Monday, 4 June 2018

Black God, White Devil (Deus e o Diablo Na Terra del Sol) (1964)

Gud og djævelen i solens land
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Carl Th. Dreyer made a Western?

Well, “Black God, White Devil” (“Deus E O Diablo Na Terra Do Sol”) is what I imagine it would be like.

We got a very emotionally loaded movie that touches on a lot of big questions with characters that will stand still facing different directions and proclaim their existential pain with robot voices. Then they will shoot and kill a lot of people in a sun-dried land for no particular reason.

That does not sound very appetizing and it also reflects my general disappointment with the movie.

It starts out pretty good though. Manuel (Geraldo Del Rey) is a cattle herder (cowboy) in a very dry part of Northern Brazil. He is poor and lives in a shack with his wife Rosa (Yoná Magalhães) and their infant child. Things start going bad when Manuel gets screwed over by the owner of the cattle and Manuel kills him in return. This part is pretty good and very Western-like. Tough and gritty.

Rosa and Manuel escape and joins a religious group following a preacher called Sebastian (Lidio Silva). Sebastian is an asshole. He is filling his followers with lots of religious bullshit and is essentially creating a religious militant group whose only allegiance is to him. Manuel is eating it raw and becomes a faithful follower. This culminates when Sebastian commands him to kill his child as a sacrifice and that is pretty much when I mentally left the movie. The memory of that scene still makes me want to vomit.

Rosa kills Sebastian in return and immediately became my hero, for a while at least. A hitman, sent out by the church (Mauricio do Valle as Antonio das Mortes) kills the whole bunch except for Rosa, Manuel and a blind folk singer.

On the move again, Rosa and Manuel join a bandit who is killing every landowner he can get his hands on. At this point I was getting very confused. I have no idea what was really going on in these scenes, except for the massive amount of killing. It is a very surreal phase of the movie, maybe reflecting the bewilderment Manuel and Rosa are going through. Alas, Antonio das Mortes shows up again and do some more killing.

It is possible that I might have gotten more out of the movie had I not checked out after the baby killing scene. Then again, maybe not. It was getting very existential, very surreal and we are left with nobody to hang on to and a story that is not really going anywhere but towards death. We are very far from a Hollywood happy ending, but I could live with that if this did not feel more like a fizzle than a conclusion. In the end there is nothing but death. True, but also terribly depressing.

The production level is higher than the older Brazilian movies I have seen with the exception of “Black Orpheus”, but not anything approaching what Sergio Leone did in this period. We get the heat and the callousness from the cinematography, but beyond that there is a cheapness to the movie that speaks of a very limited budget.

Not a favorite of mine. How can any movie be that murders children in the name of religion?



  1. "Carl Dreyer Western" is a great three-word review. I seriously wish I'd thought of it.

    I didn't love it either, but if memory serves, you and I are very much in the minority.

    1. I guess having recently watched Gertrud made the comparison easy. But honestly the things I disliked about this movie were much the same as with Gertrud. It is crossing too far into annoyingly arty land for me to like it.

  2. This is one that I can't easily rent or find streaming. I had decided to give it a miss. Sounds like I'm not missing much.

  3. Tastes vary. I am sure some would like this movie. For me my negativity is mainly from disappointment. I thought it would be better.