By the side of the workers

by Raquel Morais


Chão, by Camila Freitas, follows the struggle of the Brazilian Landless Rural Workers Movement, specifically the Leonir Orback Camp in Santa Helena, Goiás. In the tradition of militant cinema, the film wants to be an instrument of politicization and change, offering the MST a platform that gives it national and international visibility. It positions itself with the workers, documenting their routines and the moments when they talk about their struggle, allowing to know in depth this community, which Freitas accompanied between 2014 and 2018.

The director's approach is microscopic. It focuses only on a camp and two of its members, P.C. and the group matriarch, whom everyone calls Grandma. It thus offers a face to the fight, fighting what the enemy – the landlords, their legal representatives and the media – tries to do: to de-characterize it, to make it anonymous and threatening. These characters have dreams and projects, which we know as the landscape is shown to us, in shots that are not merely contemplative, despite their placidity. In them, the landscape is an agent, the ground (“chão”, the title) is the second protagonist of the film.

A native of Goiás, Freitas has long known the MST and had already addressed the agribusiness attack against rural communities in his short Passarim (2003). But even though she closely and consistently follows the subject of her camera, the director never really seems to be a member of the group. This leads us to question what are the real conditions of existence of a militant cinema when the filmmaker and the workers still walk side by side, when a distance persists between them. If Chão is well succeeded in enunciating that reality, it would have been interesting to make the film a place of dialogue that integrated the filmmaker herself, revealing the process of rapprochement between her and MST. This would allow a greater proximity to the movement, particularly its difficulties and contradictions, which we never see. A less linear construction that problematized internal dynamics would make the film a more lasting instrument in the hands of its protagonists.