Macunaima  (Jungle Freaks) (1969)




Director:     Joaquim Pedro de Andrade.

Starring:     Grande Otelo (Black Macunama / Macunama's son),  Paulo Jos (White Macunama / Macunama's mother),  Jardel Filho (Venceslau Pietro Pietra),  Dina Sfat (Ci),  Milton Gonalves (Jigu),  Rodolfo Arena (Maanape),  Joana Fomm (Sofara). 

a comedy set against the turmoil of the Brazilian military coup



Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

"In the beginning of this century, in the early 1900s a German scientist visited Brazil to collect the natives' folktales.  When Mario de Andrade, a great Brazilian writer, read those tales he became, in his own words, 'lyrically moved and desperate" because he realized that Brazilian popular culture, ever so satirical, funny and even subversive, towards hypocritical moral standards that many times were predominant throughout our history, basically preserved the spirit, stories and even characters created by Native Brazilians centuries before.  That was the seed of "Macunaima", a book which he wrote in a week.  Based on that book, I directed the movie you are about to see.  I hope the Brazilian adventures of Macunaima, a hero of our people, will entertain you and also make you think.".    Joaquim Pedro de Andrade


Deep in the jungle.  A white woman gives birth to a black man.  The man child is named Macunaima.  His big brother shouts:  "Macunaima, hero of our people!"  At six years of age, Macunaima still did not speak.  He watched Manaape, already old, and Jigue, who was young, work in the jungle.  Macunaima would lounge around all day and only get up when he saw money or when the family went for a communal dip in the river.  He liked to play with his sister-in-law Sofara. 

Macunaima cries when Jigue won't give him some of his rope.  He complains to his older brother and then to his mother.  Mother calls Sofara over to take care of the lad.  In the jungle Sofara gives Macunaima a joint to smoke.  The lad smokes and turns into a beautiful prince, a white man.  Sofara thinks the prince beautiful and wants to make love to him.  At the end of the work day, Sofara brings Macunaima back to the hut as a black man once again.  Her husband Jigue beats her with a stick for playing all day instead of working. 

The next day Macunaima plants a trap and catches a piglet.  The family will eat it for supper.  Macunaima is very pleased with his catch.  When the piglet is cooked everyone takes a piece of the meat and the only thing Macunaima gets  are the lousy entrails. Sofara takes Macunaima for a walk in the jungle.  She turns him into the prince again and they have fun running around.  The prince hits Sofara with a stick and she bites Macunaima's big toe.  The two now wrestle with each other.  The husband comes looking for Sofara.  He hears them fooling around and he chases them with a big stick in his hand.

The narrator calls Jigue a fool because he sent Sofara away and took another pretty woman, this one named Iriqui. One day the whole area flooded and hunger came upon the people. While the family fishes, Macunaima starts eating up most of the bananas they have.  When he is full, Macunaima hides the bananas under some leaves.  He takes his mother over to where the bananas are hidden and shows them to her.  She starts taking all the bananas so Macunaima takes the bananas from her and hides them again.  Now he takes her back to the marsh where there's no food. 

Back at the marsh, mom puts Macunaima on her back and walks him out onto a vast plain.  Mother decides to return alone to the marsh.  She tells her son to stay here and don't grow up any more.  Staying here alone, she says, will teach her boy not to be bad. 

Alone, Macunaima wanders about for a week.  He comes across a red-headed white man and calls him grandpa.  Grandpa gives Macunaima something to eat  -- a piece cut off his own leg.  The young lad now goes off on his own to follow the directions the red-head gave him.  The directions just lead in a circle.  Old grandpa waits for his prey around a corner.  Macunaima figures something is wrong and runs another way, thus avoiding the red-head.  Grandpa chases after Macunaima who keeps running. 

Macunaima runs to a little cabin, enters and locks the door behind him.  An old woman, named Cotia, is in the cabin and after Macunaima tells her about what happened, she concludes that he is not longer a child.  She gives him clothes more suitable for a young man.   Later she shows Macunaima the way back to his home.  Macunaima passes by his mother into the hut and mother then dies.  Also dead, but in the hut, is the father. 

After the mourning period, the family, now only of four, sets out.  Water spurts up from the ground.  Macunaima runs over to get wet and is transformed into a white man.  He shouts with glee:  "I'm white.  I'm beautiful."    Jigue wants to become white too and he rushes toward the water, but the water spout stops when Jigue nears it.  Now that Macunaima is white, Iriqui accompanies him.  The family takes a boat ride on the water.  Iriqui rests with her head on Macunaima's lap. 

