"The most prominent film movement to arise as part of the cinema of liberation was Cinema Novo in Brazil. More than almost any other filmmaking practice, Cinema Novo embodied the multiple struggles and contradictions involved in the idea that cinema could be a force in transforming social policies and perceptions." 
"In the late 1950s, young cinephiles in Rio de Janeiro began meeting at movie theaters and coffee houses. Intrigued by both Hollywood classics and contemporary European art films, the young men wrote articles calling for a change in filmmaking. Given opportunities in the commercial industry, they launched a movement: Cinema Novo, the Portuguese term for "New Cinema".
Cinema Novo films combined history and myth, personal obsessions and social problems, documentary realism and surrealism, modernism and folklore. In mixing populist nationalism, political criticism, and stylistic innovation, Cinema Novo recalled the Brazilian Modernist movement of the 1920s. It also chimed well with contemporary literary experiments and Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed. The young directors became a link between the western new cinemas of the early 1960s and later Third World movements.
The most populous country in South America, Brazil had a topography stretching from drought-parched areas to tropical beaches. Its population included groups of African, Amerindian, European, and Far Eastern descent. Through a policy of "developmental nationalism," President Joao Goulart sought to unify and modernize the country. His plan for achieving industrial capitalism required that people recognize the country's backwardness. Although under fire from both right and left, Goulart supported many liberal cultural initiatives. Cinema Novo was one such effort.
The worldwide popularity of samba and bossa nova music and the building of the modernistic capital Brasilia helped promote Cinema Novo as the expression of an energetic, modernizing country. More concretely, the films were oriented toward Goulart's ideology of consciousness raising. They show peasant Brazilians oppressed by illiteracy, subsistence living, and military and clerical rule.
President Goulart's reforms aroused fears in conservative circles. In 1964, the military seized power. For more than two decades afterward, Brazil was ruled by generals. However, the movement was not yet interrupted. Despite the authoritarian regime, politically critical art flourished. Cinema Novo directors continued to work, and new filmmakers entered the industry.
Several Cinema Novo directors reflected on the failure of the Goulart government. Their films often focus on the tormented intellectual, cut off from both the bourgeoisie and the people. Gustavo Dahl's O Bravo Guerreiro (The Brave Warrior, 1969) ends with an idealistic politician about to shoot himself in the mouth. Glauber Rocha gave this despair an extravagant treatment in Terra em transe (Land in Anguish, 1967). In the country of Eldorado, a political myth is played out within the delirious consciousness of a revolutionary poet. Terra em transe is a surrealistic interrogation of the artist's political role, culminating in an Eisensteinian sequence: while police fire at the poet, churchmen and businessmen hold a raucous celebration.
Despite the new regime, Brazilian film culture was advancing. Universities were starting film courses, an annual festival was begun in Rio, and new magazines appeared. The collapse of the Atlantida and Vera Cruz companies had seemed to end all prospects for a national film industry, but both Goulart and his military successors sponsored state initiatives aimed at rebuilding it. Legislation dictated tax exemptions, uniform ticket prices, and bigger screen quotas for the local product. The Grupo Executivo da Industria Cinematografica (GEICINE) was created in 1961 to coordinate film policy. In 1966, GEICINE was absorbed into the Instituto Nacional do Cinema (INC), which supported production through loans and prizes. Cinema Novo had a strong influence on the agency. The INC also assisted coproductions, which sharply increased national film output. This expansion was aided by an abrupt turn of political events. As inflation increased in 1967 and 1968, so did strikes and protests. A second coup took place, installing hard-line generals. They pushed through legislation curtailing civil liberties and dissolving political parties. Leftist forces launched urban guerrilla war, and, between 1969 and 1973, Brazil was a battleground between terrorists and the military regime.
Themes and Styles
As part of the military government's plan to centralize cultural activities, film policy was recast. Censorship became much stiffer. In 1969, an agency was created to control filmmaking. Empresa Brasileira de Filmes (Embrafilme) was charged with organizing film export and financing production, much as France's CNC did. Through low-interest loans to successful firms, Embrafilme helped boost production to a postwar high of ninety-one films in 1971. The agency would eventually absorb the INC and fuel Brazil's export success in the 1980s." 
