Past and Post-Censorship Over the Years and Continents

How filmmakers survive with and against censorship

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10 min
Published on

February 3, 2024

Blauw Films

How did filmmakers deal with and move beyond censorship over the years in different parts of the world?

What I noticed studying cinema is that creators move past/post-censorship in a very rapid, immensely creative, and disruptive way. For this article, I chose three actors in the world of cinema to illustrate the chaos that contained art brings when the censoring machine erupts.

The three examples are Glauber Rocha and cinema Novo in dictatorial Brazil, Alejandro Jodorowsky and his clashes with the government and public in Mexico, and lastly, Sergey Solovyev and his completely new visual style in times of Perestroika at the fall of the USSR.

Lean back and enjoy this read since we are going to travel.


In a changing political climate, directors adapt to the changing censorship laws to portray the reality and their concerns about the state.

Cinema Novo is a term coined by academics to describe a particular movement that emerged in Brazil in the late 1950s as a response to social problems and the military dictatorship that chained the country after 1964. Filmmakers such as Glauber Rocha started to create movies that were not only new in terms of style but were highly political and at times really violent.

film poster of the movie Entranced Earth by director Blauber Rocha.
film poster for the movie How Tasty was My Little Frenchman by director Nelson Pereira dos Santos.

The movement can be seen as an adaptation of Italian Neo-Realism, characterised by the slow-paced cinema that depicts life just as it is, and the French New Wave, which generally had low-budget productions. In 1965 Rocha released a manifesto ‘Aesthetics of Hunger’ that became a symbol of a new style. It criticised the whole mode of production in the third world countries, in particular, the western oppressive gaze that was shaping cinema produced there.

Movies of that era tend to look at stories of common people in the regions of Brazil and portray their struggle on a local and international level. In the 1970s, the censorship laws became stricter, giving rise to the third and last phase of Cinema Novo — Tropicalism. To avoid censorship, filmmakers had to create cinema that was highly allegorical and determined by a rather Kitsch aesthetic.

Some of the movies that you can see from Cinema Novo are Entranced Earth by Glauber Rocha and How Tasty was My Little Frenchman by Nelson Pereira dos Santos.


There are multiple ways to transpose censorship, one of which is to be independent from it financially and find sponsoring opportunities outside.

In general, Alejandro Jodorowsky is one of the most extravagant characters of the 20th century. His artistic practices, be it theatre or cinema, transposed the borders not only of the laws but also those of the morals. He made his spectator and people who would follow his work reimagine the frames of good or bad, taking us to a new level of ecstasy and horror. 

Black and White photograph portrait of film director  Alejandro Jodorowsky

Around the 1960s, Jodorowsky, Arrabal, and Topor formed what came to be called the Panic Movement. A trio that would create happening, performances, and plays driven by the desire to disrupt the whole concept of reason. This movement aimed to portray the unique landscape of culture and arts in Mexico City, yet it never overlooked the political climate. At the same time, Jodorowsky and Arrabal collaborated on a movie “Fando Y Lis” screened at a festival in Acapulco following the police massacre in Mexico City. The film was so disturbing that it caused a riot:

“a riot erupted in the theatre during the showing of the film. Jodorowsky received death threats from other directors and the general public. In fact, he fled in his limousine while onlookers threw stones and bottles at the car.” [1]

The Holy Mountain had at its least stirred up a wave of indignation from the critics and at its most caused riots and forced the director to leave Mexico. If you have never seen the film, it starts with a heavy critique of the police government that was ruling the country at the time. It portrays the state as ignorant of social problems and thirsty for the blood of the civilians, a state that sells its culture to the tourists and does not feed the locals.
While the film was in the making, Jodorowsky was threatened, so he had to flee Mexico and finish the film in the US and Europe. The only thing that saved the film from never seeing the world was that it was funded by Allen Klein and other instances not related to the Mexican government.

film poster for the movie The Holy Mountain, directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Jodorowsky finished the film and returned to Mexico when it was already being screened across Europe and the United States:

“I went back to Mexico, and I asked for a hearing with the minister who remained angry with me for having taken my team and leaving Mexico. Offering the press clippings, I told him, “See what my film did for Mexico? They talk about it around the world.” [2]

[1]: Ken Martin, “Mexico City, Koans, and the Zen Buddhist Master: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Ejo Takata and 35 the Fundamental Lesson of the Death of the Intellect,” TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World 8, no. 3 (2018),, 115

[2]: Jodorowsky, Alejandro. Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotheraphy, Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT, 2010, p. 50.

USSR and Modern-Day Russia

When censorship falls, artists start to openly experiment with the new styles, themes, and genres that were not available to them before or which would endanger their artistic career or life in general.

The wind of changes felt like the first warm day in spring. Artists started to feel drunk with the slight taste of freedom they got for the first time in almost a century, and people started doing things that were unimaginable before.

A still from the film Assa, Directed by Solovyev. Five men all holding musical instruments are wrapped together with a red cloth.

Solovyev filled his cinema with symbolism that even ten years before would serve him if not jail time, then strict attention from the government. Now, everything was possible, or at least it seemed like it. He entered the stage with new obnoxious characters (like the strange neighbour woman in the Black Rose is an emblem of sorrow, Red rose is an emblem of Love; or Banana-boy in Assa) — those who would represent a new reality, internationality, a fresh perspective, the excitement about the new world.
He would use images of the former leaders as a mockery of the regimes (e.g. Mural of Brezhnev in Assa symbolising the past that is still present in society) and choose surrealism and vibrant colour to make fun of the everyday problems society was still facing (e.g. The floating alcoholic roommate scene in Black Rose is an emblem of sorrow, Red rose is an emblem of Love). Many more would experiment with the boundaries of what was now possible. It was a short but fruitful period that represented hope for a better future, expressed by many artists in cinema and outside of it.

still from a movie  Black Rose is an emblem of sorrow, Red rose is an emblem of Love. Directed by Dolovyev.


It is interesting to see the moment of the rise of creativity in arts in a crisis moment in society, in a period of big change. Great art can only be contained until it explodes. There is always going to be a desire for something better, and creators are always going to find ways to talk about the unsatisfying realities they are facing. What we discussed here proves that in the controlling political climate, directors choose to move violently through the borders that censorship and society impose on them. Often, it is met with resistance from the masses, yet it is a crucial moment in the creation of new historical and cinematic identities in culture.

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