Leon Cakoff Prize | Helena Ignez
“Glamour Girl”. This is the name of the contest that kick-started, though indirectly, the career of the woman who gave a face and personality to modern Brazilian cinema. Helena Ignez won the competition for most glamorous girl in the high society of the state of Bahia at the end of the 1950s. The money she made, from the contest on and through connections made during it, enabled the production of O Pátio, short film in which she starred and made the directorial debut of her then-partner, Glauber Rocha. The year was 1959 and marked the beginning of one of the most fruitful periods in our national cinema.
Helena Ignez was born in Bahia in 1939. She studied law and worked as a social columnist for a Salvador newspaper in her youth. However, she abandoned a future as a lawyer to study dramatic arts at UFBA (Federal University of Bahia).
As an actress, Ignez developed work that goes beyond what is usually understood as classical: her experimental style led her to create a particular acting method, in tune with the spirit of Brazilian culture of the 1960s and 1970s. Authorial and innovative, her acting has even been classified as sloppy, verbose, mocking and with no boundaries.
Out of this creation came gunwoman Janete Jane, from The Red Light Bandit (1968, 42nd Mostra), and nymphomaniac Angela Meat and Bone, from The Woman of Everyone (1969), a character marked by rebellion and iconic statements uttered while smoking a cigar. An example: "I`m just a 21st century woman. I arrived early, that’s why I`m faulty this way: the anti-Western devil." In these works, both directed by Rogério Sganzerla, Ignez goes beyond mere representation. She breaks with a realistic form of acting, as defined by critic Jean Claude-Bernardet during an interview to Itaú Cultural in 2012.
In Ignez`s filmography, these characters were preceded by her work in feature films that have also become Brazilian classics, such as The Priest and the Girl (1966, 30tth Mostra), by Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, and Assault on the Pay Train (1962), by Roberto Farias. And they were followed by performances in films by Júlio Bressane and Rogério Sganzerla, her associates in the ephemeral production company Belair: Baron Olavo, the Horrible and Watch Out, Madame, by Bressane, and Copacabana Mon Amour and No Way, Spider, by Sganzerla —all titles produced in 1970.
The dissolution of Belair, months after its creation, coincides with persecution the trio was submitted to by agents of the military dictatorship. With the upsurge of the regime, Ignez and Sganzerla, her husband, went into exile in 1970. The couple returned to Brazil two years later, but lived discreetly: filming only resumed a little over a decade later, in the mid-1980s, with the decline of the regime.
Although she has always claimed space as co-creator of works and often taken on, in addition to her role as actress, the role of producer, Ignez`s debut as director came only in 2003, with medium-length film Reinvenção da Rua. Since then, she has directed many other works. Among them is the sequel to Sganzerla`s greatest classic, Light in Darkness: The Return of Red Light Bandit (2010, 34th Mostra), co-directed by Ícaro Martins. She also directed short film A Miss e o Dinossauro (2005), medium-length Poder dos Afetos (2013, 37th Mostra) and features Canção de Baal (2008, 32nd Mostra), Feio, Eu? (2013, 37th Mostra), Ralé: The Lower Depths (2015, 39th Mostra) and My Calendar Girl (2017, 41st Mostra).
Ignez rejects the label of “muse”, in relation to both Cinema Novo and Cinema Marginal —a stereotype that has so often been used to define her. In interviews, she has said the epithet, given by men, was meant to please, but was actually a way of silencing. “The image one has of muses is that they do nothing, they just inspire, they`re unbearable,” she once told Trip TV.
The filmmaker found a better definition in the title of the documentary about her life, directed in 2019 by daughter Sinai Sganzerla: The Woman with Her Own Light. And it is because of Helena Ignez’s radiance, determination and dare, present in all her works, and in praise of her prolific and exceptional career, that the 45th Mostra awards to the actress, director and producer from Bahia the Leon Cakoff Prize.