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The Brazilian writer João Guimarães Rosa was sent to Hamburg in 1938 as a diplomat. The documentary film Outro Sertão (The Other Sertão) by Adriana Jacobsen and Soraia Vilela sketches this fouryear episode of a life between profession and calling that has been completely forgotten in Germany. Born in Minas Gerais in 1908, Rosa described his work as vice consul as “subterranean.” Rosa appreciated German literature and the language very much. But daily life in Nazi Germany brought him back down to earth soon after his arrival: “The people here are poor and conservative. They are interested in little other than armored cars and bombers,” he wrote in one of his diarylike notes quoted in the film. In several chapters, the portrait of a “participatory” observer is presented: Together with Aracy de Carvalho, who he meets at the consulate and who would later become his second wife, he helps Jews to immigrate to Brazil—at a time when the dictatorial Vargas government did not want to allow more Jews in the country. Archival footage, often by amateurs, whose visual idiom was diametrically opposed to the Nazi heroic aesthetic, a previously unreleased interview with the literary critic Walter Höllerer, and statements by Jewish survivors are woven into a calm, subtle collage. Rosa’s experiences in Germany, the film argues, were reflected in his magnum opus, Grande Sertão: Veredas (translated as The Devil to Pay in the Backlands). The writer transferred the horrors of the Second World War to the hinterlands of Brazil. His main character, the jagunço Riobaldo, is a kind of Faust of the Sertãos, as Rosa says in the film, and alter ego of the diplomat, who unlike the latter did not have to avoid open confrontations and instead simply pulled his pistol.
Adriana Jacobsen, film director and researcher, holds a Bachelor’s degree in language and literature from the Federal University of Espírito Santo and a Graduate and Master degree in communication sciences from the Free University of Berlin. She has directed the short films Casamento Pomerano and Borum, and works as an audiovisual trainer for the Deutsche Welle Akademie in Mozambique. She is currently engaged in the production of a short film about the travels of Bavarian Princess Therese in Brazil in search of the primitive man. She spends her time between Brazil and Germany.
Soraia Vilela is a filmmaker, journalist and translator. She studied communication sciences at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas Gerais and cultural studies, theatre, and cultural communication at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, where she wrote her master’s thesis on the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos. For many years she worked for the Brazilian editorial department of the Deutsche Welle, and serves as a web editor and cultural project contributor for the Goethe-Institut in Brazil. She currently lives in Belo Horizonte.