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Film / O Auto da Compadecida

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O Auto da Compadecida or known among English viewers as A Dog's Will is a Brazilian movie (originally released as a four part miniseries in 1999 before a version cut down to feature length hit theaters in 2000) and regarded as one of the country's greatest classics, based on a play of the same name by Ariano Suassuna. The story takes place the impoverished, dry deserted region of Northeast Brazil and follows two friends trying to get by using their wits and silver tongue: the lively Jack (João Grilo, played by Matheus Nachtergaele) and the cowardly Chicó (played by Selton Mello). The two men work as assistants to the local baker and get wrapped up in several misadventures including tricking a priest to deliver the last rites to a dog as part of its will, trying to marry a landowner's daughter or risk loosing a lump of flesh as the price and an fatal encounter with a bloodthirsty bandit lands the main characters on a trial by the Devil, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.


The movie is ostensibly a comedy, playing on several archetypes from the Brazilian Northeast region and also has some supernatural elements.

This movie features the following tropes:

  • Adapted Out: Certain characters from the original play were written out from the movie such as the friar, the deacon and the demon assistant, due to how minor their roles were.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The 2000 version takes aspects and characters from Suassuna's other works such as Rosinha, Corporal 70 and Vincentão. Much of Chicó's subplot is lifted from these works.
  • Adaptational Name Change: The Devil was referred to in the original play as "Encourado" rather than obviously identified as a Satan.
  • Almighty Mom: Our Lady Mary, mother of Jesus and intercessor of mankind, is not to be trifled with. The Devil's terrified of her and Jesus himself listens to her every word.
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  • Amoral Attorney: The Devil is characterized this way. He wants to punish the sinners and the wicked without a just trial and when forced to play district attorney in the main characters' trial, he is trying his best to get them as screwed as possible.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Dora throws herself at every bad boy that catches her fancy and cheats on her husband Eurico behind his back with the local tough guy Vincentão. This trope goes to truly ludicrous levels when she also momentarily shows attraction to Satan when he reveals his Game Face.
  • Back from the Dead: Jack receives a second chance instead of going to Hell.
  • Bad Boss: The baker and his wife are called out for this, as noted when Jack remembers he and Chicó had to spend the night in the bakery, sleeping on the floor without even a blanket.
  • Bandito: Severino and his cangaceiros are the Brazilian equivalent of this trope.
  • Beware the Silly Ones: Severino's lieutenant is a highly amusing comic relief character for his very casual approach to his life as a bandito. He's also the character with the highest bodycount, killing pretty much the entire main cast except Chicó, Rosinha and Severino. He even kills Jack, but he is brought back via divine intervention.
  • Big Damn Heroes: During the divine trial, everything seems lost as the Devil (quite correctly) points out the sins that damn the main characters. Then, in a last-ditch effort to save himself, Jack appeals to none other than Our Lady Mary, mother of Jesus, who proceeds to show up and save the day.
  • Bittersweet Ending: A large number of the main cast dies during Severino's attack on the city, but they are forgiven in the afterlife; Jack is restored back to life and Chicó succeeds in marrying Rosinha. Unfortunately, she gets disowned by her father and the three are forced to go on the run.
  • Catchphrase: Chicó ends his storytelling with "I don't know. I only know it was like this."
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The half-blind beggar who keeps bumping into the main characters is a lot more relevant than he appears, given he's actually none other than the terrifying Bandito leader Severino de Aracajú in disguise.
  • Corrupt Church: The priest and the bishop are characterized as extremely greedy. Hell, the reason the priest even agreed to administer last rites to the dog was because Jack claimed its will was supposed to hand him over money as inheritance. In their trial, the Devil's charges them with simony and disdain for the weak.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Befitting the setting of the highly Catholic Northeastern backlands, every character is at least nominally Catholic. Even the divine trial follows Catholic docrine most evidently by the participation of Our Lady Mary as mankind's intercessor, which is a Catholic concept.
  • Courtroom Antics: The Devil makes for a very hammy prosecutor, using many theatrics and logic leaps in an attempt to make the case against the main characters stick. Blessed Lady Mary (the lawyer equivalent) is actually much more subdued.
  • Crapsack World: While the movie is played for laughs for the most part, towards the end it is illustrated that the Brazilian hinterlands are an extremely harsh place to live.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: He certainly got shades of this trope. While most of the cast fears him with good reason, Jack keeps making wisecracks at his expense, he spends his scenes avoiding Jesus' face because his holy power is too much for him and even tries to emulate his physical appearance at one point before Jesus tells him to cut that out. Its more obvious in the original play where he is dressed in all white in an attempt to pretend to be God.
