Still Brazil

Creator's Statement

In his work on the different forms of cinematic stillness, Garrett Stewart has written about two broadly divergent experiences of the ‘fantastic’ in European and Hollywood cinema, at least part of which has to do with recent uses of photographs and freeze-frames. In Europe, the still image has tended to take on an uncanny appearance, often bringing to our attention fates that fall into coincidental alignment; in the US, it is symptomatic of a more supernatural kind of cinema, where a minor detail uncovered in a photo or freeze might act as the big reveal at the end of a story. In each of these sweeping trends, the contribution of stillness is instrumental, and its varying uses among European and Hollywood cinemas almost suggest a kind of cultural logic of the device. While I don’t think Stewart wants us to take his distinction altogether too seriously (and I don’t), I thought it would be interesting to consider whether the freeze-frame had any particular tendencies in Brazilian cinema, and how we might (however speculatively) account for those tendencies.

Still Brazil considers the extensive use of still images in two Brazilian films: Garrincha: alegria do povo (Garrincha: Joy of the People, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1963) and Cidade de Deus (City of God, Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002). As my prologue suggests, the freeze-frame is by no means native to Brazil, but by analysing these two films, it is possible to discover some of the historical and cultural particulars towards which a still image might gesture. While I had initially addressed more films in less detail – including the three seen at the end of the essay – Violet Lucca’s reader’s report prompted me to create a more focused piece, which yielded much more from the images as a result. Although I was unable to offer more in the way of comparative analysis, the clash of different images here, as well as the brief comments I make about the similarities and differences between Garrincha and City of God, help to demonstrate the continuities of the freeze that are still evident in the shift from analogue to digital.

Tiago de Luca suggested that the digital composition of a video essay in some ways resembles the organisation and remixing of contemporary cinematic images more broadly, praising the form for its sympathy with its object of study. In the process of making this video, I was struck by Raymond Bellour’s suggestion that – from the advent of video onwards – the task of the film critic more or less amounted to the creation of a series of freeze-frames, the distilling (and killing) of the moving image for the purpose of analysis. While video essays most obviously allow for the better dissection of moving images, Still Brazil focuses instead on those moments that could seem to be adequately represented as images alongside a written text. However, watching the still images here not only allows them to sit alongside moving images, but also reveals (at least in the grain of the celluloid images) the way in which even the same still image continues to move across the film strip, which complicates traditional oppositions of photographic stillness and cinematic movement.

As I mention at the start of the video essay, one obvious purpose of the still image in motion pictures is to allow the viewer a brief moment of contemplation, an opportunity for a kind of ‘pensive’ spectatorship (Bellour, Mulvey) in the face of an onrushing flow of visual data. However, Still Brazil creates a different kind of space for experiencing the still image. Here, not only is there little room for contemplation, as the images are analysed in the voice-over, there is also less of a hierarchy between still and moving images, as they are organised in a non-sequential montage. While these aspects of the work might seem to detract from the potentially arresting effect that the still image can have, this comparative approach encourages the viewer to draw connections of their own between the different films on show, not necessarily following the suggestions of the commentary. Indeed, a repeat viewing, with the voice-over muted, would allow for another opportunity to compare these images of stillness in Brazilian cinema.


Araújo, Luciana Corrêa de. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade: primeiros tempos. São Paulo: Alameda Editorial, 2013.

Bellour, Raymond. ‘Analysis in Flames’. Diacritics 15, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 52-56.

Lyotard, Jean-François. ‘Acinema’. Trans. Paisley N. Livingston. Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. Ed. Philip Rosen. New York: Columbia University Press, 1986. 349-359.

Mulvey, Laura. Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image. London: Reaktion Books, 2006.

Nagib, Lúcia. Brazil on Screen: Cinema Novo, New Cinema, Utopia. I.B. Tauris: London and New York, 2007.

Stewart, Garrett. Framed Time: Toward a Postfilmic Cinema. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2007.


Stefan Solomon is Postdoctoral Researcher in Film at the University of Reading attached to the AHRC/FAPESP-funded project, ‘Towards an Intermedial History of Brazilian Cinema: Exploring Intermediality as a Historiographic Method’ (short title: IntermIdia). He is currently analyzing the interplay of cinema and the visual arts in films associated with the Tropicália movement, as well as considering contemporary experimental developments in Brazilian filmmaking. He also maintains an interest in the various relationships between cinema and literature, and has recently completed a monograph entitled William Faulkner in Hollywood: Screenwriting for the Studios.

