Over the last decades, Limite has left its mark on the cultural history, not only of Brazil. One may think of the now somewhat overcome polemics by filmmaker Glauber Rocha in the 1960s, rejecting Limite and favoring Ganga Bruta (1933) by Humberto Mauro (see article below). More recently we find a sequence of Peixoto in O cinema falado (1986), the only film by Caetano Veloso. Singer/songwriter Adriana Calcanhoto projects scenes from Limite during the song O Mocho e a Gatinha on her DVD Adriana Partimpim (2004). David Bowie chooses Limite as the only Brazilian film among his ten favorites from Latin America for the HIGH LINE FESTIVAL in 2007. In May 2007 a new restored version of Limite is screened at the Cannes Film Festival and was one of the selected films from the World Cinema Foundation. An idea of Martin Scorsese, some film-makers have decided to put together, within the World Cinema Foundation, a non-profit organisation whose aim is to provide financial assistance for the preservation, restoration and broadcasting of films from all over the world, in particular the cinema of Africa, Latin America, Asia and Central Europe. Here a dossier on Limite elaborated by ZZ Productions, Paris http://www.zzproductions.fr for this event. For an article on Limite in the context of Brazilian cinema, please use this link. 

Recently, the film has been restored by the Cinemateca Brasileira and the new version was presented in November 2011 at the Auditorium Ibirapuera in Sao Paulo, at the ocasion with a new soundtrack, composed by the Norwegian musician Bugge Wesseltoft. The musician came to Brazil to perform a live session accompanying the screening with fellow Norwegian Hello Kvernberg (violin) and Rodolfo Stroeter (bass), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion) and Miranda Marlui (flute and vocal) from Brazil. An excerpt can be seen on youtube.

In the end of 2013 the Cinemateca released a DVD edition of Limite as part of the second volume of its jornal Revista da Cinemateca Brasileira

For movie orders and legal issues, please contact the Centro Técnico Audiovisual – CTAv/SAV/MinC.

A discussion on Limite and the (so far) unreleased documentary film on Peixoto called O mar de Mário by Reginado Gontijo  can be found here (in Portuguese).

Next a short historic look at the unique film of Mário Peixoto.

Speaking of more experimental movies in Brazil or such films made by Brazilian directors in the 20s and 30s, one can name basically three productions: first, Rien Que Les Heures (1926), filmed in Paris by Alberto Cavalcanti (1897–1982), who would later work for the Paramount Studios and with John Griersonus in Great-Britain before going back to Brazil; second: São Paulo- Sinfonia da metrópole (1929),

Movie poster, 1929

directed by Rodolfo Lustig and Adalberto Kemeny, a film obviously inspired by Ruttmann’s Berlin Symphony of 1927. And finally we have Limite, filmed in 1930 and first exhibited in 1931, directed and written by Mário Peixoto which has over the years become a quite legendary cult movie and has been voted several times as one of the best Brazilian movies ever made. Even though English-speaking critics have frequently translated the title as “boundary”, I would like to keep the term Limite or Limit since, in my view, it does have a certain programmatic quality. First, I would like to point out the iconic quality of the “I” as a structural conception that characterizes the permanent visual lines throughout the film, as in wires, roads, bare trees, branches and plants, stakes and posts, roofs, walls, grades, bars, fences, legs or even stockings-ladders. And it is not by chance that after the opening sequence – exploring a more fluid, amorphous state – the camera focuses on the boat plank as the initial line which will then lead us down the first memory lane. These visual lines, at times running out into the open and at others forming limited spaces such as triangles or crosses, therefore serve as a band, a connecting string for the different flashes of the past as well as indicating their limitations, giving the whole movie a very geometrical structure,

Still from Limite (scene not used in the final version)

counterbalanced by moving details such as wheels, handles and of course the movements of the camera itself. Secondly, Limite may be seen as on the historical limit between silent movies and talkies, a movie with a certain ambition to summon up many of the esthetic and technical possibilities developed in the 10s and 20s. From a retrospective point of view, one may link the repetition of camera shots or the close-up of details to Man Ray, find the same music score by Satie in Limite as in Man Rays Les Mystères du Château des Dés (1928), a very rhythm oriented structure as for instance in Vertov‘s Man with a movie camera (1929) or in the Berlin Symphony (1927) even though of a different quality and speed, as well as the very spare use of intertitles as in Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924). The boat scenes in Limite might evoke parallels to Murnau’s Sunrise (1927) and the shouting scenes in both also bare some similarities. The moving fields and plants we may find on Earth (1930) by Alexander Dovzhenko and of course one should mention an enormous variation of camera movements and angles as an exploration of the medium film itself.

