did not cloud the complexity of the protagonist, who is also shown as a caring father, a strategist who analyzes reality and recalculates steps. The approach seems to move away from the common interpretations that understand the defenders of the armed route as adventurers or as characters immune to crises.

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Around the Marighella de Moura, gather those who share the same conviction as the guerrilla leader. The production guarantees, in the core of coexistence of the protagonist, militants who move from the factory floor to university corridors, men and women of different age groups and – which is possibly the most commented choice of the director – the option to blacken the portrayed characters, making the racial issue emerge not only in the choice of Seu Jorge to play the character, but also in the presentation of Marighella’s religiosity as Oxossi’s son.

Religiosity even becomes a separate theme with the presence of Evangelical Pastor Henrique Vieira as one of the Catholic priests who supported the ALN.

Furthermore, Moura’s film goes beyond giving visibility to its main character and also seeks to establish a relationship between past and present in the insistent permanence of agents of the Brazilian State in the use of repression as a form of social control of the poorest populations. The scene in which police officer Lúcio, inspired by police officer Sérgio Fleury, tortures and kills two young black men in an abandoned lot is emblematic.

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The concern to present agents of repression acting against groups far from political militancy is commendable for deconstructing the hegemonic memory that the Dictatorship would only have fought organized groups. At the same time, it also points to the continuation of the genocide of the black population in Brazil, victim of the structural racism that continues to kill young black people in the Brazilian peripheries.

In this way, the production seems to respond to a set of criticisms directed at the more restrictive views of previous films on the subject. These are responses from the present that beckon a future of political clash and disputes over signs that are currently co-opted by the right: the flag, the anthem, nationalism, the definition of legitimate and non-legitimate religiosities, the political role of women (although there is a need for a caveat about the secondary role of Clara Charf in the plot).

Along with the also recent Nighthawk (2019), Marighella seems to establish herself in an arena of national cinema that claims other perceptions about our Brazilianness: resistant, insurgent and distant from the widely propagated idea about cordiality as a condition of those born in this nation.

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In addition to the cinematographic setting, at an unimaginable moment in Brazil’s political history – with the right to celebrate the violence of the dictatorship and the rise of the military sector to Executive positions – the film was unable to premiere in 2019 due to the lack of funding from the Audiovisual Sector Fund, planned for the completion of the work. The fact sparked suspicions about the censorship position of the Brazilian State.

In addition to bureaucratic obstacles, a wave of attacks from the organized right also operated to intimidate and reduce the success that the film achieved. In recent interviews, the director reported cases of threats that the team suffered during the recordings, in addition to the armed assault on an MST settlement on the eve of the film’s screening at the site. The symbol of resistance that Carlos Marighella became, by itself, raises explanatory hypotheses about such reactions.

:: Wagner Moura releases his film in settlement: “It’s the moment of connection between Marighella and the MST” ::

Thus, the film is both a political landmark for Brazil in times of conservative rise and a turning point in film narratives about the armed struggle, considered here in its complexity in the choice to humanize the militants. A facet that is especially explored in the portrait of Marighella as an attentive father, concerned with explaining his choices to Carlinhos.

In the audio letters he sends to his son, the narration also offers an explanation to the public about the years he fought for the implementation of socialism in Brazil, using armed struggle as a tool. Marighella stands here as the synthesis of thousands of guerrillas and guerrillas who, faced with a situation as adverse as the years of dictatorship in Brazil, made the option of fighting for what they believed, with the weapons they had. The production faces the controversial dimension of the use of violence as a mechanism of revolution without reducing the values ​​of social equality and humanism present in the organization’s agenda.

When the preview session of the film ends in Brasília, the sign goes up, but the story doesn’t end there.

The public choir of FORA BOLSONARO begins, the speech of young people from the Levante Popular da Juventude, the applause. Across Brazil, the photos of the entrances to the sessions flood the social networks and enshrine the possibility of returning to cinema, public space and arenas of political dispute.

This is how, in direct contrast to the screams of the executioners in the past who announced the fall of Marighella, several leftist movements have gathered around the film to claim the opposite: Marighella, present! Marighella lives!

The phenomenon is consistent with the closing of the film, when Toledo in the pau-de-arara, when he heard the torturer announce “Marighella is dead, you lost”, he replied: “No, you who lost”.

The Old Man scene abruptly cuts to the scene of a young woman arriving in the field and taking up arms, who ignores more conservative aesthetic norms and faces the fourth wall. The closing of the film beckons to the continuity and need to renew the ideas of the political struggle.

Even after the leak of a clandestine version of the work before it was released in theaters and repeated attempts to discourage its production, the film’s arrival on the big screen can be considered a third act as it enters into a direct clash with the politics of the present, with the sights for the future.

The truth is that, despite the difficulties for the release of the film, sculpting the figure of Marighella at a time when pocketbookism starts to be denounced by the denunciations of poor health management during the pandemic and by the failure of the great promise of economic transformation, is to give the left the opportunity to reconnect with the possibility and need to transform the political reality.

*Carlos Malaguti is a doctoral candidate in History at UFRRJ and a teacher in basic education in São Paulo. He studies armed struggle with a focus on the trajectory of Ação Libertadora Nacional.

**Paula Franco is a doctoral candidate in History at UnB, researcher on themes related to transitional justice and truth commissions in Latin America.

**This is an opinion piece. The authors’ view does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brasil de Fato DF.

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Source: Federal District BdF

Edition: Flávia Quirino

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