In the 1920’s, São Paulo, the second largest city in Brazil, quickly became the country’s genuine face of national modernity. Its dynamism caught the attention of a number of filmmakers, including Adalberto Kemeny and Rodolfo Lustig, Hungarian filmmakers living in Brazil who created Rex Films and shot São Paulo, a Metropolitan Symphony, in 1929.
This was a city symphony film: a type of documentary film made throughout the 20’s and 30’s that, influenced by the avant-garde movement of the time, was based on major metropolitan city areas and sought to capture the lives, events, and activities of the city.
Kemeny and Rex Lustig were particularly influenced by Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927), and use the same structure: one day in the life of Sao Paolo. They particularly focus on the workers and students, and the way in which their hard work contributes to the “order and progress” of the city (and the country). In fact, São Paulo, a Metropolitan Symphony, praises modernization and drives its point forward all too clearly. This means that the filmmakers have little time for a depiction of social inequality, rarely seen, except for a somewhat out of place staged shot, in which the rich take money from the hands of the poor.
Despite its lacks, the film remains a noteworthy piece of avant-garde filmmaking. The rhythm of the film is very exciting, and even the title cards, some of which are animated, tends to be surprisingly creative. São Paulo, a Metropolitan Symphony is an excellent document of its time and a stylized recording of a city’s hustle and bustle seen through the perspective of a popular ideology of its time. Interestingly, by praising modernization, it contrasts future film production of Brazil that, whether foreign or domestic, found most of their inspiration in the rural and impoverished areas of the country. – ★★★★
SÃO PAULO, SINFONIA DA METRÓPOLE | 1929, Brazil | Documentary | Directed by – Adalberto Kemeny, Rudolf Rex Lustig / Produced by – Adalberto Kemeny, Rudolf Rex Lustig / Written by – Adalberto Kemeny | Running time: 90 mins.