Aleijadinho: Passion, Glory, and Torment Review

AKA: Aleijadinho: Paixao, Gloria, e Suplicio
Genre: Historical Drama/Tragedy
Year Released: 2000
Distributor: ArtMattan
Origin: Brazil
Running Time: 98 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: O Aleijadinho, The Black Mozart in Cuba, The Impressionists, 12 Years a Slave
Notes:
-This film was paired with Denying Brazil in a 2 DVD set, but they are unrelated films other than both being from Brazil.
Fun Facts:
-Aleijadinho is the final film directed by Geraldo Santos Pereira, He has also directed films such as Balada Dos Infeis, O Seminarista, and O Sol dos Amantes. Interestingly enough, he was a twin brother of writer and director Renato Santos Pereira who also collaborated with Geraldo’s works.

-Antonio “Aleijadino” Francisco Lisboa was born sometime in the 1730s in Ouro Preta (FKA Vila Rica in his time). One of his most famous works includes the sculptures of the 12 prophets which are also seen in the film. His nickname literally means “Little cripple” in Portuguese which sadly reflected his debilitated state later in life. His hometown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has roughly 74K+ people living there.

-Helena was played by Maria Ceica. This is another review I did that featured that actress since I covered Denying Brazil. Ceica has also starred in Orfeu, Felicidade, and The Hero among other movies and TV shows.

Brazil has been racking up some coverage on Iridium Eye this year. This is unexpected, but it’s fun looking at which countries have been getting representation on this blog. As one may have noticed, I have watched and reviewed multiple documentaries as well as historical dramas. The common denominators with the Brazilian films I reviewed in 2021 were that all of them were distributed by ArtMattan and they focus on a Black Brazilian perspective. This time around, I got to rewatch a historical biopic that takes place during the colonial period of South America’s largest country from the 1730s to after 1814. There’s a reason why I was specific with those dates since they revolve around the life of one Antonio Francisco Lisboa. Many of his sculptures, art, and buildings are still in Brazil to this day and he eventually got the cinematic treatment with the myth and legend of this artist.

Will this be an accurate, yet entertaining biopic involving the man from Ouro Preto?

Aleijadinho: Passion, Glory, and Torment takes place in flashback as a professor visits a Black woman named Dona Joana. She’s interviewed by said professor about the late Antonio Francisco Lisboa AKA Aleijadinho since Dona Joana is his daughter-in-law who knew about his story. Antonio was born in Vila Rica back in the 1710s. He was the son of a Portuguese colonizer named Manoel Francisco Lisboa and his African slave Isabel. Antonio follows in his father’s footsteps as a sculptor, but slavery was rampant all around him and he worked with those who were enslaved in the Portuguese colony. He was raised to ignore his maternal African heritage but becomes defiant after being disturbed by the fact that he witnessed slaves being tortured in public. However, his artistic work in sculptures and architecture was praised by the Portuguese elite which gives him an opportunity to shine in designing sculptures and buildings. He also falls in love with a woman named Helena and everything seems to go quite swimmingly with romance, money, and recognition for his art. Then things began to change for the worse when he contracts an unknown illness that partially paralyzes him as well as slowly disfiguring his face. His optimism of life comes to a screeching halt as Helena leaves him as he becomes uglier and his body is in so much pain that he has hammers or chisels wrapped around his hands for him to function in his work. Antonio manages to still make exquisite works of art despite his body failing, but everything else crashes down around him. Will Aleijadinho be able to progress as an artist even more as tragedy befalls him as he gets older?