The family gets a ride in a very crowded truck.  Near the big city everyone gets out.  Those who want to go to the city have to walk to it.  The family decides to go to the city.  Iriqui loves the city and quickly finds a job in a brothel.  She now disappears from the film. 

Macunaima is upset because he finds a hard time distinguishing the humans from the machines in the city.  Some people explain to Macunaima's two brothers about what they need in order to live in the city.  For one thing, they need to go to the police to get some form of identification.  Macunaima spends a whole week just brooding.  He thinks and comes up with the conclusion that men are machines and machines are the men of the city. He goes for a walk with his two brothers. 

All of a sudden a loud noise is heard.  A woman with a machine gun in her arms runs down the street.  She is being chased by police in a van.  The police arbitrarily shoot people on the street as the van passes by them.  The van reaches the fleeing woman and she takes a stand.  She fires at the men getting out of the van and soon the men jump back into the van.  The woman also jumps into the van and the fight continues.  The woman ends up killing all of the men.  The three brothers just stand still and watch what's happening.  The woman grabs some of the weapons of the dead men and runs off.  Now police jump out of a car and grab the three brothers demanding to know where the woman went.  Macunaima sends the police off in the wrong direction. 

The three brothers now search for the woman.  Macunaima acts like he is a dog sniffing a trail.  He runs into the woman who is just standing there watching him.  She calls Macunaima a traitor and says he is going to die.  Macunaima quickly tells the woman that he actually send the police in the wrong direction  --  away from her, not to her.  He says he followed her smell and finds her beautiful.  He also says he wants to make love with her.  The woman refuses his attentions.  He says he will show her how he tames women, but she grabs him and takes him to the floor.  She gets him in a firm wrestling hold, from which he cannot escape.. Jigue comes up behind her and hits her on top of the head with a brick.  Macunaima drags her body a ways away, opens her shirt and lays down beside her with his right hand on her stomach.  The woman wakes up and tells him to get his hands off her.  She calls him a pig and forces him against a wall, but then kisses him passionately.  They lay back on the floor.  They must be having fun because they laugh and grab at each other. 

Macunaima goes to live with the woman, who is called Ci.  The two brothers telephone Macunaima and ask him if they can move in with him and Ci.  Macunaima says no. 

Every morning the guerilla Ci would get up and go to town making war.  Macunaima stays at home and rests.  He plays the guitar and sings.  Ci comes home with a gift for Macunaima.  It's a satchel full of money.  She leaves a trail of money for him to follow her over to the hammock.  The two start tousling with each other again.  The phone rings.  A pretty woman with a man's voice asks to speak to Ci, but Macunaima tells "the man" to call back later.  He goes back to Ci.  He asks her to take her good luck charm off from around her neck because it hurts him when they hug each other.  Ci refuses.  He wants to borrow the good luck charm, but Ci only says she will leave it to him in her will.  They go back to fooling around. 

Many times later.  The couple takes a breather and Macunaima start to fall asleep.  So Ci pricks him with a knife.  She wants him to play with her some more.  When Macunaima falls to sleep on her, she whacks his behind with a small branch off one of the house plants. Macunaima runs from her, while she chases him and hits him on the behind. 

And less than six months later a black boy is born to Ci.  The boy looks exactly like the black Macunaima.  Father Macunaima hold his boy, while mommy finishes work on a time bomb.  She puts the bomb in the baby carriage and dad puts his boy in the carriage.  She gives her husband many kisses and starts to leave.  The phone rings.  Macunaima answers it. While on the phone, the bomb explodes outside the house.  Macunaima says:  "She exploded!"

Macunaima, crying, attends the funeral.  His brothers have to hold him up.  At night Macunaima and his brothers go dancing.  Macunaima finds a beautiful girl to dance with.  Soon enough Macunaima looks like a beach bum sitting under a palm tree on the beach.  Four pretty women on a boat spot Macunaima and somehow conclude that he must be rich.  They land and the three young women race to him. They get him on the boat and the three young women are all over Macunaima.  The older woman tells them to get off the man.  Apparently, she wants him for herself. 

The women leave Macunaima on the boat while a man in a row boat rows them to shore.  Saying no woman is going to order him around, Macunaima jumps into the water. 

Macunaima is with his two brothers and a heavy blonde woman.  The brothers say that Macunaima got his picture in the paper.  The headline says:  "Obscenity in a Park".  While looking at his story, he sees a picture of a rich industrialist with Ci's good luck charm around his neck.  The man is quoted as saying it's the best stone he has in his collection.  And it will bring luck to its owner.  The rich man says he found it stuffed inside a catfish.  He says he likes to eat raw fish. 

