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THE GIVEN WORD

Brazil, 1962 (MIFF 1964)

Director: Anselmo Duarte

In this adaptation of a play by Dias Gomes, the director has transited the action to the streets cafes and church steps of Salvador, Brazil. It is a story of simple faith in conflict with sophistication, the evils of the city, the authoritarianism of the Church, and the power of politics.

A naive peasant, Ze, promises to bear a cross to the church of Santa Barbara if the Saint Iansarn, supposed to be the pagan equivalent of St Barbara, will make his injured donkey well again. Accompanied by his wife, he undeitakes the promise but when he reaches the church the priest, having heard that the vow was made at a pagan ritual, refuses him entry. The man waiting on the steps of the church with his cross sud­denly becomes the centre of controversy, of political and mercenary speculation, of a spontaneous outburst of rebellion by the negroes. The Church attempts to persuade Ze to make a new promise to a Catholic saint, but he refuses to betray his faith. After the com­promising ecclesiastics comes authority in force . . . From the moment when Ze arrives in the early hours of the morning on the steps of the church with his heavy wooden cross, the tension is powerfully built up. Most of the film is shot on the high steps creating a magni­ficent setting for the action. Acting is of a high standard and the crowd scenes are handled with vigour. The director uses powerful visual symbols until, in the tre­mendous final scene, we feel that it is Christ who is fighting His way back into His Church against prejudice, blindness and mercenary gain.

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