This is actually the second time I watched this movie and I saw it earlier this year. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to review it months ago, but I’m glad I got to do additional research for this go around. For starters, the acting was very strong. I’ve noticed that I’ve already seen the works of most of the actors on display such as Mauricio Goncalves, Ruth de Souza, and Maria Ceica just this year alone, so it was nice to see that quality extending to this film. Goncalves really nailed the emotions of being calm, dedicated, passionate, and eventually nihilistic as his illness gets direr. I still can’t believe that he was only 34 years old when this was filmed and came out the same year as Denying Brazil because he looks a lot younger during his pre-illness state (keep in mind, he starts playing the adult Antonio when the character was only 19 in storyline!) compared to what he looked like at the time in the aforementioned documentary. This also transitions to my next point and it involves the set design, costuming, and makeup. The movie does look like everyone transported to colonial Brazil with the sets and outfits. Aleijadinho’s transformation from some dapper sculptor to being deformed due to the disease was frightening, yet still looked believable. Goncalves grows a beard, his hair gets messy, his eyes are uneven in size, and has this permanent scowl on him as a contrast to his former photogenic looks. Granted, some of the makeup work did get excessive like the one flamboyant politician wearing that foppish wig and wearing enough blush to get him as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race if he didn’t have a curly mustache and beard, but that was the only exception there. I also liked some of the subtle things going on such as the religious iconography being presented as a neutral thing while even having a picture of the Black Madonna briefly which was very surprising given Brazil’s history of racism under Portuguese rule (saying nothing about other countries in colonization). It did touch on Antonio’s internal conflicts of being a biracial man in a world where slavery and anti-Black racism were going on with the color of the God he prayed to in a covert way during those brief scenes. Those things did make the film worth watching at multiple points.

Aleijadinho does get tormented at times if one pardons the pun with the subtitle. The biggest thing I’ve noticed since the first viewing was how aged the movie looked. I’m not talking about the fact that it’s a period piece, but I thought that this movie was made in the late 80s or early 90s at most. I would’ve never guessed this came out in the year 2000 had I not have looked at the back of the DVD cover. The music had dated production and the camera work looked older like some of the cheesy movies I’ve seen that were made in the 80s and early 90s with the production, titles, and cinematography. I wonder if most of the budget was blown on the sets, costuming, and makeup instead of the visual production. I had issues with the Helena character especially the storyline of her falling away from Antonio. She cheats on him with a colonial soldier and doesn’t want to be with Antonio because of his disease making him ugly even though it isn’t his fault! Wow! Do the words “In sickness or in health” not mean anything to you despite you not being married? Come on, if she was a man and did the same thing to a woman, Helena would be seen as Satan’s spawn. What irked me was that she never gets punished for cheating on her ill boyfriend. That is pure protagonist-centered morality which was a big dealbreaker even if it added to Aleijadinho’s tragic elements. Then came the research involving the history of Antonio Francisco Lisboa himself. They omitted facts of his father Manoel already being married as well as Antonio having white half-siblings due to this family. That should’ve made an even bigger impact and could’ve helped with the character development. Talk about a missed plot opportunity. What really made this unsettling is that the real-life Antonio Francisco Lisboa was sadly and ironically enough a slave owner despite his father being one. OUCH! That makes Antonio’s speech against his father owning up to his African heritage more inaccurate in hindsight. This was almost like my discovery on how inaccurate Hamilton was and I’m not talking about the intentionally diversified cast (you can thank Ishmael Reed for that even though I know his research will RUIN the fandom/standom). Someone like him should seriously know better especially given the situation of slavery running rampant by the Portuguese nobility. I had to dock some points for that fact. I can forgive some historical inaccuracies, but that one seriously hurts knowing what I know now.

This historical drama was just good the first time, but on my second viewing, I found it average. The acting was solid and the historically accurate costuming was worth commending. Unfortunately, there were historical inaccuracies that dampen the story like how Aleijadinho was such a sellout for owning slaves in real life. This was a disappointment even with some quality things going on. I’d recommend other biopics about Black history than Aleijadinho: Passion, Glory, and Torment.

Adjustable Point System:
-Add 1 point if you like art-themed dramas
-Add 1 point if you like historical biopics.
-Subtract 1-2 points if you prefer top-notch cinematography.
-Subtract 2-3 points if you’re bothered by problematic historical documentaries.

Pros:
-Amazing set, makeup, and costume design
-Great acting on display
-Some good subtle metaphors

Cons:
-Dated camera work
-Helena’s cheating subplot and being a Karma Houdini
-Unfortunate historical inaccuracies

Final Score: 5/10 points

Content Advisory: Aleijadinho is definitely for mature audiences. Slavery and colonialism play a major backdrop. There’s even a public whipping where there’s blood and gore shown in front of multiple people. Antonio’s disease gets disturbing and there’s even one scene where he’s in so much pain that he cuts off his own toe with a chisel. One person gets hanged in jail in the final act who was linked to an anti-colonial group. There are two sex scenes and there’s nudity involved with them.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos are property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Aleijadinho: Passion, Glory, and Torment is property of ArtMattan. The DVD cover is from Rate Your Music and is property of ArtMattan.

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