Lúcia Murat’s Brave New Land as an Anti-Foundational Fiction
University of New Mexico
The textual complexity of Lúcia Murat’s filmatic portrayal of the clash between the Guaicuru Indians of the Mato Grosso Pantanal and the Portuguese explorers of the Brazilian frontier in Brave New Land (2000) manifests a myriad of past and contemporary notions regarding the representation of the Indigenous and European/white subject as well as the conflictive nature of their initial contact.
In imagining the historic encounter in Brazil’s Pantanal region between a Portuguese expedition and the Kadiweus tribe (a branch of the Guaicuru), Murat employs various cinematic approaches which lend themselves to a critical scrutiny of colonial discourse, nineteenth century romantic ideals, and contemporary considerations of Iberian contact with the New World and its peoples. The presence (to varying degrees) of these discursive and textual manifestations in Brave New Land, allows Murat to highlight multiple ideological projections regarding the conquest and colonization, which are, in the context of this paper, examined in reference to the formation of a Brazilian national identity.
Most notably, the interracial ‘union’ between the Portuguese protagonist Diogo de Castro e Albuquerque (played by Diogo Infante) and his captive Indian-princess Ánote (played by Luciana Rigueira) reflects a socio-cultural conflict specific to the discourse of national identity formulated by Romantic writers such as José de Alencar in works such as Iracema and O Guarani. Murat’s portrayal of Diogo and Ánote’s problematic relationship and its tragic outcome serves as an allegorical questioning of the discursive idealization of the relationship between Portuguese and Indians by juxtaposing the romanticized view of Diogo to a conflict-ridden society. Through this ‘love’ story, Brave New Land offers an anti-foundational fiction of the Brazilian nation.
In her critical work Foundational Fictions (1991), Doris Sommer theorizes that many novels of nineteenth century Romanticism in Latin America serve as fictional representations of the national situation and/or often idealized projections of the future of the country. Through her analysis of nationalism, eroticism and the dynamics of power and desire manifested by the union between characters of different ethnic groups or social strata, Sommer extracts a didactic lesson of nation-building from each novel. She explains that the romance, or love-story in its nineteenth century use was boldly allegorical, and that
The classic examples in Latin America are almost inevitably stories of star-crossed lovers who represent particular regions, races, parties, economic interests, and the like. Their passion for conjugal and sexual union spills over to a sentimental readership in a move that hopes to win partisan hearts. (5)
The first concern of Sommer’s study is to emphasize the inextricability of politics from fiction in the history of nation-building. Secondly, in order to make sense of the phenomenal success well into the twentieth century of Latin America’s Romantic novels, Sommer locates an ongoing erotics of politics by linking national ideals to the literary depictions of "natural," heterosexual love and nonviolent consolidation at mid-century (6). Thus, the amorous unions in nineteenth century Latin American literature communicate ideal models of nationhood which, to varying degrees, manifest inextricable links to the national political agenda.
Without question, the unlikely relationship of Diogo and Ánote in Brave New Land relates to Sommer’s discussion in regards to the sexual and (arguably) emotional convergence of two fundamentally distinct characters (in this case, the captor a European man and the prisoner an Indigenous woman) during Brazilian colonial history. Through the use of cinematic tropes such as ‘observational’ perspective and links between the psyche and the exterior environment similar to the literary techniques of nineteenth century romanticism, Diogo and Ánote’s story projects a national allegory that embodies a conflictive macrocosm of society, economics and politics. However, despite the apparent points of convergence between the Latin American foundational fictions Sommer discusses and the ‘love’ story in Brave New Land, the film might be considered more appropriately as an anti-foundational fiction.
