Democracy only returned to Brazil in 1989, but the threat of another backslide into authoritarianism is dangerously imminent today. Far-right agitator Jair Bolsonaro was elected president in January 2019 and immediately mounted policies to diminish the rights of LGBT and indigenous citizens.
Bolsonaro regularly expresses admiration for Brazil’s military dictatorship, which unseated an elected Communist government in a 1964 coup d’état. Under the regime, patriots mounted an armed resistance, pushing against a government backed desperately by a “red fear”-stricken United States. At the resistance’s heart was Carlos Marighella.
Seu Jorge, perhaps best known for his Portuguese Bowie covers in The Life Aquatic, stars as Marighella in this prescient biopic based on the final five years of the freedom fighter’s life. His command of the screen is arresting, playing on the surface with the smooth, stoic charm of a Bond that hides a tempestuous streak as well as powerful recesses of deep vulnerability.
Clocking at 155 minutes, Marighella never flags. Director and one-time Narcos star Wagner Moura confidently lets his feature sprawl outwards from its central hero – members of Marighella’s rebel cell are given moments of humour and poignancy to flesh out their motivations before they inevitably fall in the violent struggle against the state.
Moura juggles tones throughout, from bloody calamity and guttural desperation in shootouts and extensive scenes of torture – his excessive early use of shaky-cam grates but settles – to gorgeous, evocative images of Marighella dreaming of days spent with his far away son.
Angry and brutally necessary for the Brazil of today, Marighella is put together coolly and confidently by the green Moura. Inescapably linked to contemporary context, the film gives immense nuance to a group of trigger-happy freedom fighters equally unafraid to laugh and cry in the face of an unstoppable enemy.
CAST: Seu Jorge, Adriana Esteves, Bruno Gagliasso, Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos, Humberto Carrão
DIRECTOR: Wagner Moura
WRITERS: Felipe Braga, Wagner Moura
SYNOPSIS: After the coup d’état that swept a legitimately elected government out of office in 1964 and brought a military dictatorship to power, Marighella led a group of young men and women into armed resistance. This film follows his life between 1964 and his violent death in November 1969.