  • Devilish Hair Horns: The Devil sports these in his human form, though he grows actual horns in his Game Face.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Jack is constantly doing this to the Devil's face, in fact, while everyone else is crapping bricks out of fear of pissing him off, he has no qualms about telling him Evil Smells Bad. It actually verges on to Do Not Taunt Cthulhu when the Devil loses his patience and tries to drag everyone to Hell by force.
  • Divine Race Lift: Jesus is black in this movie. Justified, since he can assume any form he wants and he took one specifically to confront the main characters' pre-conceived notions.
  • The Dragon: Severino has an unnamed right-hand man (referred to only as "Cabra", goat, a Northeastern equivalent of "dude") who adds some comic relief to his scenes.
  • Easily Forgiven: Severino is the first one allowed entry to heaven, despite his sins actually being worse than the rest combined - while the other sinners range from being greedy, adulterous or arrogant, he is an actual murderer and wanted criminal. Even worse, the four sinners have to enter the Purgatory instead of Paradise. This trope is actually called out by Satan of all people when he laments that "people suddenly turn good when they die".
    • Justified in the movie as it's revealed Severino saw his parents being killed when he was a child and the trauma drove him to insanity. When he's remembering this, Severino shows sadness for the first time, muttering how he wishes he hadn't survived (his mother shielded him with her own body while being shot) and that he spent his entire life challenging death. Jesus explains that due to being insane, Severino couldn't be held responsible for the things he did.
  • Evil Is Hammy: Severino and the Devil are the most over-the-top (and the most morally reprehensible, at least at first) characters of the movie, making their shared scene in the trial a extremely brief Ham-to-Ham Combat.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Once the Devil reveals his Game Face, his voice also goes an octave lower, with added reverb.
  • Face Death with Dignity:
    • The baker Eurico and Dora make peace with each other before being executed by Severino's lieutenant. The priest and the bishop also forgive their executioner seconds before their deaths. This is what ended up saving them from Hell.
    • Even though its not quite the same thing since he is already dead, but Jack gives up on his own salvation and just resigns himself to an eternity of torment and torture in Hell after bargaining for the other's souls to enter Purgatory. He believes his soul couldn't be saved and no excuses could save him, but Virgin Mary is able to successfully save him by granting him a second chance.
  • Faking the Dead: Jack shows Chicó how to do it by stabbing a packet of blood underneath the clothes, and tries to do it in a scheme. He ends up repurposing the thing by faking a kill and resurrection to Severino to dupe him into asking for a death that would stick.
  • Five-Finger Fillet: Right after some two-handed Knuckle Cracking, Chicó does a brief display of this to show he is very confident.
  • Freudian Excuse: Severino's is revealed in his trial when his family was murdered by corrupt police officers.
  • Game Face: The Devil stops using his human face and takes on a more monstrous visage after Jack pisses him enough times.
  • Gender Flip: In the original play, Antônio Moraes had an unnamed son. The film made Rosinha his daughter. As side effect, the dog, who was a male named Xaréu in the play, is turned a female named Maria in the film.
  • Guile Hero: Jack has used his wits and cunning to survive.
  • Humans Are Flawed: The Central Theme of the story, showing mankind's failings and how we rise above them. Our Lady Mary noticeably defends the main characters on this basis.
  • I Have Many Names: Jesus Christ goes by Emmanuel in this movie, but he is also known as God, Lord, Lion of Judah and son of David as he tells Jack.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Curiously, this is used in defense of someone else rather than their own, when the Virgin Mary justifies that Jack had to rely on his own wits just to barely survive in the arid wasteland that is the Northeast.
  • Inherent in the System: Our Lady Mary argues that a good chunk of mankind's sins come from the inherent injustice of the world they've built, more precisely in the case of Jack's misdeeds coming as a way to escape poverty.
  • Insanity Defense: Jesus pulls out the spiritual variation of this on Severino's defense, pointing out the murder of his parents traumatized Severino to such an extent he cannot be blamed for his acts and is therefore innocent of his crimes. This is in agreement with Catholic doctrine, which holds the mentally unwell cannot be fully blamed for their sins.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: Emmanuel is extremely nice to the sinners, even to Jack when he makes a insensitive remark about him being black, while also calling him out about it.
  • Lovable Coward: Chicó.
  • Loophole Abuse: Chicó signs an contract with Rosinha's father dictating that if he can't pay the downry, he must surrender a pound of his own flesh to him. He is unable to pay it at the end and just as her father prepares to cut his flesh out from his back, Jack intervenes stating that the contract forbids the shedding Chicó's blood. Given that it's impossible to remove his pound of flesh without drawing blood, he is relieved from the contract which infuriates Rosinha's father.
  • Magical Negro: Jesus (or Emmanuel as he is called in the movie) is depicted as a black man, however its established that is simply one form he choose to assume.
  • Marry for Love: Rosinha's father will only marry her to a valiant man who is able to pay up the necessary dowry, but she is in love with Chicó. They are only able to stay together after her father disowns her.