In the chapter of her book entitled "O Guarani and Iracema: Brazil’s two Faced Indigenism," Sommer explores fiction as a national foundation in two famed novels by Brazilian writer José de Alencar. Sommer suggests that these crossover historical romances between Indian and white lovers appealed wildly to the general public as a result of their reaffirmation of Brazilianness based on interracial love rather than on the literary charm of the novels themselves (140-41). While O Guarani (1857) and particularly Iracema (1865) both contain tragic elements dramatically woven into the fabric of each tale, their endings allude to an optimistic future for Brazil in the form of early seventeenth century racial miscegenation. The construction of the nation takes root in the union between Peri and Ceci, an Indian man and white woman, and the racially-inverted couple of Martim and his Indian princess Iracema in O Guarani and Iracema, respectively. In O Guarani, the successful escape of Ceci and a newly-civilized (i.e. baptized), pistol-toting Peri into the forest at the end of the novel suggests the triumphant survival of Brazil through the solidarity of its white and Indian elements. Iracema carries this allegory to a more explicit level. Although the Indigenous heroine looses her home, her family, and eventually her life, her relationship with Martim proves fruitful through the birth of their mestizo offspring Moacyr. Despite the fact that Iracema has perished (perhaps symbolically), her son would live on in the ‘civilized’ world of his father, helping to recruit new European settlers for the spot where his mother was buried. Moacyr alludes to the emergence of a new, uniquely Brazilian national population born from a mythic past and a prosperous future.
In examining the nation-building allegories of O Guarani and Iracema, it must be noted that while the love affairs in both novels seem genuine and the theme of racial miscegenation is portrayed in a positive light, Peri and Iracema must be compromised either through ‘civilization’ or death in order for their interracial union to bear fruit. Thus, Alencar’s novels ideologically suggest that the Indian only becomes intertwined into the fabric of the new society at the cost of his/her people, his traditions, and frequently, his/her life.
While historically, the formation of American nations resulted from the genocide and virtual eradication of indigenous peoples, Alencar essentially reconstructs a national past by integrating the romanticized Amerindian as an integral element of the Brazilian legacy. As Sommer notes, "What could be more Brazilian and proclaim independence from the Old World more clearly than casting the nation’s protagonists as Indians and as those first Portuguese who, in turning their backs to Europe, chose to unite with the natives?" (147). Sommer’s statement rings true, and from this perspective, one can comprehend the immense effect O Guarani and Iracema have had on the national consciousness. Like a watercolor, Alencar’s writing conveniently blurs the distinction between historical-fact and fiction, thus depicting a noble Indian identity which his fellow countrymen can proudly accept from a historical distance without confronting the weightier ethno-political realities of their indigenous heritage. In her article "The Red and White: The "Indian" Novels of Jose de Alencar" (1983), Renata Mautner Wasserman explains that;
He [Alencar] is creating myths of origin for his nation, and by affirming the value of hybridism, he will forge a link between the first phase of colonization – when the Portuguese took Indian women and started peopleing the land, inviting whole Indian tribes to settle around new forts and trading posts to help defend the land against French and Dutch inclusions – and the European view of the unspoiled inhabitant of the New World as an example and a hope for redemption for a cruel and decadent civilization. (817)
The acknowledgement of Brazil’s Indian ancestry in nineteenth century literature was a means by which to culturally distinguish the New World nation from its colonial oppressor, Portugal. Thus, Alencar’s famed fictions served as unifying narrative foundations for Brazil’s national genealogy.
In relation to the national "myths of origin," Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities (1991) theorizes that ‘nation-ness’ is a conglomeration of cultural artifacts whose creation towards the end of the eighteenth century resulted from the "spontaneous distillation of a complex ‘crossing’ of discrete historical forces" (4). Anderson notes that, once created, these forces have the capacity to be transplanted to various social terrains and to merge with an extensive variety of political and ideological constellations, creating a distinctly ‘imagined’ national community (4-6). Anderson sustains that print-languages laid the groundwork for the proliferation of national consciousness, and this statement elucidates the impact literature has had on the ideological formation of ‘nation.’
