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MACUNAIMA [a.k.a. Brazil Devours Brazil; Jungle Freaks] (1969).

This is a film about cannibalism. But not cannibalism in the normal culinary sense, because this strange, surrealistic arthouse obscurity from South America takes as its central topics social, political and economic cannibalism, where one level of society "devours" another in an effort to succeed. Heavy stuff? Not exactly, because any possibility of pretentious rhetoric is coated by a crazy quilt of insane logic. And even though director Joachim Pedro de Andrade lacks filmmaking expertise, he slaps together a hodgepodge resembling Gabriel Garcia Marquez by way of Benny Hill, with loads of campy laughs, slapstick humor, and a plot as mind-bogglingly satiric as Dusan Makavejev (SWEET MOVIE)... Beginning in the Brazilian jungle, our title character, Macunaima, is born fully grown, plopping onto the hut floor from between his mother's legs. This butt-ugly "infant" spends his days sucking on a pacifier and being ignored by his family, until one day he transforms into a handsome white prince (complete with princely fop clothes) and the local sexpot immediately straps him on for a ride. Unfortunately, this change is only temporary and soon he's eating pig entrails again and abandoned by his family. In the jungle, he encounters a fat ogre who gives Macunaima a meaty strip of his own leg to eat. (Confused? Join the club.) Later, a magic geyser turns his skin permanently white, just in time for him to hit The Big City, where the movie shifts into a wacky fish-out-of-water comedy. Mac has a tete de tete with a female revolutionary who makes baby carriage bombs (one of which explodes a tad early). While mourning the death of his wife, a gaggle of bikinied bimbos suddenly kidnaps him for a raft ride. And in the film's major set piece, Macunaima puts on a dress in order to rob a buffoonish "Cannibal Giant" (in fact, a nefarious industrialist), who enjoys tossing his party guests into a swimming pool full of carniverous fish. Everything is turned inside out in this crazed fantasy -- moments of tragedy turn comic, slapstick is given a surreal edge, and if I was more familiar with South America, I'm sure I'd get more out of the pic's obvious socio-political bent. Instead, it has to succeed simply on nodgin'-scratchin' strangeness and a loss of innocence storyline. Macunaima is nearly consumed by "civilization" and greed (in fact, he returns to his native village loaded down with cheap appliances and an electric guitar -- I hope he has a long extension cord), and his adventures are pocked with a parade of whacked gags (and plenty of deadly dry moments too)... I wouldn't exactly call this a great, or even good film. But it's certainly unique in a scattershot way that defies comprehension.

© 1992 by Steven Puchalski.