Designed sets for French experimental filmmakers in the 1920s and directed his first film in 1926, the experimental city symphony "Rien que les heures." Cavalcanti moved to England in 1934, making documentaries and later documentary-influenced features at Ealing Studios before returning to Brazil in 1949. His best British features show considerable stylistic flair; working within the traditions of British realism, he nonetheless brought surrealistic touches to the genuinely odd wartime drama "Went the Day Well?" (1942) and his striking contributions to the classic anthology horror film, "Dead of Night" (1945). The latter film showcased Cavalcanti's occasional penchant for the expressionistic, which was highlighted in his masterful foray into film noir, "They Made Me a Fugitive" (1947).
Upon his return to Brazil, Cavalcanti helped set up, and headed, Vera Cruz Studios. His attempt to forge a new Brazilian Cinema, free of American dominance, was sabotaged when he was denounced as a communist. The model for the studio as well was also perhaps too influenced by Hollywood paradigms to succeed in another culture and without sufficient bankrolling. Despite losing his job Cavalcanti managed to make several more films, most impressively the bitter and lyrical "Song of the Sea" (1954). Upon returning to Europe he directed the highly regarded "Herr Puntilla und sein Knecht Matti" (1955), co-written with Bertolt Brecht.
Though Cavalcanti's is a genuine talent and a significant contribution to world cinema, the diversity of his interests has lessened the impact of his career as a whole. The fact that he worked in so many countries and in so many languages by itself means than his oeuvre has been little studied; though many of his individuals films deservedly remain highly respected, Cavalcanti himself has thus far eluded the writings of standardized, often limited, film histories.
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Art Director (Feature Film)
Film Production - Main (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
First medium-length film as director (also writer; producer; editor), "Rien que les heures"
Feature directing, co-writing and editing debut, "En rade"
Moved to England and began working for John Grierson at GPO Film Unit
Succeeded Grierson as head of GPO (name changed to Crown Film Unit at outbreak of WWII)
Moved to Ealing Studios
Returned to Brazil
Returned to Europe
Began teaching at UCLA