Globo’s new six-hour soap opera has a great challenge ahead

Nilson Xavier

The confines of the northeastern backlands are back in Brazilian teledramaturgy, with the premiere of the soap opera Sertão Seaauthored by Mario Teixeira and artistic direction of Allan Fiterman. A rich source of narrative and dramaturgical resources, the setting is part of the national collective unconscious, sometimes represented as a miserable and archaic scenario, sometimes as a stage for struggles for wealth and power.

Using real or fictional cities, authors centralized plots full of magical realism and caricatured, comic and melodramatic characters, with jagunços, colonels and sluts in the midst of disputes and loves between rival families. Often with stereotypical representations, the hunger, drought and oppression of patriarchy served as dramatic fuel for plots of love, revenge and overcoming.

I list seven novels in which the sertão was more than a setting: practically a character within the narrative. Many of them were successful. This is the challenge for Mar do Sertão.

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Charmed twine (2011)

Charmed twine

The union of the enchantment of European royalty with the heroic legends of the Brazilian hinterland represented by the novel by Açucena (Bianca Bin), a girl raised by farmers in Northeast Brazil without knowing that she is a princess of a European kingdom; and Jesuíno (Cauã Reymond), young sertanejo who does not know that he is the legitimate son of Herculano (Domingos Montagner), the most feared bandit in the region.

A super production with cinematic aesthetics, Charmed twine it was a success that captivated the audience at six o’clock on Globo, for its exquisite production and for the story told in the style of a fable, which mixed elements of European culture with those typically Brazilian.

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Mandacaru (1997-1998)

Mandacaru, a plant that grows in the hinterland, gives its name to this story that has the cangaço as its theme, portraying its customs and discussing the issue of land. Set in the 1930s, in Jatobá, in the interior of Bahia, the plot begins after the death of Lampião and Maria Bonita.

Despite the low ratings and the crisis that shook TV Manchete – or because of it – Mandacaru it was the longest telenovela on the network: 259 chapters in practically a year on the air. The broadcaster decided to extend the telenovela because the period after the World Cup in France would be more favorable to debut the replacement production, Bridle.

To justify its duration, the initial central plot gave way to a new story, where the character Zebedee (Welcome Siqueira) became the protagonist.

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Maria Maria (1978)

Nivea Maria

In his wanderings through the Brazilian hinterland, the drover Ricardo Valeriano Brandão (Cláudio Cavalcanti) is faced with two Marias, physically identical, but with opposite conditions and temperaments. The first is Mariazinha Alves, a simple and illiterate girl, victim of poverty and drought, whose father wanted to sell her in exchange for groceries. The other is Maria Dusá, cultured, sophisticated and expansive, with an aristocratic air. The two lived by Nivea Maria.

A Globo hit in the 1970s, the plot took place in the localities of Lagoa Seca, Mucugê, Passagem and Xique-Xique, the mining region of Chapada Diamantina. Most of the story was staged there, starting in 1860, a year after one of the worst droughts in the period, which resulted in a food crisis known as “the hunger of 60”.

Old Chico (2016)

Old Chico

The dispute over lands with the feared Colonel Saruê as the main character (Antonio Fagundes) sets the tone for the difficult love between Santo dos Anjos (Domingos Montagner) and Maria Teresa (Camila Pitanga). The setting was the fictional Grotas de São Francisco, on the banks of Velho Chico. The telenovela dealt with social issues related to the São Francisco River and agriculture, the environment and sustainability, as well as coronelismo and politics.

Among the locations chosen, São Francisco do Conde, Raso da Catarina and Cachoeira, in Bahia; Baraúna, in Rio Grande do Norte; and Povoado Caboclo and Olho D’Água do Casado, in Alagoas. The aerial shots that represented the city of Grotas do São Francisco were from the municipality of Piranhas in Alagoas.

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Where the Strong Are Born (2018)

Mary’s incessant search (Alice Wegman) in discovering the person responsible for the death of his brother Nonato (Marcos Pigossi). The plot took place in the fictional city of Sertão and had about 60% of the scenes made in exteriors and locations in the semi-arid region of Paraíba. The team also shot sequences in Piauí and Pernambuco.

The author George Moura stated about the setting, before the premiere:

“The sertão is a character. It is a place with a mythical atmosphere, which is deeply related to the formation of Brazil. Furthermore, dramaturgically, this confrontation between the old and the new is fruitful. (…) It is also a story that needs to be told in that place of horizontal geography and of such vertical conflicts”.

Stone on Stone (1992)

Stone on Stone

The fictional town of Resplendor, in Chapada Diamantina, in the interior of Bahia, is the stage for political disputes between the Pontes and Batista families, with emphasis on the impossible love of young Leonardo Pontes (Maurício Mattar) and Marina Batista (Adriana Esteves).

The novel, written by Aguinaldo Silva, Ana Maria Moretzsohn and Ricardo Linhareswas marked by the plot full of fantastic realism and the beautiful landscapes of the Lençóis region, in Chapada Diamantina.

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Gabriela (1975 and 2012)

Most of the action took place in Ilhéus, on the coast of Bahia. However, it was in the sertão that Gabriela’s plot began (Sonia Braga / Juliana Paes). In 1925, a severe drought in the Bahian sertão forced hungry populations to leave the countryside towards the south and to more developed regions. Among the migrants, the young Gabriela, who leaves for Ilhéus accompanied by an uncle and two men who intended to work on the cocoa farms.

The remake of the soap opera, in 2012, was filmed in Serra das Confusãos, in Serra da Capivara National Park (PI), and in Junco do Salitre, in the hinterland of Juazeiro (BA). It was there, in the middle of the northeastern caatinga, that the scenes in which Gabriela leaves her home and flees from the drought were recorded. The arid land, the air without humidity, the twisted nature, the red ground, made up the scenery of the character’s crossing.

PS 1: Despite its name, the novel Jerome, the Hero of the Sertão (1973) took place in the interior of the state of São Paulo, that is, far from the northeastern hinterland.

PS 2: Although the entire state of Ceará is within the sertão sub-region, soap operas such as Tropicaliente, Happy Ending and Meu Bem Quererwith settings on the coast of the state, are not part of the mythical representation of the sertão proposed in this text.

PS 3: Soap operas like Roque Santeiro, Fera Ferida and The Untamed do not make it clear in which part of the Brazilian Northeast they are set. Cities like Ilhéus, Itabuna and the entire coast of Bahia (from the soap operas Tieta, The Beloved, Reborn and others) are outside the sertão sub-region.

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