Although Brave New Land shares many basic similarities with Alencar’s novels in regards to the cross-cultural romantic liaisons and the roles of the Indian and White protagonists in each work; ideologically, Murat’s film differs dramatically from O Guaraní and Iracema. In reference to Wasserman’s commentary, while Alencar creates "myths of origin for his nation," Murat dispels the idealized notion of immediate and nationally acceptable racial miscegenation in the later phase of colonization. Thus instead of portraying a successful foundational union between the Indian and Portuguese protagonists, the ‘love’ story in Brave New Land depicts a problematic relationship based on desire, power and ultimately destruction. In contrast with the unifying symbolism of Ceci, Peri, Martim and Iracema, Diogo and Ánote represent an anti-foundational national allegory which emphasizes the violent aspects of Indian/European cultural contact and the implausibility of harmonious miscegenation in eighteenth century Brazil.
Established from the onset of the film as one of the more liberal, ‘gentle’ men of the Portuguese expedition to map the Pantanal region of Brazil, cartographer Diogo de Castro e Albuquerque is far more concerned with documenting his lush natural surroundings and sketching from memory pictures of enticing negresses he has encountered along the journey than joining in the obsessive objective of his fellow bandeirantes (1) who struggled ruthlessly to lay out a symbolic grid of (Portuguese) power of the territory. The bandeirantes’ rugged, brutish manner clearly offsets Diogo’s calm and contemplative nature, thus emphasizing his uniqueness within the group. Diogo embodies the ideals of eighteenth century enlightenment and as such, at least in theory, is in a unique position to (supposedly) understand "otherness." He is a product of the Rosseaunian ideology that not only accepts but idealizes nature and the "natural (wo)man." What makes Diogo’s character disturbing is that his enlightened veneer gives way to colonial prejudice once his concepts of the "good savage" are challenged. His violent rejection of Ánote at the end of the film reveals that Diogo, like most Europeans involved in the colonial enterprise, cannot accept complete otherness. The difference that they tolerate has to correspond to their pre-established notions. Hence, ultimately, they do not recognize the validity of native culture.
From what can be gathered from the unsubtitled opening scenes of the nearby Guaicuru Indian community, Ánote holds a noble position among her people. She is treated with reverence and servitude, and labeled as a ‘princess’ by the Portuguese after they note her elaborate face-paint designs and observe her attitude and hierarchal interaction with her captive white slave boy.
Diogo first lays eyes on Ánote in one of the earliest and most brutal scenes of Brave New Land. As a group of Guaicuru bathes playfully in a stream, they are encountered by the Portuguese men who stop in wonderment, entranced by the nude women. For a brief moment, the Guaicuru continue to laugh and banter unselfconsciously in the water while the Portuguese stare, frozen and seemingly bewitched by the sight. This powerful moment interrupts the momentum of the film and its intense tranquility produces a slow-motion effect through which the scene is viewed entirely from the perspective of the Portuguese men. The camerawork captures the viewpoint of the male gaze (Mulvey 1989), honing in on the women’s breasts and sexually objectifying them with predatory desire. The camera cuts from Diogo’s astonished face to Ánote, still laughing and unaware of the voyeurs as the shot pans down her body, and then returns to Diogo. This lustful, one-sided connection marks the first step of the encounter between the pair.
After the Portuguese are noticed by the native women and convert the locus amoenus into an ambushed bloodbath, Diogo comes face to face with Ánote, physically defiling the pristine female image he had gazed upon just moments earlier. Although encouraged by his Captain, Diogo’s rape of Ánote and his subsequent salvation of her life lay the groundwork for the anti-foundational fiction of Brave New Land.
Unlike the romantic novels of Sommer’s study in which heterosexual couples of diverging racial groups or social strata enter naturally into nonviolent consolidations (6), Ánote is forcefully coerced into a union with Diogo which initially emerges as a result of power dynamics rather than of love. Whereas Alencar’s romantic novels avoid the often violent reality of colonial mestizaje, Brave New Land takes a more critical stance and presents the brutal violation of Ánote by a man who, at first, seemed incapable of harm. And, though unsettling to viewers, the scene strikes a necessary chord by exposing the impact of the cultural clash between the colonizers and the Guaicuru.
Interestingly enough, Diogo and Ánote eventually develop affection for one another, but Murat carefully portrays this development out of view from members of the expedition in an isolated location near the colonial settlement where Diogo spends time sketching. Diogo soon seemingly falls in love with the captive woman he abused, and while Ánote, for the most part, rarely drops her stoic demeanor, she also seems to warm up to him in her own way. The pair becomes closer as they begin to view each other as human beings, and through this gradual process of realization, they concede to one another.
