Vladimir Carvalho’s influential, troubled documentary about the dire reality of the population of Rio do Peixe, in the hinterland of the state of Paraíba (Northeast Brazil), and their struggle against the harsh weather (long droughts cut by sudden violent floods), their perennial poverty working as cotton croppers, sugar-cane cutters and cowherds, their weekly meetings at a small marketplace where they try to keep up the slowly dying traditions (dances, chantings, costumes, food) and their dream of finding the promise land of País de São Saruê (a local El Dorado) in a region said to be rich in mineral ores (though the past attempts at exploration were frustrated for logistic and political reasons).
Shot under extremely difficult conditions (expired film stock, zero budget, inhospitable nature) from 1966 to 1970, during the Brazilian military regime, the entire filming crew consisted of Carvalho, cameraman Manuel Clemente and assistant Walter Carvalho (the director’s younger brother who would become Brazil’s top director of photography in the 1990s and 2000s). The soundtrack mixes excerpts of the interviews with the local people with pop and traditional songs, a commentary written by the director and the magnificent, volcanic political verses of Jomar Moraes Souto’s epic poem, written especially for the film. O País de São Saruê was finalized in 1971 but its public exhibition was vetoed by the military censorship (classifying it as “harmful to Brazilian interests and dignity” — showing that level of poverty on screen was against the military government’s propaganda of Brazil as “the nation of the future”) until 1979, when it opened to great critical acclaim. —IMDb