  • Mistaken for Dog: After Jack tricks Father John to bless the ill dog under the belief she belongs to Major Moraes, the latter pays a visit speaking about his daughter Rosinha (who is also ill), but the priest has no idea he is referring to her and inadvertently calls her a bitch.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Severino the bandito is quite obviously a riff on Lampião, down to the same backstory (entire family murdered by the police) and Red Right Hand (being blind of one eye).
  • Non-Indicative Title: The foreign title A Dog's Will refers to the starting subplot that gets wrapped up early into the movie.
  • Obviously Evil: The Devil, naturally. Though he tries to present himself as Affably Evil to the cast, he has Devilish Hair Horns. At any rate, this particular version is more understated compared to the two previous cinematic versions, which were a red-wearing masked bandit and a Big Red Devil respectively, whereas in the play he is wearing white.
  • One-Hit Polykill: Eurico asks to die together with Dora. The right hand man even agrees it will save on bullets, and kills them with a shot that goes through both.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. In the Brazilian language, the main protagonist and the priest share the same given name João. In the English subtitles, the hero is named Jack while the priest is Father John.
  • Patron Saint: The Virgin Mary to Jack and other characters. Truth in Television as the Brazilian Northeast is staunchly Catholic and her figure is seriously revered by the population.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: Jack makes a racist remark against Jesus, who is black in this movie and takes it stride, even admitting he chose this appearance to play on the characters' predices. When the Bishop tries to quiet Jack down over his remark, Jesus tells the Bishop to be quiet instead, because he could see that he, too, was surprised to find out that Jesus looked, well... nothing like he knew, but wasn't being honest as he withheld his surprise.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Severino's lieutenant isn't particularly as Axe-Crazy as his boss and only does as he is told. He even comments this when he is about to gun down Jack for tricking him into murdering Severino:
    Sunnovagun, this is the first time I kill someone for pleasure!
  • Re-Cut: The theatrical version eschews many scenes and three subplots, Jack and Chicó selling the baker a "cat who uneats money" (by making it seem it evacuates silver coins), Severino's first time in the city, and Jack pushing Chicó towards the baker's wife to get money out of her. (this one still has a mention in the afterlife scene, where the Devil remembers Jack pushed Chicó onto a married woman)
  • Red Right Hand: The lead bandit Severino is blind in his right eye.
  • Satan: He plays an important role in the movie's climax as he holds the deceased characters on trial for their sins.
  • The Scourge of God: Severino considers himself as such, being a bandit that raids a town specifically because the people were unhelpful. When he is judged in the afterlife and deemed unfit to be damned because of his madness, Jesus calls him a "instrument of God's wrath", which makes sense when one considers that each and one of the deceased being judged were sinners.
  • Shout-Out: The subplot regarding Chicó's marriage to Rosinha or risking loosing a pound of flesh to her father is obviously lifted from The Merchant of Venice.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Rosinha falls in love with Chicó, even though he is completely spineless and pretended to be a valiant man to impress her. She admits she saw it through a long time, but it didn't matter because she loves him anyways.
  • Speak of the Devil: The Devil shows up seconds after Jack mentions his name.
  • Straw Misogynist: After Jesus is convinced to spare the sinners by sending them to the Purgatory instead of Hell due to his mother Holy Mary's advice, the Devil complains "Its always like that when a woman rules over a man".
  • Uptown Girl: Rosinha, the daughter of a powerful landowner falls in love to Chicó, a poor as dirt baker's assistant.
  • Villain Has a Point: Satan wants to eternally damn the main cast after their deaths. Though to be fair, the accusations against them aren't wrong or inaccurate: the priest and the bishop were corrupt as heck, Eurico and Dora were bad bosses to their employees (plus she was a serial adulterer), Severino killed many innocents and Jack's charges include inciting simony, scamming and premeditated murder!
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Severino's right-hand man is last seen in the scene he fires the killing shot against Jack as the police arrives to send the Cangaceiros on a full retreat. We know he didn't die because he isn't present during the divine trial, but whether he was captured or managed to flee is not divulged.
  • What You Are in the Dark: What saves Dora, Eurico, Father John and the Bishop at the end of the movie is that each one of them faced their deaths with dignity in their own way - Eurico forgiving Dora for her cheating and dying embraced to each other, while the priest and the bishop forgive Severino's lieutenant just as he is about to execute him.
  • World of Ham: Well, it's based on a play, so makes sense everyone acts in an exaggerated, theatrical way. A few are even helped by having fake Northeastern accents.
  • Wretched Hive: Downplayed, but still there. Early on, Severino wanders the town dressed as a beggar, but none of the main characters gives him any sort of help. He later tells his lieutenant that there wasn't a single soul in the town that would help him whatsoever, indicating the entire town was composed of some very selfish people. This is later supported by Satan chucking most of the dead from the city straight into Hell.