Limite can therefore be seen as an effort to explore the visual possibilities, the experimental techniques and the rhythmic variations of the filmic medium in the context of a sometimes melancholic and sometimes somewhat aggressive statement about the limitation and the futility of human existence. And finally we have to mention the technical limitations of a film made without a professional backup structure, a one-man enterprise financed by the director/writer himself. It was above all cameraman Edgar Brazil’s brilliance that enabled the director to realize the effects he envisioned. Edgar Brazil was born in Hamburg/Germany as Edgar Hauschild and of similar importance in Brazil as Karl Freund was, for instance, in Germany. He also worked with Humberto Mauro and Adhemar Gonzaga, two other important directors of that time and built the special equipment Peixoto required for his elaborate movements of the camera, such as a wooden crane activated by ropes enabling a vertical camera shift or a litter carried by four porters used to follow the steps of a couple on the beach.

Shooting of Limite: 1930

When Mário Peixoto returned from Europe in October 1929, he offered his hand-written scenario to director friends Gonzaga and Mauro. But both declined. They advised him to make the film himself and to hire cameraman Edgar Brazil who would have the necessary experience to guarantee the realization of the project. Shooting began in mid 1930, in the city of Mangaratiba, Rio de Janeiro, where today the Fundação Mário Peixoto mantains a museum dedicated to the director. Peixoto used - for the first time in Brazil - panchromatic film material with a high sensitivity for grey scales. Stills from Limite were soon distributed and, in an effort to raise the public expectation, they were occasionally presented as photos from a new Pudovkin movie..

Still from Limite: 1930 Still from Limite: 1930

The first screening took place on May 17th 1931 in the Cinema Capitólio in Rio de Janeiro, a session organized by the Chaplin Club, which announced Limite as the first Brazilian film of pure cinema. It received favorable reviews from the critics who saw the film as an original Brazilian avant-garde production, but never made it into commercial circuits and over the years was screened only sporadically, as in 1942 when a special session was arranged for Orson Welles who was in South America for the shooting of his unfinished It’ s all true and for Maria Falconetti, lead actress of Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). Due to various facts, Limite, sometimes referred to as the “unknown masterpiece” - an expression derived from Georges Sadoul who in 1960 had made an unsuccessful trip to Rio de Janeiro just to see the film - along with Mário Peixoto, became quite legendary subjects.

Soon after the first screening in Rio, Limite was shown on several occasions in Europe, in Paris as well as at the Marble Arch cinema in London where it is said to have attracted Sergei Eisenstein’s interest and an article written by him entitled A movie from South America, supposedly published in 1931 in the The Tatler Magazine. This article has frequently been quoted as proof for the international recognition and reputation of Limite, as in the program of the Berliner Filmfestspiele in 1981 or as recently as in 2004 when At the edge of the earth, the documentary about Mário Peixoto, was presented in several European movie theaters. In the 40s and 50s, Mário himself had often mentioned the Eisenstein text but never came up with the article itself. When trying to get financing for one of his projects – a movie called The soul according to Salustre, in 1964 -, he was told by Plinio Süssekind, a friend, that the article would be very helpful to raise funds. Two weeks later Mário presented a hand written text in Portuguese, which was actually published in 1965 by filmmaker Carlos Diegues in his cinema-column of the Brazilian magazine Arquitectura, vol. 38. Peixoto himself first said he had translated this text from a French version of the original English article and later on claimed that cameraman Edgar Brazil had translated it from German into Portuguese, but, according to Saulo Pereira de Mello, finally admitted to having written it himself. The article was then republished by Mello (2000) as a text written by Mário Peixoto.

A second item to mention is the vanishing of Limite in the 60s and 70s. In 1959, the nitrate film began to deteriorate and Plinio Süssekind and Saulo Pereira de Mello started a frame-by-frame restoration. Without previous technical experience, they used procedures from specialized books. Limite only returned to festivals and screenings in 1978. Even though nobody could see the movie between 1959 and 1978 – as in the case of Georges Sadoul and his unsuccessful trip to Rio de Janeiro in 1960 - it still served as a reference for controversial discussions and statements while others even doubted that the film really existed. Glauber Rocha, leading figure of the new cinema, the cinema novo, classified in 1963 the director as “far from reality and history” (59) and the unseen movie as “unable to comprehend the contradictions of bourgeois society” (66), a “contradiction historically overcome” (67) and confirmed his judgment of Limite as a product of the intellectual decadent bourgeoisie again in 1978 after finally having seen it.

