The camera and the neo-liberal theocratic project in the old terra brasilis

By Lorenna Rocha

Fé e fúria

After the 2018 election, with Jair Messias Bolsonaro's rise to power, it was impossible to turn a blind eye to the presence of neo-Pentecostal segments in Brazilian politics and society. The advance of conservatism, in line with religious fundamentalism, is a fact that is now set in Brazil. Concerning the artistic manifestations, the strangulation of funding and of spaces for the promotion of culture, the censorship of works and the symbolic persecution of artists in the country make explicit the choices of a government that has the potential for death and destruction.

During the 21st Rio Festival, a series of films dealt, directly or indirectly, with the neo-Pentecostal presence in the country and its implications for Brazilian society, which makes me wonder how cinema, more precisely the camera, is relating to these bodies, these ideological discourses and how they portray them.

The exponential growth of neo-Pentecostal churches in Brazil and Latin America over the past 30 years did not seem to receive much attention in the representations presented in Brazilian films. Often on the margins of narratives, the attempts to show this segment of society on screen was either simplistic or reductionist. Often opting for a caricatured or grotesque retraction of these bodies, we seemed to understand little about the political and cultural strength of these institutions.

The proliferation of churches in the peripheries, expanding their worship spaces and using them as an instrument of power, also dominating the communities spatially, and representing a threat to democratic values – fragile since the beginning of our Republic –, provokes a displacement. Cinema, like other languages, now uses the camera as a reactive instrument to such presence. In the same sense, in the time in which it reacts, producing narratives and possibilities of tension in the present political-social context, it circumscribes its narratives and points of view and, sometimes, points out its contradictions.

In Leonardo Martinelli's Copacabana Madureira, the director builds his visual narrative through the use of codes that are abundant in social network, such as emojis and memes, as well as overlapping and manipulating images to point out possible ways of understanding Jair Bolsonaro's rise to power. Approaching the aesthetics and tools of social media, the discursive choice leads us to understand the film's critical positioning in relation to the current government. That aspect is evident, in a precise yet not new way, with the image of the Brazilian flag in reverse, at the end of the film.

Regarding the religious issue, the short tries to understand how fake news, connected to themes defended by religious fundamentalists such as the end of “gender ideology”, directly influenced Jair Bolsonaro's victory. Despite the fact that it doesn’t bring any factual novelty, nor formal invention, the film uses the humor and acidity of social networks to position itself within a historical context that demands such movement.

A positive movement of the film is to appropriate the images produced by fundamentalist segments as a way to highlight the grotesque that is printed on these products, such as the fake fifty reais bill of Pablo Vittar, which would be produced in Brazil on behalf of PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Party of Workers). However, because it fails to get out of the flow of reproduction of the visual culture of social networks, the film does not present a critical turn in relation to the media and its impacts on our current government.

In Fé e fúria (Fairth and Fury), by director Marcos Pimentel, the main issue is built around the tensions between evangelicals and practitioners of African-based religions, inside the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, based on testimonies given by people from both sides. The approach also works with the spatial dimension of this institutional power of the churches within the communities.

The relationship between these institutions and drug trafficking are designed to show how this affected the streets and daily life of these places, causing the closure of “terreiros” (spaces for practice of African-based religions) and tensions between evangelicals and candomblecists and umbandists. Although there is a criticism directed at the way religion, power and politics are intermingling in the country, the presence of the evangelical figures is not depicted in the asymmetrical way as in relation to the African-based religions, and the way it is positioned in the narrative induces to a place of laughability to their belief that, through its editing, makes explicit the criticism towards the evangelical segments.

By contrast, there is a difficulty in portraying the verticalizing power of evangelical institutions in the film, as the camera gives the impression that this power comes horizontally, within a specific locality or from people in those communities on the scene, without connecting images that project the idea of these conflicts as a political project that settles violently from top.

By betting on camera at the level of the eye, the film, while capturing both democratic and intolerant discourses, ends up provoking a false equivalence, as if both issues reverberated in symmetrical ways. This sense of verticality of power occurs with precision only once, when the film shows the image of an African-based religion space that had been set on fire criminally, and the camera pans to show a Universal Church of the Kingdom of God which that is located behind the space that suffered this violence. This kind of symbology reinforces the notion of verticalizing political project and dimension that the tensions between such segments do not occur individually, but as collective bodies.

Another film that presents the manifestation of the neo-Pentecostal sector within the periphery in a factual and isolated way is Minha fortaleza, os filhos de fulano, by Tatiana Lohmann. By giving attention, for a few minutes, to a character inserted in an evangelical church in the community of Vila Flávia, the camera delimits the institution's presence within the community, which reiterates the expansion of these spaces (of cults and power) inside the slums.

Upon entering the church, the two cameras used for filming focus on the faces of these people, valuing their expressions at the time of faith and praise, during a worship service for parents and "moms who are fathers" (solo mothers). It is noteworthy, at a specific moment when the character is thanking during the service, that the sound of her voice is highlighted, causing more attention to her "hallelujah" shouts. Her expression is once again emphasized and the voice along the image creates the idea of a picturesque figure, placing this woman in a place of hysteria, going back to the traditional stereotypes produced about these people.

At a political moment when the evangelical presence is so demarcated and established in our country, we need to learn to deal with these bodies. If we think that we can also use the camera to react to this conjuncture we are going through, producing discursive and imaginary counter-narratives, may our eyes be able to displace territories already established, (re)creating other possibilities of representation.