After a preparatory period running roughly from 1954 to 1960, Cinema Novo can be divided into three sequential phases that differ in theme, style and subject matter: a first phase going from 1960 to 1964, a second phase running from 1964 to 1968, and a third phase running from 1968 to 1972. After 1972, it becomes increasingly difficult to speak of Cinema Novo; one must speak, rather, of Brazilian Cinema. There is little disagreement among film critics about this time frame.
Filmmaker Carlos Diegues claims that while lack of funds lowered the technical precision of Cinema Novo films, it also allowed directors, writers and producers to have an unusual amount of creative freedom. "Because Cinema Novo is not a school, it has no established style," states Diegues. "In Cinema Novo, expressive forms are necessarily personal and original without formal dogmas." This directorial freedom, along with the changing social and political climate in Brazil, caused Cinema Novo to experience shifts in form and content in a short amount of time.
The first signs of a new awakening in Brazilian cinema occurred several years before the official beginnings of the movement, specifically with Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ Rio 40 Graus (Rio 40 Degrees, 1955). Its independent production and its critical stance toward established social structures marked a decisive step toward a new kind of cinema. It is difficult to overestimate the contribution of Nelson Pereira dos Santos to Brazilian cinema. His practical contribution to the formation of Cinema Novo includes, besides Rio 40 Graus, the film Rio Zona Norte (Rio, Northern Zone, 1957), the production of Roberto Santos’ O Grande Momento (The Grand Moment, 1958), and the editing of several early Cinema Novo films like Rocha’s Barravento (The Turning Wind, 1962) and Leon Hirszman’s Pedreira de Sâo Diego (Stone Quarry Sao Diego, 1961). The latter was incorporated into the feature-length Cinco vezes Favela (Slum Times Five, 1961), an early landmark of Cinema Novo, produced by the leftist Centers for Popular Culture of the National Students’ Union, whose goal was to create through cultural production a link with the working class.
"Like many New Wave directors before them, Brazil's filmmakers first tried their hands at short films. Ruy Guerra, Glauber Rocha, and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade made shorts while they were in their teens and early twenties. The anthology film Slum Times Five (1962) included episodes by Carlos Diegues, de Andrade, and others. Within a year, distinctive Cinema Novo features began to appear. Drawing on stylistic resources of other new cinemas - hand-held camera, zoom shots, plans-sequences, underplayed dramatic moments, temps morts, ambiguous leaps between fantasy and reality - these directors turned out politically critical works." 
First Phase (1960-1964)
"In calling on the Brazilian film industry to dispense with the chanchada (musical comedies inspired by Hollywood musicals but rooted in the Brazilian carnival and burlesque theater) that were its staple, the movement's founder, Glauber Rocha, urged film-makers to harness the techniques of Neo-Realism and the Nouvelle Vague to indigenous folklore and Marxist principle in order to produce analyses of the nation's socio-economic plight." 
The initial phase of Cinema Novo extends from 1960 to 1964. It is in this period that Cinema Novo coalesced as a movement, making its first feature films and formulating its political and esthetic ideas. The journal Metropolitano of the Metropolitan Students’ Union became a forum for critics like David Neves and Sérgio Augusto and for filmmakers like Glauber Rocha and Carlos Diegues. The directors shared their opposition to commercial Brazilian cinema, to Hollywood films and Hollywood esthetics, and to Brazilian cinema’s colonization by Hollywood distribution chains. In their desire to make independent non-industrial films they drew on two foreign models: Italian Neo-Realism, for its use of non-professional actors and location shooting, and the French New Wave, not so much for its thematics or esthetics, but rather as a production strategy. While scornful of the politics of the New Wave — "We were making political films when the New Wave was still talking about unrequited love," Ruy Guerra once said — they borrowed its strategy of low-budget independently-produced films based on the talent of specific auteurs. Most important, these directors saw filmmaking as political praxis, a contribution to the struggle against neocolonialism. Rather than exploit the tropical paradise conviviality of chanchada, or the just-like-Europe classiness of Vera Cruz studio, the Cinema Novo directors searched out the dark corners of Brazilian life - the favelas (slums) and the sertao (backlands) - the places where Brazil’s social contradictions appeared most dramatically.