Diogo learns Ánote’s name, and soon picks up on other Guaicuru words in an effort to communicate with her. When he sees that Ánote is amused by his facial hair and animal gestures, he attempts to entertain her by acting like a monkey, repeatedly referring to himself as such a beast using Guaicuru vocabulary. Diogo wonders why Ánote paints her face, and although he receives no response, he comes to the conclusion that she embellishes herself simply because she is human. At this point, Diogo fetches a mirror and holds it before Ánote to show her reflection for the first time and to solidify his own understanding of Ánote as a human being. Surprised, Ánote gasps as Diogo’s reflection joins her in the mirror and he points to each of them by name. Shortly afterwards, Ánote grants Diogo access to her body and Diogo allows Ánote to paint his face, marking the beginning of their consensual unification.
Ánote’s subsequent pregnancy carries her union with Diogo to an allegorical level. Their mutual union results from both lust and a newfound affection for one another, but neither lover anticipates bearing a child together. While the audience cannot know Ánote’s opinion, Diogo views the pregnancy as an unexpected consequence of his actions for which he will take full responsibility both socially and religiously. As they stand before the crucifix in mass, Diogo touches Ánote’s belly and asks for the Lord’s forgiveness.
Though visibly ashamed by the obvious outcome of his "sin," he promises that their child will be raised a Christian, and that "it will bear my abilities and her purity." As seen in other foundational texts, this hope is common for the mestizo offspring who is projected to carry on the ideologically ‘good’ qualities of each race. Ironically, Ánote gives birth to their mixed-race child on a rainy night while Diogo listens to a drunken bandeirante rant about how his own low percentage of Indian blood will guarantee that his future son will contain enough limpeza de sangue to be considered White. Not only does the discussion in this scene juxtapose the ‘impure’ ethnic identity of Diogo’s child, but it serves as a prelude to the imminent birth by sending an ominous message regarding the acceptability of mestizos in eighteenth colonial society.
When Diogo returns home to find that Ánote has given birth, he speaks to her softly in her language and asks where the child is. She refuses to respond, and Diogo is horrified to learn from the bandeirante that Guaicuru women traditionally murder their firstborn children to keep the tribe more lithe and able to flee on short notice. At this point, impenetrable communication barriers form between the Portuguese cartographer and the Indian princess and Diogo drags Ánote out of the house, referring to her as an animal. Thus finalizes their fruitless union which ends as tragically as it began.
In order to avoid the entanglements of intentional fallacy, Murat’s personal objectives in presenting Brave New Land cannot be assumed. The storyline and cinematic techniques however, can be interpreted through a variety of theories and critical perspectives. Hence for example, the North American tale of Pocahontas shares uncanny thematic connections to its Brazilian counterparts. In his analysis of the legend entitled Pocahontas: The Evolution of an American Narrative (1994), Robert S. Tilton breaks down a myriad of didactic intentions fueling various configurations of the story. Much like the Brazilian works concerning the current study, "The Pocahontas narrative provided literary and visual artists with a flexible discourse that came to be used to address a number of racial, political and gender-related issues" (Tilton 1). Regardless of geographic location; Alencar, Murat and the scores of North American writers who have rearranged the story of Pocahontas, tailor their work to convey certain culturally didactic messages and to evoke from their audience specific emotions such as sympathy, solidarity, pride, horror, disgust, etc… In this frame of reference, the communicative/ emotive success of both novel and film enable them to project their respective national allegories through fictional portrayals of interracial romance, thus alluding to a collective national identity. Superficially speaking, Pocahontas and Brave New Land share many commonalities in this sense; both storylines take place during New World colonization and involve the fleeting union between a beautiful Indian princess and a good-hearted European explorer. Additionally, both tales end with the separation of the pair, who are unable and/or unwilling to merge their distinct and irreconciliable worlds. However, being that Pocahontas is a cherished North American historic figure whose real-life story veered off in the opposite direction of her legendary narrative, one must question