At the end of the nineteenth century, two Italian brothers, the Segreto, opened the first cinema hall in Rio and, comforted by the success of the screenings, they decided to produce on their own. In 1898 they filmed some prises de vue which are the birth certificate of Brazilian cinema.
For a few more years, the Segreto monopolized production and distribution, but soon small manufacturers developed throughout the country and halls opened. The Brazilian public flocked, the production of the whole silent period was very flourishing and of excellent quality. The golden age of Brazilian cinema was born from the perfect balance between production and distribution: we produce exactly what the public requires, while keeping the market closed to imports. The films that are popular with viewers are mostly operettas, filmed songs, but also stories with elements of political satire.
According to ehotelat, the First World War puts an end to this period, creating serious difficulties for the industry. In the early 1920s, cinemas almost exclusively screened American films, while national production represented just over 2%. But, thanks to the initiative of the producer G. Rossi, cinema manages to survive. Rossi moves the factories from Rio to Sao Paulo and makes J. Medina turn some melodramas which, in addition to making school, relaunch Brazilian cinema. In the wake of the production of São Paulo born in the Brazil of smaller industries, at the regional level, which mostly produce melodramas, chanchada (a variant of the musical comedy) and cycles whose stories intertwine from one film also for more than ten years.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Brazilian cinema tried in vain to raise the quality of its products, trying to adapt to American parameters. Few noteworthy films: Moleque Tiao, shot by JC Burle in 1943, containing references to the social situation – a theme that had been absent until then – and Cangaceiro (1953), by L. Barreto, but otherwise the production is stopped at a genre cinema. For the situation to change, we have to wait for the Sixties and the political turmoil of Cinema Nôvo, which fights for the decolonization of Brazilian culture with a force that transpires from the themes dealt with and from the cinematographic language adopted. The works of N. Pereira dos Santos, R. Guerra, JP de Andrade, PC Saraceni, V. de Carvalho, C. Diegues and G. Rocha – certainly the most important personalities – open up a hitherto unknown political and ideological debate in Brazil, in addition to bringing to the attention of the rest of the world the problems but also the cultural richness of the so-called Third World countries.
There are many films from the Cinema Nôvo known all over the world, such as Os Fuzis (Rifles, 1964) by R. Guerra, Garincha, Alegria do Povo (1963) and Macunaima (1969) by JP de Andrade, Brasil ano 2000 (1969) by W. Lima; but the works of G. Rocha occupy an exceptional place, from Barravento (1961) to Deus eo Diabo na terra do sol (1964), from Terra em transe (1967) to Cabeças cortadas (1970) to A idade da terra, made by the director a year before his death (1981).
The next generation, repressed by the dictatorship, first turned towards experimentation, then returning to genre production. Opened by the distribution in the country of foreign films such as Last Tango in Paris and A Clockwork Orange, the trend of pornochanchada takes hold, of soft-porn that of the original models trace the erotic aspects but not the problems. However, there are works that know how to mix eroticism and quality, such as Dona Flor and sens dois maridos by Brazil Barreto, at the top of the box office in 1976. Recently, thanks to a newfound freedom of expression, films that embrace political themes have also returned to being made, but the production remains characterized by an artistic and cultural involution compared to the levels reached from the Cinema Nôvo. It is no coincidence that the best films produced include those of some masters of Cinema Nôvo who are still active, such as Memorias do carcere (1984) by N. Pereira dos Santos or Natal da Portela by C. Saraceni. Among the prominent names of the Eighties we must remember at least those of E. Escorel, E. Babenco, L. Hirszman, winner of the Special Lion of the jury in Venice in 1981 thanks to Eles nao usam black-tie.