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Review: Zeca, portrait of a vaqueiro (1971)

Directed by: George Sluizer | 19 minutes | documentary

Zeca is a 40-year-old “vaqueiro”, a cowboy in northeastern Brazil. He has seven children and lives on the estate on his boss, an erudite and rich man who takes good (enough) care of his employees – as far as we can judge – and who both gets and gives respect. Zeca himself is happy in his daily activities. He doesn’t know much other than his work as vaqueiro, but he wouldn’t want it any other way, the voice-over suggests.

The short documentary “Zeca” is one of the “preliminary studies”, as George Sluizer calls it, for the feature films he was to make in Brazil, such as “João and the Knife” and “The Stone Raft”. He wanted to find out how a vaqueiro lives, what he does and taste the atmosphere of his daily reality.

This works well in “Zeca”. Although just 20 minutes is not enough time for an in-depth portrait, as a viewer you still get a sincere and authentic insight into a different culture and a – to us – largely unknown ‘branch of sport’. This is not a John Wayne or Sergio Leone western, but just the, usually pretty unromantic, reality. We see how cows are floored, neutered, branded and skinned, up close and without anesthesia. Handsome guy who does not have to swallow or blink his eyes at least while watching these scenes.

But the voice-over does not judge, and the camera only records. We should not be naive or hypocritical, you could even conclude from the lack of comment – and so the lack of a value judgment is actually a value judgment – this is just what needs to be done to make this sector – where one million the one and a half million inhabitants in the region depend on – to keep it going.

There is also no room for emotion or rebellion. Zeca’s world is one of a clear hierarchy, which everyone accepts – including in his family, where the women (including his daughters) eat in the kitchen, and the boys in the living / dining room (but only the older boys). table, the rest stands).

As the voice-over concludes: in the world of Zeca, everyone knows their own place; for Zeca this is the saddle of his horse. The latter also seems to be true, not only out of necessity. Zeca doesn’t seem to want anything else either. For example, taming young horses with his mates – on his owner’s estate (wherever he lives) – seems to give him more satisfaction than a trip to town.

Whether this is because Zeca does not really know what is going on outside his borders, does not want to know, or would genuinely want nothing else, is difficult to say, and somewhere this is also superfluous information (and probably also a sign of Western condescension). Zeca is in place and happy as vaqueiro. We don’t need to know more.

In any case, “Zeca” offers a brief, but certainly fascinating portrait of an interesting individual and a lifestyle unknown to us.

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