NYT wrote:Nelson Pereira dos Santos, a Brazilian director who was instrumental in elevating the cinema of his country, often despite government repression and lack of financial support, died on April 21 in Rio de Janeiro. He was 89.
His death was announced by the Brazilian Academy of Letters, to which he was elected in 2006, the first filmmaker so honored. The academy said the cause was pneumonia.
Mr. dos Santos, who began making feature films in the 1950s, was among the founders of the Cinema Novo movement, which sought to transform Brazil’s filmmaking from low comedies and Hollywood imitations to something that reflected the realities of Brazilian life.
His first major film, “Rio 40 Graus” (“Rio 40 Degrees,” also sometimes translated as “Rio 100 Degrees”), released in 1955, told the story of three boys who sell peanuts to survive, and emphasized the problem of poverty.
“It was a big moral and political success,” Mr. dos Santos told The Los Angeles Times in 1985. “For four months it was banned by the police on the grounds that it was subversive and could make a revolution.”
By the 1960s, Mr. dos Santos and other Brazilian directors were showing at international festivals, including Cannes. In 1984, he won the international critics’ prize there for “Memórias do Cárcere” (“Memoirs of Prison”), about the imprisonment of the Brazilian writer Graciliano Ramos.
“Nelson Pereira dos Santos brought to the screen a powerfully socially committed moviemaking about Brazil’s poor and dispossessed,” Darlene J. Sadlier, a professor emerita at Indiana University-Bloomington who wrote a 2003 biography of him, said by email. “Throughout his career, he worked toward the creation of a national film industry in the face of a marketplace long dominated by Hollywood movies.”
Mr. dos Santos was born on Oct. 22, 1928, in São Paulo, Brazil. His parents, especially his father, were film lovers and would take him and his siblings to the movies often. A brother, Saturnino, once described a Sunday ritual at a São Paulo movie house.
“Four hours of movies, from 1 to 5,” he said, “and this went on for years. We saw all the films considered today to be the great classics of the time.”
Those were mostly Hollywood films — Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin — and infected young Nelson with the movie bug. In high school he also became sensitized to Brazil’s economic troubles, and in 1945 he joined the Brazilian Communist Party. He also began reading Brazilian writers like Jorge Amado and Mr. Ramos, whose novel “Vidas Secas” (“Barren Lives”), about a family in Brazil’s poverty-stricken northeast, he would adapt into a movie in 1963.
Mr. dos Santos was headed for a career in law but instead went to Paris to study film. His parents, he said, never got over the switch.
“Even when I had decided to be a filmmaker my father would ask me when I was going to get a real job,” he recalled in a 1996 interview with The Globe and Mail in Canada.
He worked as an assistant director on several films before making “Rio 40 Graus” on a slim budget.
He and other Cinema Novo directors were influenced by Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. Their films emphasized folklore and gritty, naturalistic stories — “Rio 40 Graus” was shot in a documentary style — and eschewed elaborate sets in favor of hand-held cameras, natural lighting and real landscapes. Another Cinema Novo director, Glauber Rocha, called it a “cinema of hunger” for its focus on poverty and hardship.
The military coup in Brazil in 1964 proved crippling for Cinema Novo, with its populist and Marxist leanings.
“My films were prohibited by the military because they showed the reality of Brazil,” Mr. dos Santos said. But he kept making movies by changing his style.
“My films were constantly subjected to censorship,” he said, “so I had to concentrate more on metaphorical works to show the realities of life under a military regime.”
He certainly waxed metaphorical in one of his best-known movies, “Como Era Gostoso o Meu Frances,” or “How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman,” released in 1971. It’s a dark comedy in which Portuguese sailors dump a Frenchman overboard and he winds up on an island off Brazil populated by cannibals. A commentary on what Europeans did to native South Americans, it did not amuse a certain film festival in France.
“When the film was first released,” The New York Times wrote in 1992 when the movie resurfaced in a festival called Meals on Reels, “judges at the Cannes Film Festival withdrew it from competition because of its nudity and cannibalism, according to the program notes. It didn’t help that the main item on the menu was French.”
For much of his career, Mr. dos Santos lamented the lack of financial resources available to Brazilian filmmakers, as well as theater owners’ continued preference for Hollywood films over local ones.
“Movie theaters in Brazil are completely dominated by North American cinema,” he said in a 2000 interview quoted in Dr. Sadlier’s book. “It’s impossible for Brazilian cinema to become self-sufficient in this context.”
The complaint also reflected his longstanding concern for the impoverished segments of the country’s population.
“When the large mass of Brazilians without shoes, and who are without the resources to enter a movie theater, becomes part of the consumer market,” he said in the same interview, “then our cinema will explode and will be preferred by the people because it is ours, because it speaks our language and reflects our innermost beings and reality.”
Mr. dos Santos is survived by his wife, Ivelise; four children, Nelson, Ney, Márcia and Diogo; and five grandchildren.
Dr. Sadlier noted that Mr. dos Santos was an advocate for Brazilian culture to the end of his career: His final two films were “A Música Segundo Antonio Carlos Jobim” (“The Music According to Antônio Carlos Jobim,” 2012) and “A Luz do Tom” (“In Light of Tom,” 2013). Both were documentaries about Jobim, the famed Brazilian songwriter.
“His last films,” Dr. Sadlier said, “pay tribute to the bossa nova composer whose music is, like Pereira dos Santos’s many films, an integral part of Brazil’s history and culture.”