Non, or the Vain Glory of Command

Randal Johnson is a professor of Brazilian literature and culture and director of the Latin American Institute at UCLA. He has published widely on Brazilian cinema. His Manoel de Oliveira (2007) is the first book on the Portuguese director published in English.

(Non, ou a vã gloria de mandar). It's not in victory that a country's true strengths are found, theorizes a character in Oliveira's masterful treatise on history and nationalism, but in defeat. Set in the jungles of Angola during that country's 1974 war of independence from Portugal (though filmed in Senegal), the film follows a squadron of Portuguese troops as they wait, rather indifferently, for a battle to begin. No typical grunts, these soldier-philosophers pass the time by recalling Portugal's famous battles of the past, which typically ended in failure. But as one soldier notes, shouldn't a nation be judged not by what it takes away (in wars, battles, destruction), but by what it gives, in culture, science, or art? Oliveira follows the soldiers' wandering minds out of the jungle and into the past, re-creating centuries-old wars and disasters with themselves as “stars.” An Apocalypse Now of philosophical ideals, Non is no typical war film, but a work grappling with the concepts of war, history, and empire in their entirety.

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