The brothers decide to get the stone back from the industrialist.  They go to his big estate, but get distracted by some fruit in a big tree.  Macunaima climbs up the tree, while his brothers yell at him to throw them down some fruit.  All the noise attracts the attention of the industrialist.  He fires his rifle at Macunaima and the lad falls off the big branch.  His brothers carry him up to their room, where they place him in a hammock.  They think he's dead and get a real fright when Macunaima speaks to them. 

Macunaima calls up the giant man and says she is a woman and wants to meet with him.  He dresses as a woman and gets into the giant's house.  She tells the giant that she collects stones too.  She only needs one more stone to complete her collection.  The giant is very taken with her and dances with her.  She says the stone she needs is the good luck charm.  He shows her the stone and she says she will buy it from he.  But the stone is not for sale.  No, he won't sell it, but if she does the right things to him, he might just giver her the stone. 

At the piano, she tries to grab the stone from around his neck, but he closes the cover for the keys on one of her hands.  He then tells the woman that if she strips for him, he will give her the stone.  He even swears it.  The woman goes behind a screen to take her dress off.  He won't give her the stone until every piece of her clothing is off.  So she removes everything and then Macunaima has to run out of there naked except for his female wig. 

Macunaima goes to something like a voodoo ceremony.  He tells the woman there that he hates a particular man.  Macunaima says he wants to beat up that giant industrialist.  The woman laughs and agrees to invoke his spirit.  Now as Macunaima makes the motions of beating up and kicking the industrialist, the industrialist feels the blows.  The fellow finally passes out. Macunaima and the voodoo woman dance around the place.  The giant is out for months, but Macunaima can't get to the good luck stone.  It is stuck on the giant's body with adhesive tape. 

When his health improves, the giant goes out for a walk.  The three brothers are in the park listening to a man shout out his speech about the Southern Cross being the most sublime symbol.  The brothers shout that it is no such thing.  Macunaima climbs up the ladder to chase the man down off the giant statue in the park.   He forces the man off the statue and starts making his own speech.  He says the real plagues of Brazil are the coffee parasites, the caterpillar, soccer, the pium mosquito, the murizoca mosquito, the vareja fly and others.  He also mentions many human diseases as plagues of Brazil.  But now he says that the giant industrialist Wenceslau Pietro Pietra, who stole the good luck charm, is also a plague on Brazil.  The ousted speaker and his buddy now shout out that the speaker is a communist, a subversive. 

The brothers make a run for it, but a policeman catches and arrests Macunaima.  The charge:  a suspicious attitude because he was running away.  Macunaima tells the policeman he was only chasing after a boar.  Soon he has the people following the trail of the boar.  The crowd gets wise to Macunaima and says he is making fun of them and wasting their valuable time.  They shout that they should lynch the brothers.  Macunaima makes a run for it and gets away, but the policeman catches his two brothers.

Macunaima returns to the apartment where the heavy blonde decides to take care of him and make him feel better.  The fellow puts one of his feet on her breasts and the woman jumps on him. When the two brothers come home, Macunaima acts very innocent.  The brothers are mad about the boar incident.  Macunaima pretends to cry and admits he lied.  This softens the hearts of his brothers. 

Macunaima is sitting under a tree in a city park.  A man comes up to him to sell his duck to Macunaima.  He says the duck is a money maker.  He has Macunaima hold out his cupped hands.  The seller backs the duck's rear end up to Macunaima's hands and out tumbles coins.  Macunaima buys the duck and the man runs away.  Macunaima tries to ge more money out of the duck, but he only gets duck waste.  The victim looks around for the con-man, but he is long gone.

Macunaima returns to the estate of the giant industrialist.  He sees a very pretty maid there and she tells him that Wenceslau went to Europe to recover from a beating he received. But his wife Ceuici and her two daughters are here.  He asks her about the good luck charm and she says he can sleep with her in her room tonight and search the safe while everyone else sleeps. At night Macunaima starts grabbing works of art off the walls.  All of a sudden a net falls over him and the mother and one of the daughters take him to another room.  Later they are joined by the other daughter.  None of the women are good lookers.

The daughters are happy with the man they have caught.  One sister wants to take him to her room.  She and Macunaima make a break for it and manage to reach the bedroom before mother and sister can catch them.  Apparently, mother and sister were going to have Macunaima for their dinner.  Macunaima then escapes from the estate by jumping out of an open window. 

At home Jigue brings home a pretty woman named Suzy.  The brother turns out the lights, while the woman gets naked and climbs into the empty hammock. 