The most important films of the first phase of Cinema Novo include Cinco vezes Favela (Slum Times Five); the short Arraial do Cabo (1960) and the feature Porto das Caixas (Port of Caixas, 1962) by Paulo César Saraceni; Barravento (The Turning Wind, 1962) and Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil, 1964) by Glauber Rocha; Os Cafajestes (The Hustlers, 1962) and Os Fuzis (The Guns, 1964), by Mozambican-born Ruy Guerra; Ganga Zumba (1963), by Carlos Diegues, and Vidas Secas (Barren Lives, 1963), by Nelson Pereira dos Santos.
The films of this phase deal typically, although not exclusively, with the problems confronting the urban and rural lumpen-proletariat: starvation, violence, religious alienation and economic exploitation. The films share a certain political optimism, characteristic of the developmentalist years, but due as well to the youth of the directors, a kind of faith that merely showing these problems would be a first step toward their solution. Barravento exposed the alienating role of religion in a fishing community. The Guns and Barren Lives dealt with the oppression of peasants by landowners, while Black God, White Devil demystified the twin alienations of millennial cults (the black god) and of apolitical cangaceiro violence (the white devil). Ganga Zumba memorialized the 17th Century slave republic of Palmares and called, by historical analogy, for a revolt of the oppressed against their oppressors. Made for the people by an educated, middle-class, radical elite, these films occasionally transmitted a paternalistic vision of the Brazilian masses. In Barravento, as critic Jean-Claude Bernardet points out, political salvation comes from the city; it is not generated by the community.
Esthetically, these "sad, ugly, desperate films", combining slow, reflexive rhythms with uncompromising, often harsh, images and sounds, and showed a commitment to what Rocha’s 1965 manifesto called An Esthetic of Hunger: "the hunger of Latin America is not simply an alarming symptom: it is the essence of our society. ... [Cinema Novo's] originality is [Latin Americans'] hunger and our greatest misery is that this hunger is felt but not intellectually understood."
Second phase (1964-1968)
In 1964, popular Democratic President Joao Goulart was removed from office by military coup, turning Brazil into a military-run autocracy under new President Pascoal Ranieri Mazzilli. Brazilians consequently lost faith in the ideals of Cinema Novo, as the movement had promised to protect civilian rights yet had failed to uphold democracy. Cinema Novo filmmaker Joaquin Pedro de Andrade blamed fellow directors, whom he claimed had lost touch with Brazilians while appealing to critics: "For a film to be a truly political instrument," de Andrade said, "it must first communicate with its public." Second-phase Cinema Novo thus sought to both deflect criticism and to address the "anguish" and "perplexity" that Brazilians felt after Goulart was ousted. It did this by producing films that were "analyses of failure - of populism, of developmentalism, and of leftist intellectuals" to protect Brazilian democracy. Paulo César Saraceni’s O Desafio (The Challange, 1965), Rocha’s Terra em Transe (Land in Anguish, 1967), Gustavo Dahl’s O Bravo Guerreiro (The Brave Warrior, 1968), and dos Santos’ Fome de Amor (Hunger for Love, 1968) all dissect the failures of the left.
Although the left, unprepared for armed struggle, was politically and militarily defeated in 1964, its cultural presence, paradoxically, remained strong even after the coup d’etat, exercising a kind of hegemony despite the dictatorship. Marxist books proliferated in the bookstores, anti-imperialist plays drew large audiences, and many filmmakers went from left reformism to radical critique. One senses in these films an angry disillusionment with what Roberto Schwarz calls the populist deformation of Marxism, a Marxism that was strong on anti-imperialism but weak on class struggle. The contradictory class-alliances of left populism are satirized in Rocha’s Land in Anguish, where pompous senators and progressive priests, Party intellectuals and military leaders, samba together in what Rocha calls the tragic carnival of Brazilian politics.
