Female Monstrosity & Revolt in The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly (1978)

by: , February 6, 2024

The Cinemateca Brasileira, the main body responsible for storing and restoring films in Brazil, has had its collection put at risk after years of discontinued public funding, policies, flooding and fires. Yet Brazilian cinema survives. In May 2022, the Cinemateca reopened, and since then, it has been doing a wonderful job with the public, screening classic films and holding previews, as well as plans to restore the most fragile collection, including cellulose nitrate film. Rosângela Maldonado, director of A mulher que põe a pomba no ar/The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly (1978) and A deusa de mármore: escrava do Diabo/The Marble Goddess: Devil’s Slave (1978) is also a survivor. After decades spent in radio, television, theatre and film in the 1950s and 1960s, she disappeared from the media and decided to write, produce, and direct her own films so that she could return to acting.

In 1982, Elice Munerato and Maria Helena Darcy de Oliveira co-authored As musas da matinê/The Muses of the Matinee, the first book published about Brazilian female directors. The researchers jointly analysed all the films directed by women in Brazil until then (evidently those that had copies available), systematically identifying some of the most frequent subjects in all of them. Maldonado’s The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly was included for analysis in the book. As it is a collective analysis in a short book, the authors do not make extensive comments on films; rather, they offer a thematic, descriptive exercise. However, the book is a seminal work, since this is the first effort applied in favour of a historiography of Brazilian filmmakers. In the 1970s, the following women directed twelve feature films: Vanja Orico, Lenita Perroy, Tereza Trautman, Rose Lacreta, Vera de Figueiredo, Luna Alkalay, Ana Carolina and Maldonado.  Of these directors, Maldonado was the first female director to consciously make a Brazilian horror film.

Why, then, even with the growing interest in the subject of women horror directors, does Maldonado remain an unknown figure with virtually no published knowledge about her? Perhaps it is because both of her films are ‘pornochanchadas’ (comedic sexploitation films) made in Boca do Lixo. The Boca do Lixo cinema cycle was a precarious, but independent and profitable, production scheme that took place mainly in the 1970s in an eponymous region of the city of São Paulo. ‘Boca’ films had appealing elements such as eroticism, violence, and flashy titles, often with sexually connotative puns. For many years, pornochanchadas were viewed with contempt by critics and the academic community for their popular appeal. Another reason for the lack of interest in Maldonado could be the difficulty in accessing her works. According to searches in newspaper collections, The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly seems to have remained in theatres longer than The Marble Goddess: Devil’s Slave, which probably has not been shown again since its release in the late 1970s. The Marble Goddess is currently inaccessible online: the film is locked in the archives of the Cinemateca Brasileira, and its current condition of preservation remains a mystery.

Maldonado’s films were received with antipathy by Brazilian critics, who gave them very negative reviews. The few critics who wrote about The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly had, generally, a sexist approach, commenting rudely on the physical appearance of Rosângela Maldonado, who was ‘too old for the role.’ One article in particular though, by critic Jean-Claude Bernardet, is worthy of attention. Entitled ‘Simply one more taking over the system, Bernardet offers a brief historical review of women in cinema, arguing that they were usually portrayed as sexual objects on screen, and when they occupied technical positions, they were only entrusted with secondary tasks, with the main roles reserved for men. Given this history, Bernardet reflects upon the strangeness of seeing, among the pornochanchadas of the week, a film directed by a woman: The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly. How, he wondered, would this film differ from one directed by a man? He concludes that there was absolutely no distinction: the ingredients were the same, especially the moral rule of pornochanchadas.

This is in part true. The film does have a moral conclusion, with the women offenders regretting their actions and wishing to maintain harmony and order in their homes (and, consequently, society). The film also reproduces prejudices against social minorities and female objectification as it is a sexploitation film. However there is also a valuable perspective on women in Brazilian society at the time. Women are almost always represented as the target of an invasive and, not infrequently, sadistic and brutal gaze. Yet, in the 1970s, a significant number of Brazilian sexploitation films began to represent women as sexual predators and murderers, a response to the previous cycle of films in which they were victims. The approach was well received by the public and this encouraged filmmakers to produce more films with monstrous women. In her PhD thesis Medo de quê?: uma história do horror nos filmes brasileiro (2008), Laura Cánepa observes this as a transgressive phenomenon, and frames the female condition in a discussion from a self-critical and ‘revanchist’ bias, which went some way to changing the representation of women in Brazilian sexploitation films. Cánepa argues that pornochanchada can reveal interesting social and cultural concerns, processes and aspirations. For example, the marital conflicts represented in The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly could be related to the discussions leading up to, and the implementation of the Brazilian divorce law in 1977.

In recent years, a digitised version of The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly has been made available online. This digitised version, the only one available, has a timecode at the bottom of the screen, which I decided to keep, reiterates the problem of access to Brazilian films, that almost never found space in the domestic market of DVD and Blu-Ray. This precariousness of the material also led me to go through excerpts of films in which Maldonado acted, but which were not directed by her. These works are compiled in the first part of the video essay and, I believe, function as a kind of preamble to Maldonado’s career as an actress, an equally ignored topic. This video essay and critical reflection thus makes an important contribution to deepening our understanding of Brazilian film history, horror film, and the history of women directors. Barbara Creed (2022) points out that a characteristic of contemporary women’s horror cinema is the representation of female monstrosity as a way of inspiring women’s revolt. Yet, forty-five years earlier, in an industry dominated by male filmmakers and sexism, Maldonado was able to put forward a depiction of female monstrosity that envisaged its liberatory potential.


Abreu, Nuno Cesar Pereira de (2002), Boca do Lixo: cinema e classes populares, São Paulo: UNICAMP.

Bernardet, Jean-Claude (1978), ‘Simplesmente mais um encampando o sistema’, Última hora, September 8 1978, Cinemateca Brasileira.

Cánepa, Laura Loguercio (2008). Medo de quê?: uma história do horror nos filmes brasileiros, São Paulo: UNICAMP.

Cánepa, Laura Loguercio (2009), ‘Pornochanchada do avesso: o caso das mulheres monstruosas em filmes de horror da Boca do Lixo’, E-compós, Vol.12, no. 1, https://doi.org/10.30962/ec.358

Creed, Barbara (2022), Return of the Monstruous-Feminine: Feminist New Wave Cinema, Routledge: New York.

Holanda, Karla & Marina Cavalcanti Tedesco (2017), Feminino e plural: Mulheres no cinema brasileiro, Campinas: Papirus.

Lusvarghi, Luiza & Camila Vieira da Silva (2019), Mulheres atrás das câmeras: as cineastas brasileiras de 1930 a 2018, São Paulo: Estação Liberdade.

Munerato, Elice & Maria Helena Darcy de Oliveira (1982), As musas da matinê, Rio de Janeiro: RioArte.


A deusa de mármore: escrava do Diabo/The Marble Goddess: Devil’s Slave (1978), dir. Rosângela Maldonado.

A mulher que põe a pomba no ar/The Woman Who Makes Doves Fly (1978), dir. Rosângela Maldonado.

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