Nathaniel Wolfson is assistant professor of Brazilian and Latin American literature and culture and affiliated faculty of the program in critical theory at UC Berkeley.
Átilá Iório, Maria Ribeiro, Orlando Macedo, Joffre Soares,
Often hailed as the first masterpiece of Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement, Barren Lives chronicles the hardscrabble day-to-day existence of a family of migrants in the country’s unforgivingly bleak northeastern sertão. Barren and dusty, the land gives them nothing but despair; the landowners who rule them provide only the whip. Taking the aesthetics of Italian neorealism and pointedly baking them in the sun, dos Santos created a “cinema of hunger” (as Glauber Rocha termed it) seemingly drawn from the austerity of the landscape itself. Based on Graciliano Ramos’s acclaimed novel (the “Brazilian Grapes of Wrath”), Barren Lives announced dos Santos—and the Brazilian northeast—to the world.