If the films of the first phase displayed - Glauber Rocha being the obvious exception - a commitment to realism as a style, the films of the second phase tend toward self-referentiality and anti-illusionism. While the films of the first phase tended to be rural in their setting, films of the second phase were predominantly urban.
During the second phase of Cinema Novo, filmmakers realized that although their cinema was "popular" in that it attempted to take the point of view of "the people," it was not popular in the sense of having a mass audience. Although the policy of low-budget independent production seemed sound, nothing could guarantee the films’ being shown in a market dominated by North American conglomerates. If the masses were often on the screen, they were rarely in the audience. The filmmakers linked to Cinema Novo consequently began to see the making of popular films as, in Gustavo Dahl’s words, "the essential condition for political action in cinema." In cinema as in revolution, they decided, everything is a question of power, and for cinema existing within a system to which it does not adhere, power means broad public acceptance and financial success.
As a result, some auteurs began to move away from the so-called 'aesthetics of hunger' toward a filmmaking style and themes designed to attract the interest of the cinema-going public at large. As a result, the first Cinema Novo film to be shot in color and to depict middle-class protagonists was released during this time: Leon Hirzshman's Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema, 1968). Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Macunaíma (1969), however, was the first Cinema Novo film to be truly popular both in cultural and box-office terms, offering a dialectical demonstration of how to reach the public while aggressively advocating a left political vision of Brazilian society — and this in a situation of intense repression.
Third Phase (1968-1972)
Macunaíma is generally classified as part of the third phase of Cinema Nova, the so-called “cannibal-tropicalist” phase. Tropicalism, and the aesthetics of garbage dominated the third phase of Cinema Novo. Cannibalism, inspired by the modernist movement of the 1920s, was a nationalist strategy of cultural antiimperialism, according to which the culture imposed by the First World should be devoured, digested, and recycled according to local needs. "Cannibalism is an exemplary mode of consumerism adopted by underdeveloped peoples," wrote Joaquim Pedro de Andrade for the presentation of Macunaíma.
Tropicalism, though conceptually related to cannibalism, is a complex Brazilian variant of pop with which a growing number of avant-garde musicians, writers, artists, and theater and film directors identify themselves. Tropicalism emphasized the grotesque and the gaudy, bad taste and kitsch. It played aggressively with certain myths, especially the notion of Brazil as a tropical paradise characterized by colorful exuberance and tutti-fruti hats á la Carmen Miranda. The movement was not without its ambiguities. Roberto Schwarz, a Brazilian intellectual then living in Paris, interpreted the movement in an article published in Les Temps Modernes, Remarque sur la Culture et la Politique au Brésil, 1964-1969. Tropicalism, he suggests, emerges from the tension between the superficial "modernization" of the Brazilian economy and its archaic, colonized and imperialized core. While the Brazilian economy, after 1964, was becoming even more integrated into the world capitalist economy, the petite bourgeoisie, threatened by economic marginalization, was returning to antiquated values and old resentments.
Concurrent with the third phase of Cinema Novo, there emerged a radically different tendency - Udigrudi, the Brazilian pronunciation of underground. Just when Cinema Novo decided to reach out for a popular audience, the Underground opted to slap that audience in the face. If the public did not appreciate "the most interesting films on this planet," Júlio Bressane shouted, "too bad for you, idiots." As Cinema Novo moved toward technical polish and production values, the Novo Cinema Novo, as it also came to be called, demanded a radicalization of the esthetics of hunger, rejecting the dominant codes of well-made cinema in favor of a "dirty screen" and "garbage" esthetics. A garbage style, they argued, is appropriate to a Third World country picking through the leavings of an international system dominated by monopoly capitalism. O Bandido da Luz Vermelha (The Red Light Bandit, Rogerio Sganzerla, 1968), Matou a Familia e Foi ao Cinema (Killed the Family and Went to the Cinema, Julio Bresanne, 1969), and Bangue-Bangue (Bang Bang, Andrea Tonacci, 1971) follow this line of breaking the codes, mixing genres, transgressing morals, and dumping Cinema Novo’s revolutionary optimism within corrosive nihilism. The Underground proclaimed its own isolation in the names they gave their movement: marginal cinema, subterranean cinema. Although they were intentionally marginal, identifying socially downward with rebellious lumpen characters, they were also marginalized, harassed by the censors and boycotted by exhibitors.