the "racial, political and gender-related issues" addressed (or not addressed) through the manipulation of her story. Why, for instance, does the traditional Pocahontas narrative focus only on her heroic rescue of Captain John Smith and on her platonic and short-lived ‘love-affair’ with him as a thirteen year old girl when in reality, the Powhatan princess married Englishman John Rolfe, bore a child and moved to England, where she died shortly thereafter? Perhaps, as Tilton suggests, "Any combination of sex and race raises for white Americans the bugaboo of miscegenation…"(63). Tilton goes on to discuss why early nineteenth-century writers felt the need to avoid mention of Pocahontas’ interracial marriage and mixed-race son;
Because of the sentiment against the portraying of successful interracial unions during the antebellum period, it is not hard to imagine the dilemma faced by early nineteenth-century writers who wanted to use the already popular Pocahontas material. In a literary climate in which a rendering of a happy mixed marriage, even that of national heroine Pocahontas and John Rolfe, might be seen as inappropriate, what had to be discovered was a way to avoid the seemingly unfortunate turn that the narrative takes toward its conclusion. (72)
Tilton explains that two strategies emerged as a means to avoid the explicit portrayal of Pocahontas and Rolfe’s marriage as well as the birth of their son. Authors either tended to adjust the narrative to allude to the lover’s feelings while downplaying and frequently avoiding mention of their real-life union, or they adapted the most exciting elements from the life of Pocahontas into other texts, thus tailoring their own resolutions that conveniently "steered clear of the problematic issue of miscegenation" (72).
Along with Doris Sommer, film critic Robert Stam draws an interesting parallel between Alencar’s novels and the North American tale of Pocahontas in his discussion of European-Indigene romance from the book Tropical Multiculturalism. Clearly, the final separation of the Indian and White couples at the end of both Brave New Land and the fictionalized legend of Pocahontas imply the existence of a national racial problem. My intention, in associating the two stories, lies in highlighting Pocahontas as another anti-foundational text while also calling attention to the ideological differences inherent in the agenda of both tales.As Stam explains;
In Brazil, miscegenation with native people was quasi-official policy, whereas the occasional U.S proposals to assimilate Indians through intermarriage were officially rejected. The romantic poets and novelists of the Indianist movement of the mid-ninteenth century saw Brazil as the product of the fusion of the indigenous peoples with the European element, a fusion figured in the marriage of the Indian Iracema and the European Martins in Alencar’s Iracema (1865), or the love of the indigenous Peri and the European Ceci in the same novelist’s O Guarani (1857). Thus, while North American ideology promoted myths of separation, and the doomed nature of love between white and Indian (for example in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper), Brazilian ideology promoted myths of fusion through what Doris Sommer calls "foundational romances" of love between European and indigene. (11)
Hence, in considering the implications of Brave New Land’s finale in comparison with the traditional ending of the legend of Pocahontas, it seems that, allegorically speaking, Pocahontas and John Smith’s destined separation alludes to a disapproval of crossover romance – or at least the social implications of its outcome. Furthermore, the inclusion of the historically-based rescue and platonic love affair with Smith and the subsequent exclusion of Pocahontas’ real-life, fruitful interracial union from the legend appears as a decidedly anti-miscegenistic message for the nation, conveniently cloaked in adventure, tragedy and acceptably romantic appeal.
In contrast, Murat’s film reflects an anti-foundational fiction not because it presents an ideological opposition to racial miscegenation like Pocahontas, but rather because it recognizes that the union between Europeans and Amerindians was often maimed by violence and emphasizes the inability of the Brazilian nation to support the proliferation of a mestizo population during the eighteenth century. Approached from a contemporary perspective in relation to the aforementioned nineteenth century romantic literature, Brave New Land seems to take into consideration twentieth century discourse regarding New World contact and colonial relations. Unlike O Guaraní, Iracema and Pocahontas, Murat’s film exposes the devastation suffered by the Indigenous Brazilians and the eradication of the Guaicuru population as a result of conquest and colonization.