Stefan Solomon’s research is supported by:

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more.  This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. For further information on the AHRC, please go to:

The São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) is a public institution with the mission of supporting science and technology research and development in the state of São Paulo. FAPESP selects and supports research projects in all fields of knowledge submitted by researchers associated with institutions of higher education and research in the state. Project selection uses peer review methodology, based on reviews issued by Brazilian and foreign researchers not associated with the Foundation. In 2014, FAPESP disbursed £315 million to fund science and technology research projects. For more information, go to:

The relationship between stillness and movement in the cinema has gained unprecedented visibility and theoretical currency over the last two decades.* Yet cinema had entertained a fascination with the dormant stillness of its photographic basis long before digital technology redefined film production and reception. As the introduction of Still Brazil illustrates, the use of freeze frames and stills has served a variety of uses and effects across the history of narrative cinema, including: as a means of introducing, with the aid of voiceover, characters in an ironic key (The Election, Alexander Payne, 1999); as a self-reflexive freezing of the action to direct the viewer’s attention to an occurrence within the fictional universe (Three Colours: Red, Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994); or more commonly, at the end of a film in order to preserve ambiguity (The 400 Blows, François Truffaut, 1959), or else suspend time and delay the death of characters (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, George Roy Hill, 1969; and Thelma and Louise, Ridley Scott, 1991).

More specifically, Still Brazil purports to examine the relationship between stillness and movement within the domain of one specific national cinema. It selects two case studies from Brazilian cinema that lend themselves to an especially fruitful comparison: Garrincha: Joy of the People (Garrincha: alegria do povo, Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, 1962), and City of God (Cidade de Deus, Fernando Meirelles, 2002). In both cases, instances of stillness occur in the middle of football matches – a crucial symbol of national identity in Brazil – but the stilling of action serves different narrative and aesthetic purposes. In Garrincha, the stillness of newspaper photographs is continually thwarted by zooms and camera movements that seemingly attempt to reanimate the still images back to life. In City of God, stilling is dictated by the needs of the voiceover narrator and accompanied by the clicking sound of a photographic camera, which foreshadows and reinforces the importance of this instrument in the film’s diegesis.

The two films are also illustrative when considering the apparatic and technological contingency of cinema. As the voiceover explains, Andrade’s decision to include stills in Garrincha was partly to do with the fact that the director did not have at his disposal sound recording equipment. The stilled moments in City of God, for their part, are the fruit of digital manipulation – the same technology, incidentally, that enabled the workings of the video essay itself. Indeed, it could be argued that the video essay – in its propensity to slow down, pause and arrest images – is perhaps the form most suited for a study of the relationship between stillness and movement. In Still Brazil, moving images are stilled and the stills and freeze frames that were originally allowed brief moments are granted extra onscreen time, arrested even further as it were. As such, as the video essay arranges and re-arranges these images in time in an effort to account for their contextual specificities and visual allure, it displays a marriage between form and content that is as self-reflexive as it is affective.

*See, for example, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (Laura Mulvey, 2006); Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image (David Green and Joanna Lowry, eds, 2005); Still Moving: Between Cinema and Photography (Karen Beckman and Jean Ma, eds, 2008); Between Stillness and Motion: Film, Photography, Algorithms (Elvira Røssak, ed., 2011).

Not unlike a moment of silence in a pop song, the use of a freeze frame in film is a dramatic break from the medium itself. Immediately identifiable as important and pregnant with multiple meanings, Stefan Solomon studies the use of this device throughout Brazilian cinema in his video essay, Still Brazil. A significant improvement on the first version of this essay, which attempted to deal with six films in the same amount of time, Solomon’s revised analysis focuses on Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s 1963 documentary Garrincha, Joy of the People and Fernando Merelles and Katia Lund’s 2002 slumsploitation blockbuster City of God. Aside from being linked by their use of still frames, both films implicitly deal with class and race in Brazil, and employ experimental and documentary aesthetics to tell their stories. Solomon provides some excellent commentary about Garrincha, particularly in regards to how the stills de Andrade used links politics with the game of soccer. In moments like these, the author is at his strongest, successfully making a culturally specific aesthetic argument that is fresh, astute, and not belabored.

However, the political dimension is not fully extended to City of God, which was released the year that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party, won the general election in a historic landslide. Although it is arguable whether movies choose their moment or if the moment chooses the movies, failing to mention the political climate diminishes the through line between these two films. The more glaring political omission is that of the military dictatorship—Garrincha was released the year before the coup, a gap more significant between these two films’ production than that of documentary and fiction. (Additionally, City of God takes place exclusively during the dictatorship, making at least a quick mention worthwhile.) Instead, Solomon’s analysis of City of God focuses on the film’s relationship to the medium of photography, managing to be critical (the author isn’t afraid to note when the freeze frames court cliché) and insightful, not always in ways that reveal its “Brazilianness.” (The wide variety of aesthetics that Merelles and Lund employ can be viewed either as postmodern sampling or an extension of Latin American syncretism and multiculturalism that’s been going on since 1492; in fact, it’s probably both.) Nevertheless, the connection Solomon makes between Lampião’s downfall and that of the street gangs in City of God is excellent, bolstered by the actual photos/footage of the cangaçeiros—it’s always wonderful to see relevant visual materials that are not films incorporated into video essays. This inclusion allows the viewer to make connections between the fictional and real bandits’ poses (and hubris) independently, the true benefit of using actual moving images rather than an author’s descriptive text. Throughout, Solomon’s voice is clear and succinct, and though I have outlined elements that could have been improved upon, he evinces an overall command of Brazilian film culture and history that serves this topic well. It would be interesting to see him revisit the other films included in the original essay, and draw more connections from them as a series.