Lying fevered in a hospital bed, a once-revolutionary mid-19th century Brazilian general sees his compromised life parade before him. Pic’s central conceit contrasts the hallucinatory dark night of the soul (lenser Roberto Henkin deploying enough veiled netting and velvety shadows to make von Sternberg proud) with the harsh light of history. Lacking the rigor of Rossellini’s historical minimalism, pic relies heavily on the beauty of Brazilian landscapes and of its dashing long-haired lead (Werner Schunemann) to fill in huge gaps where action should be. “Netto” looks unlikely to travel north of the border.
Earliest flashback scenes find Netto leading an army of largely black troops bent on liberation. A teenage black slave, Milonga, saves Netto’s life only to wind up, campaigns later, lame and embittered, and intent on assassinating Netto. Primal turning-point sees Netto’s faithful sergeant, himself a slave, torn by conflicting loyalties to Milonga and the general. A few wooden encounters rep pic’s token love story, while bloody amputations performed by a sadistic English surgeon spice up Netto’s hospital stay.