Although the Guaicuru succeed in assassinating the group of bandeirantes who ambushed the bathers and ravaged their community, the film extinguishes any spark of hope incited in the audience as it quickly cuts to a contemporary documentary-like scene. An old woman cries and sings traditional Guaicuru songs as she reads a book about her people written by cartographer Diogo de Castro e Albuquerque. As the movie comes to a close, we learn that the remaining members of the scarcely existent Guaicuru Indian community now inhabit a reservation as their population dwindles. Murat’s inclusion of the genocidal aspect of colonial contact sets her work apart from idealized portrayals of the theme by reminding her audience of the negative and lasting impact of national history. Additionally, her historically-based cinematic portrayal serves as a counter-response to Alencar’s optimistic inclusion of the Indian as an immutable element of Brazil’s national identity. Murat strongly suggests an anti-foundational fiction through her problematic portrayal of the protagonists’ failed union and the death of their newborn baby, and her insistence on informing viewers of the devastation of the Guaicuru population fractures the idyllic notion that the Indian has been revered as much as a member in Brazilian society as it has in national literature.
This diverging ideology of indigenous representation may be due in part to the fundamental problem of adequately comprehending and representing the Other. This is, the Other becomes co-opted for a certain discourse – be it colonial discourse (Las Casas, Andrieta, Caminha), the discourse of nation-building (Alencar) or post-colonial critique (Murat). For example, while Indianism, particularly in colonial and nation-building discourse, presents the Indigenous subject in a sympathetic light through associations with exoticism, sentimentalism, exalted social revalorization and often picaresque characteristics (Melendez 13), it tends to detract from the humanity of the native by creating one-dimensional characters that lack significant development.
Furthermore, Indianist texts, by definition refer to material created about Indians by outsiders of that cultural sphere. In commenting Alencar’s role in the creation of Brazil’s "Indian" identity, Sommer questions his cultural expertise and warns readers that "Of course, whatever Alencar knew of those unspoiled natives, whom he considered practically extinct by the time he wrote, was mediated by early chroniclers" (148). As an outsider of Guaicuru culture, Murat does not (and cannot) avoid employing Indigenist tropes such as Ánote’s emotional stasis and lack of profound character development in her portrayal of the natives. However, she attempts to permutate the traditional romanticist representations of Indians in a less problematic fashion. For example, instead of fabricating dialogue for the Guaicuru community, Murat employs members of the Kadiwéu tribe to portray the roles of the Indigenous characters in Brave New Land. Their interactions and language are never subtitled, emphasizing the idea that like the Portuguese, the audience cannot interpret, nor do they have the tools to fully understand the Guaicuru. Murat’s discourse exudes a self-awareness which sets it apart from past depictions of cross-cultural colonial contact.
Ultimately, Brave New Land functions as a contemporary interpretation of a polemic historic theme which continues to be reassessed and reinvisioned to reflect ever-changing notions of racial representation and the roles of the European and Indian subject in national discourse. Murat’s visual text falls in line with what Amaryll Chanady terms the "postmodern problematization of identity." In the introduction of her book Latin American Identity and Constructions of Difference (1994), Chanady explains that, while nation building can be viewed as a project of modernity, its desire to construct workable paradigms of self-affirmation and understanding is countered by radical postmodern delegitimization which erodes these very paradigms (xi). The author states that,
At the same time that the nation is constructed, it is deconstructed by the successive, and always complementary and substitutive, interpretations whose incompleteness and constant succession and mutual contradictions demonstrate the inexistence of any originary center. (x)
Hence, by creating an anti-foundational fiction through the
unsuccessful crossover-romance between Diogo and Ánote, Murat
challenges the hegemonic conception of Brazilian nation-building
through racial/ethnic unity, thus distinguishing her film ideologically
from Indigenist depictions in romantic literature. Brave New Land’s
unique historical analysis serves as a point of departure from which
future filmmakers and writers will undoubtedly continue to develop the
theme of Brazilian national identity in its contemporary sphere.
Young, Robert J.C. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. Routledge, 1995.