With the Olympic Games happening in Rio De Janeiro, it is a great opportunity to celebrate and showcase both Rio and the country’s thriving culture and history. The Olympics also has such an interesting and pertinent history on its own, which many also know nothing about. Film has a long relationship with both Brazil and the Olympics, through which we can learn about the two.
Older Brazilian films of the 1960s and 1970s are part of the “Novo Cinema” movement, which itself was a reaction to the racial and class inequality present in Brazil. The most famous of these films is a retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, where the beautiful Eurydice is taken to the Underworld and her husband Orpheus goes to save her, facing Hades, all set during the time of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro – known as Black Orpheus. A bright, vibrant film, which explores both the collective joy, which Rio’s festivals are famous for, and the dark “underworld” of the lawless favelas.
In more recent years, Brazilian cinema went very unnoticed until a film called City of God was released in 2002, going on to be nominated for 4 Oscars. The film is in my view an outstanding representation of the issues faced in Rio, all told in a kinetic, exuberant way, which is so indicative of Brazilian cinema – If you only watch one film about Rio, or even about the whole of Brazil, it should be City of God. It’s about the environment and characters which the citizens of Rio face everyday. It tells the story of two boys who, born in the extremely poor neighborhoods of outer Rio, take two different paths, one becomes a gang-leader and the other becomes a photography journalist, but both paths take them into the mad criminal world of Rio’s favelas – which seem to have been completely, and controversially, ignored in this year’s Olympics.
Another modern Brazilian film is The Way He Looks; a coming-of-age love story about the two young men in São Paulo, one of them being blind (hence leading to the double-entendre of the film’s title). This is a film that went by rather unnoticed apart from in niche audiences, but it has quickly become a cult favorite of Queer cinema, thanks to an undeniably endearing quality to the film, and the two leads’ natural chemistry. It shows the direction modern Brazilian cinema is taking, and the direction many are pushing for the whole country – to be a modern, accepting, 21st century country.
If you want to watch a film on the Olympics then you can’t ignore Olympia (1938), the propaganda film Adolf Hitler himself commissioned for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Olympia was intended to showcase to the world the sporting and therefore physical superiority of the Nazis’ “super-race”, the Aryans. It utilized groundbreaking cinematography and editing, which later became industry standard – despite the film’s very obvious political agenda and the controversy resulting from that.
I would also like to talk about a largely unknown Oscar-winning documentary One Day in September, about an event too-oft forgotten. The day in September in question is 5th September 1972. It was the Munich Olympics, “The Games of Peace” – a great advertisement for a post-war Germany – when it turned into “The Games of Terror”. 11 Israeli Olympic team members were held hostage in the Olympic village, and eventually killed, by a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September. This was a global incident and led to many of the first global anti-terrorist measures. The film was almost universally acclaimed, winning the Best Documentary Oscar, often praised for how it continually provides evidence and makes the case against the way the Germans and the International Olympic Committee handled the crisis.