For a theoretical approach on Limite, one may think of fluidity and continuity as two central terms, not so much in regard to the structural concept which is based on visual and rhythmic variations and not continuation as the main filmic principle, but in regard to the underlying philosophical ambition: the oscillation between a fluid memory stream and solid, concrete objects and episodes, which emerge as fixed points in the continuity of time. This proposal is quite clearly formulated in the article by Peixoto A movie from South America - formerly attributed to Eisenstein - which I understand as one of his few theoretical statements. Here, Peixoto first emphasizes the role of the “camera-brain” and the “instinctive rhythmic film-structure” of Limite, and then defines the film as somewhere between a singular , outstanding work of art and a completely anonymous item, “unidentifiable in the inexpressive crowds” and which’s “poetic evasion is built on a vigorous plan of adaptation to the real” (Mello 2000: 85).
For Peixoto, the experience offered by Limite cannot be adequately captured by language, but was made to be felt. Therefore, the spectator should subjugate himself to the images as to “anguished cords of a synthetic and pure language of cinema” (88). According to the director, his film is “meticulously precise as invisible wheels of a clock”, where long shots are surrounded and linked by shorter ones as in a “planetary system” (88). Peixoto characterizes Limite as a “desperate scream” aiming for resonance instead of comprehension. “The movie does not want to analyze. It shows. It projects itself as a tuning fork, a pitch, a resonance of time itself” (88), capturing the flow between past and present, object details and contingence as if it had always “existed in the living and in the inanimate”, or detaching itself tacitly from them. Since Limite is more of a state than an analysis, characters and narrative lines emerge, followed by a probing camera exploring angels, details, possibilities of access and fixation, only then to fade out back into the unknown, a visual stream with certain densifications or illustrations within the continues flow of time. According to Peixoto, all these poetic transpositions find “despair and impossibilities”; a “luminous pain” which unfolds in rhythm and coordinates the “images of rare precision and structure” (91). The oscillation between the fluid and the solid, the outstanding and the unidentifiable, the concrete object and the abstraction is a basic principle not only for this film but also for his literary work.
If we follow these outlines, we may see Limite as a film with a clear, elaborate and recognizable concept, maybe difficult to identify at first sight but emerging fuller at each screening one assists. This may explain Peixoto’s dislike for surrealistic movies, specifically those of Buñuel and the rejection of chance as an artistic principle as we find in Man Ray or Dada.

Limite starts off with the image of a woman embraced by a man in handcuffs, a prototype image

to be varied and diversified throughout the film. The proto-image in the beginning, based on the photography he saw in Paris in 1929, introducing the leitmotiv of imprisonment, of being trapped, gives way to a long, almost hypnotic boat scene that is to transport us into the continuum of time, a rather fluid amorphous state where the camera-brain then moves into the past, tracing certain memory lines, episodes and associated details, objects, movements and images, visual flashes of limitation, that reflect themselves in other images and thus escape a fixed, limited and solid status, only to disappear or fade out without further explanation. The wrecking in the storm then leads us back to the original proto-image, the initial theme, now extended and enriched by the visual and rhythmic variations we experienced.

Let me finish this short introduction with a comment on the soundtrack: Peixoto’s original plan to underline his film with natural noise as wind, rustling leaves or breaking waves was abandoned due to technical difficulties and substituted by a record-soundtrack chosen by Brutus Pedreira, who played the pianist in Limite and had actually been a musician in real life. The chosen musical themes –among others, from Satie, Debussy, Borodin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Cesar Franck - were then played on two alternating record players during the screening, frequently operated by Peixoto and Pedreira themselves. Due to this procedure, in later exhibitions, the film had been frequently shown without any musical accompany and only with the editing of the video, images and music have been definitely integrated. Knowing Peixoto’s obsession with details concerning his film, arranging even the plants to bow in a certain angle, one may look at the relation between sound and picture of Limite as a elaborated, frequently contrapuntal conception, an intentional rhythmic discrepancy where sound and image often diverge, opening a third temporal and resonant dimension between the actual scene and a potential, wider space beyond the limitations imposed by the “framed” vision and the sequentially of film itself.

A film by Mário Peixoto

Brazil, 1931. 115 min. Music from Satie, Debussy, Borodin, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Cesar Franck.
Scenario and direction: Mário Peixoto. Director of photography: Edgar Brazil. Cast : Taciana Rei , Olga Breno, Raul Schnoor, Brutus Pedreira , Carmen Santos , Mário Peixoto.

A translation of the intertitles :

1. Journal headlines:
Escape from prison. The prison guard’s complicity.

2. Comment:
This intertitle corresponds to a lost part of the film where man number 1 helps woman number 2.

3. Graveyard: Man on the left (Mário Peixoto):
You come from the house of a woman, who is not yours,
supposing she is mine, just like this one here was yours.
And if I told you that she is leprous?



Farias, Otavio
1929 Eu creio na imagem. In: O fan, vol. 6. Rio de Janeiro.

Mello, Saulo Pereira de
2000 Mário Peixoto - Escritos sobre cinema. Rio de Janeiro: aeroplano.

Peixoto, Mário
1984 O inútil de cada um. Rio de Janeiro: Record.

Peixoto, Mário
1996 Limite. "scenario" original. Rio de Janeiro: Sette Letras.

Rocha, Glauber
2001 Revisão Crítica do Cinema Brasileiro. São Paulo: Cosac & Naify.

Schobert, Walter
1989 Der Avant-Garde Film der 20er Jahre. München: Goethe-Institut.