Toward the end of the third phase, Cinema Novo entered into a politically-engendered crisis of creativity which reached its nadir in 1971-1972. As censorship and repression worsened, Glauber Rocha, Ruy Guerra and Carlos Diegues left Brazil for Europe. As funding became more problematic, several directors undertook co-productions with other countries or financed their projects completely abroad.
End of Cinema Novo
Burnes St. Patrick Hollyman, son of famed American photographer Thomas Hollyman, states that "by 1970, many of the cinema novo films had won numerous awards at international festivals." In 1970 Rocha published a manifesto on the progress of Cinema Novo, in which he said he was pleased that Cinema Novo "had gained critical acceptance as part of world cinema" and had become "a nationalist cinema that accurately reflected the artistic and ideological concerns of the Brazilian people." But Rocha also warned filmmakers and consumers that being too complacent in the achievements of Cinema Novo would return Brazil to its pre-Cinema Novo state:
The movement is bigger than any one of us. But the young should know that they cannot be irresponsible about the present and the future because today's anarchy can be tomorrow's slavery. Before long, imperialism will start to exploit the newly created films. If the Brazilian cinema is the palm tree of Tropicalism, it is important that the people who have lived through the drought are on guard to make sure that Brazilian cinema doesn't become underdeveloped.
Rocha's fears were realized. In 1977, filmmaker Carlos Diegues said that "one can only talk about Cinema Novo in nostalgic or figurative terms because Cinema Novo as a group no longer exists, above all because it has been diluted into Brazilian cinema." Toward the end of Cinema Novo, the Brazilian government created film company Embrafilme to encourage production of Brazilian cinema; but Embrafilme mostly produced films that ignored the Cinema Novo ideology. Aristides Gazetas claims that Third Cinema now carries on the Cinema Novo tradition.
The most widely known Cinema Novo filmmaker was Glauber Rocha (1938-1981), who also formulated one of the movement's manifestos in a brief 1965 essay, An Esthetic of Hunger. There he speaks of Cinema Novo as "these sad, ugly films, these screaming, desperate films where reason does not always prevail," yet that "will ultimately make the public aware of its own misery."
"Born in Bahia in north-east Brazil, he entered cinema through the film clubs when he was 16, studied law for two years, set up a production company, made a number of shorts, moved to Rio where he joined the group around Nelson Pereira dos Santos (whom he called the father of Cinema Novo), and directed his first feature in 1962." 
"Rocha's reputation rests on four films he made in the 1960s before going into exile from Brazil in 1970: Barravento (The Turning Wind, but known by its original title, 1962), Deus e a Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil, 1964), Terra em Transe (originally released in English as Land of Anguish, but more recently known by a more literal translation, Earth Entranced, 1967), and O Dragão da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro (1969; known in English by its original title, Antonio das Mortes, the name of its lead character).
Barravento is often regarded as Rocha's best film, an understandable though problematic judgment, since the director claimed that he was working on the film only as a producer until the original writer-director left the project at midpoint and he stepped in to finish it. Formally the most traditional of Rocha's films, Barravento concerns the lives of black men and women in a fishing community in Bahia, in Brazil's impoverished northwest. It depicts the economic exploitation of the fishermen in terms similar to Visconti's La terra trema but gives greater attention to the music, myths, and folk religious practices of Afro-Brazilian culture. The film seems clearly Rocha's in inaugurating what was to become a pervasive theme in his work-the possibility of unexpected transformation, of a world turned upside down. The notion of 'the turning wind' is defined in an opening epigraph: "Barravento is the moment of violence when sea and earth become changed, when life, love and social standing may be subjected to sudden change." 