The next day Macunaima walks around the town.  For some crazy reason Macunaima talks with a homeless man and then smashes his nuts between two bricks.  Of course, he then has to be placed in a hammock in the brothers' apartment.  Suzy and the heavy blonde take care of him.  He asks the brothers to leave the room so Suzy can give him a massage.  The brothers wait outside the door.  The brothers get wise when they ask Macunaima if they can come in now and he answers in his normal voice (rather than one that is high-pitched from the bashing).  They force open the door, but Macunaima is already up and saying how he feels so much better.  Suzy, however, is still putting on her blouse. 

Macunaima had promised his brothers he would not touch Suzy.  As a result of his fooling around with the woman, Jigue sends her away.  Macunaima becomes very depressed and his brothers try to cheer him up by taking him to a leper colony. 

Macunaima receives in the mail an invitation to the marriage of one of the giant's daughters.  Older brother warns him not to go, because the big man might eat him.  The next scene shows the giant pulling Macunaima by his feet while his back is on the floor.  Wenceslau wants to introduce him to his daughter who is getting married.  If he behaves, Wenceslau will lend Macunaima the good luck charm. The giant brings Macunaima to the pool area where there are loads of people partying.

Guests' numbers are drawn and the selected are thrown in the swimming pool where there are already lots of naked dead people.  A man is thrown in and then a woman.  The giant forces Macunaima to sit on a giant swing and swing out over the dead pool.  Macunaima is able to switch places with the giant and now the giant swings out over the dead pool.   Macunaima grabs the bow and arrow the giant was going to shoot Macunaima with and fires the arrow into the giant's rear end.  The man shouts out in pain and then falls into the dead pool.  Now Macunaima stands up with arms outstretched as if he were the champion competitor.

The three brothers decide to return home.  With him, Macunaima takes some of the treasures of the city and a beautiful young woman named Princess.  So they return to the shores of the Uraricoera.  In the boat on the river Macunaima plays his guitar and sings a song about the shores of the Uraricoera River. At home Macunaima misses Ci.  Princess is kissing him all over his face and head, while he talks of the lovely Ci.  Princess gets angry with him and goes and lays against older brother.

The brothers return to the old shack they once live in.  It now is in ruins.  The two older brothers and Princess go out looking for food, but return empty-handed.  They find Macunaima sleeping in the hammock.  The brothers get mad at Macunaima for doing nothing.  The lazy one says he followed a deer, killed it, but he ate most of the meat and the entrails.  He saved a piece of meat for them, but he accidentally dropped it into an ant's nest on the way back to the shack. 

Having no luck with his brothers, Macunaima asks Princess to play with him.  She tells him when she wanted to play, he turned her down, so now Macunaima can just go play with himself.  Now she is Jigue's girl.  Macunaima lays on the ground and goes to sleep.  The next day he wakes with a fever.  And his brothers and Princess have left him behind.  Macunaima just decides to lay in the hammock and rest some more.  The shack falls down around Macunaima.  Soon he only has a hammock left and lots of cashew nuts to eat.  A parrot stays with Macunaima and he tells it some of his many stories. 

One day in January he feels he has more energy.  He goes down to the river.  There he sees Uiara, the naked, beautiful cannibal witch of the water.  Macunaima takes off his good-luck stone and jumps into the river.  There he meets his death. 


Wow, what a weird movie.  It jumped all over the place and at times seemed like a collection of a lot of poor fairy tales.  The film is one of the Brazilian New Wave films that tend to be experimental, surreal, jerky and highly politically conscious (according to Timothy Farrell).  The politics comes in when the family goes to the big city and the city has the atmosphere of a police state, a criticism of the then present military government in Brazil.  Several times the brothers are about to be arrested or are arrested by the police for doing nothing more than just giving a little speech in a city park.  The society is also corrupted by the wealthy class, portrayed by the giant industrialist and his ugly family. The wealthy class is rich and depraved as seen in the dead pool created by the giant industrialist for the marriage of one of his daughters.  Finally, the three brothers get fed up with the Brazilian military dictatorship and the corrupt wealthy class decide to return to the jungle. 

The films in this period has to be subtle.  They couldn't directly say the military dictatorship was cruel, arbitrary, murderous and politically and financially corrupt.  So they had to beat around the bush a bit so the film does not seem to be a serious criticism of the present day Brazil.  So they create a comedy with a bunch of crazy characters that come to a city with a government much like that of Brazil's then present military dictatorship and are constantly in danger.  Even the city residents are predominantly conservative and at times want to lynch the three brothers.  The censors probably saw the movie as little more than a crazy comedy. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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