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Monday Night Movies

With film critic Stephen Brophy & historian Jeff Ravel
Mondays,  7 pm,  in  MIT Room 2-105

In 1964 a military coup ousted the democratic government of Brazil: the generals imposed a right-wing dictatorship. In the ensuing years of terror, hundreds of civilians were killed, and thousands were tortured or disappeared. In September 1969, a small leftist group — the MR-8 — decided to challenge the generals. What was their plan? To kidnap the US Ambassador, Charles Elbrick …

Bruno Barreto's film, based on a book by a member of MR-8, was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Foreign Film, 1998). It stars Pedro Cardoso, Fernanda Torres, and Alan Arkin. In the words of reviewer Jim Ridley: "[The film] avoids agitprop speech-making and espionage-thriller cliches. And its moral stance, which refuses to condone terrorism in the name of either oppression or democracy, has quiet integrity." When the film premiered in New York, the writer, by then a member of the Green Party and elected to the Brazilian national Congress, hoped to attend. The Ambassador's daughter, who worked as a consultant on the film, supported his application for a visa — but the request was denied by the US Embassy in Brasilia …

The film is part of our January series of "Monday Night Movies." The series is open to all and admission is free. All films in the series are either in English or sub-titled.

 Additional Information 
  • MR-8, the group featured in the film, was one of several such groups operating in Brazil at the time. Brian Train has kindly allowed us to reproduce his article on urban guerrillas in Brazil in the 1960s.

  • The film is set in 1969. Within a few years, according to an article (PDF) by William Assies, the Brazilian left had come to see that "the vanguardist efforts of the 1960s to stir the masses into revolutionary activity had floundered." Assies looks at the "new urban social movements" that followed, and examines the role of the middle class in what the Church, political parties, and other "external actors" did.

  • "Groups professing to be anti-Communist have begun a terrorist campaign in Brazil that is being widely interpreted as a last stand by backers of the right-wing philosophy that has been dominant for 16 years …" writes Warren Hoge in the The New York Times, (August 24, 1980). "Franklin Martins is a onetime leftist terrorist … 'I can assure you that no leftist group of any kind is interested in terror in Brazil today,' he said. 'Terror today exists only for those who want to slow down the process of democratizing Brazil.'"

  • Fernando Gabeira, who wrote the book upon which the film is based, is now a legislator in Brazil's national legislature. He has renounced violence and now represents the Green Party — but he's still persona non grata in the United States.

  • For more information about Brazil, please refer to our archives.