"In Aesthetics of Hunger, Rocha argued that the originality of Cinema Novo lay in its revelation that "violence is normal behaviour for the starving" and "the moment of violence is the moment when the colonizer becomes aware of the existence of the colonized." Accordingly the aesthetics of hunger are directed against the values of the cinema of imperialism and in Rocha's hands the result is a style which eschews narratiye clarity in favour of violent expressive imagery.
Combining the intellectual influence of the French politique des auteurs and the thinking of Che Guevara and Frantz Panon, stylistically speaking Rocha's work bears strong relation to both Godard and Pasolini, with its jagged and abrupt montage, constant play of shifting oppositions, and often theatrical mise-en-scene; in Rocha's case this is partly Brechtian and partly ritualistic, inspired by Afro-Brazllian religion." 
These hallmarks are first found in Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (Black God, White Devil, 1964), which he directed at the age of twenty-five. "In this cinematic allegory, a young man named Manuel kills his boss and then flees with his wife, Rosa, to follow the messianic preacher Sebastiao and meets the notorious hired gun, or jagunço, Antonio das Mortes. What follows is a series of brutal encounters that suggest that only violence will help those who are sorely oppressed, a theme Rocha embellished in O Dragao da Maldade contra o Santo Guerreiro (Antonio das Mortes, 1969), his first film in color, in which the hit man of Black God, White Devil becomes a hero by joining a peasant war against a brutal landlord." 
"Land of Anguish/Earth Entranced, made between the two backlands films, is concerned with Brazilian intellectual life, which Cinema Novo filmmakers began to examine after the 1964 military coup. It focuses on a poet who aspires to be active and influential as a journalist and adviser to politicians. In the opening sequence, after a coup has ousted his allies, the poet impulsively refuses to concede defeat He drives through a police blockade and is mortally wounded. The film's central section is a flashback retrospective of his political life, leading up to the crisis with which it began. Exploring the relationship between art and power, it chronicles the failure of an intellectual who played the political game, rather than, as Antonio das Mortes advised, fighting with ideas." 
"The Marxist implications of Rocha’s cinema are hard to miss; sick of a society that placated its citizens with an endless procession of genre films and chanchada, he posited the existence of a cinema that would instruct and enlighten the public. But political conditions in Brazil meant that he was always working in an unstable environment, and he left Brazil to work abroad, making one of his finest late films, Der Leone Have Sept Cabeças (The Lion Has Seven Heads, 1971), on location in the Congo with Jean-Pierre Léaud in a pivotal role as a possessed cleric"  and Cabezas cortadas (Cutting Heads, 1970). "The long documentary História do Brasil (1973) suggested for some critics a loss of ideological clarity, while a film for Italian television in 1975 called Claro failed to make any impression. Making his peace with the Generals and returning to Brazil in 1975, his last film was A Idade da Terra (The Age of the Earth, 1980), a visually dazzling tapestry which preaches a utopian union of Catholicism, revolution and primitivism." 
Nelson Pereira dos Santos
"The filmmaker whose work most strikingly represents the shift from neorealism to 'tropicalism' is Nelson Pereira dos Santos (b. 1928). A decade older than Rocha, he made documentaries and features in the 1950s and worked as an editor on Barravento. His Vidas Secas (Barren Lives, 1963) dramatized the 'aesthetics of hunger' that Rocha later proclaimed. Based on a classic 1930s novel of the northwest backlands, the film depicts a poor family's struggle to survive in the face of economic exploitation, police oppression, and a harsh environment. Though the novel was compared to John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, the film has closer affinities to Italian neorealism, which dos Santos acknowledged. Fabiano, the father of Barren Lives, is akin to Antonio, the father of Ladri di biciclette (1948), both well-meaning men overwhelmed by circumstances, fading into oblivion in an inhospitable world.
By 1971, dos Santos was challenging European culture in Como Era Gostoso a Meu Frances (How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman). Set in the sixteenth century, and shot in color largely with a handheld camera, the film presents tropicalism in its native state, witb its tribal men and women unclothed. A French man is captured by a tribe and made a slave, prior to the time wben he will be killed and eaten. The film presents moments of brutality and of fellowsbip in the encounter between European "civilization" and tropical "primitivism", while emphasizing through periodic intertitles Europe's colonial discourse of racial superiority. Conditioned by familiar narrative conventions about a lone hero among strange peoples, the spectator awaits a happy ending: his deliverance, perhaps accompanied by his native wife. But the wife blocks his escape, and the happy ending belongs to the tribe. Cannibalism is a social fact, rather than the grisly shock Godard made it in Week End, and also a metaphor: Europe's presence in the new world has been "digested" and turned into something no longer recognizable as European." 
One of the first filmmakers to define Cinema Novo in 1962 as part of a larger cultural movement transforming Brazilian society, Carlos Diegues (b. 1940) was also one of the first to declare its dilution into Brazilian cinema. A staunch supporter of auteur cinema, Diegues believed that Cinema Novo’s social commitment and political criticism would be possible only through unqualified artistic freedom, cinematic heterodoxy, and cultural pluralism. This conception of Cinema Novo as a collective of individual artists more than as an aesthetic school led him to explore very different cinematic styles, from his neorealist, pseudoethnographical, and didactic films of the 1960s, unmistakably related to the first phase of Cinema Novo and its aesthetic of hunger, to his embrace in the 1970s of Tropicalism’s spectacular aesthetics and his denunciation of the submission of art to party politics, or what was called the "ideological patrols."
His first professional films, Escola de samba, alegria de viver (Samba School, Joy of Living, 1962, a segment of Cinco vezes favela, or Slums Five Times) and Ganga Zumba (1963), frame Diegues’s thematic and aesthetic concerns: the recovery of the historical roots and the contemporary expressions of Afro-Brazilian culture, and its influence on popular music (samba), religion (candomble), and carnival. In Quilombo (1984), he returned to these themes, this time in the form of a spectacular super-production that further stressed the mythical elements of the story. Xica da Silva (1976), a carnivalesque rendition of historical events in colonial Brazil, tells the story of a female slave who shapes politics and the economy through sex, fantasy, and eroticism. The film, which sparked a fertile national debate on the issue of 'the popular', became a box-office hit. Its music, dances, eroticism, and carnivalization of traditions and reversal of history all fit into the commercial formula of Tropicalism.
Diegues’s lengthy filmography also includes A grande cidade (The Big City, 1966), Os herdeiros (The Heirs, 1970), and Joanna Francesa (Joanna the Frenchwoman, 1975). Bye Bye Brasil (1980), his first film to be a commercial success abroad, is perhaps Diegues’s most complex film, both thematically and theoretically. The film shows a country caught between uneven and incomplete modernization and cornered by economic globalization. It is perhaps one of the funniest and saddest reflections on the cultural impact of globalization on Latin American culture, including its films.
- Arraial do Cabo (1960)
- Barravento (1962)
- Cinco Vezes Favela (1962)
- Os Cafajestes (1962)
- Porto das Caixas (1962)
- Ganga Zumba (1963)
- Vidas Secas (1963)
- Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol (1964)
- Os Fuzis (1964)
- O Desafio (1966)
- Garota de Ipanema (1967)
- Terra em Transe (1967)
- Bravo Guerreiro (1968)
- Fome de Amor (1968)
- O Bandido da Luz Vermelha (1968)
- Macunaíma (1969)
- Matou a Família e Foi ao Cinema (1969)
- Azyllo (1970)
- Os Herdeiros (1969)
- O Dragão da Maldade Contra o Santo Guerreiro (Antonio das Mortes, 1968)
- Bang Bang (1971)
- Como Era Gostoso o Meu Frances (1971)
- Pindorama (1971)
-  David Parkinson, History of Film (World of Art) (Thames and Hudson, 1996) p 208
-  Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, The Oxford History of World Cinema (Oxford University Press, 1996) p 742
-  Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell, Film History: An Introduction (McGraw-Hill, 2003) pp 471-74
-  Robert Sklar, A World History of Film (Harry N. Abrams Inc.; Revised and Expanded edition, 2002) pp 354-57
-  Wheeler Winston Dixon & Gwendolyn Foster, A Short History of Film (Rutgers University Press, 2008) pp 291-92