Invisible Cities – Bernardo de Britto

Don’t kill yourself, there will be carnival next year

by Bernardo de Britto

Rio de Janeiro is not only the city that “invented Carnival”, but it is a city invented by it. For one week around the months of February and March, in contrast with all other days of the year, the city seems to operate in function of its population. While in the sambadrome [1] samba schools frequently present their parades about imaginary worlds, invented places and utopian legends of the eldorados, in the streets the people reinvent the city in their favor.

The transformations already start to appear weeks before the the keys to the city are handed over to King Momo[2]. We see sidings and temporary bleachers being built all over, suggesting new ways of moving around and appreciating the city. And it is like this, little by little, as chemical toilets appear on the shore of Ipanema beach and bleachers are raised at Intendente Magalhães that the city’s distances begin to diminish.

This overthrowing of the invisible frontiers between the different neighborhoods of Rio remains until Ash Wednesday. When the streets are closed to cars, public transport is used by everyone. The streets of the clóvis and bate-bolas [3] are used for whatever is necessary at that moment. It may be a bathroom for an unprepared reveler, a motel for quick encounters, a bed for someone who does not want to waste time going home or a catwalk for the blocos[4] that are all over the city.

The divided city folds in half, it needs to be used by all in its most central region. The population is not working, there are no schedules, bosses or bills to be paid. Order is subverted, what was taboo before becomes a watchword during carnival. The men dressed as women are sensual, women and gay men are judged less for being sexual beings and the favela [5] comes down the hill to be side by side with the city’s elite in the crowded bloco.

In the sambadrome the communities, representing their samba schools, try to express the heat of the streets in their spectacles. The outlandish plots, that range from Egypt to the discovery of Brazil, usually ending up in carnival when successful, are always a great metaphor for the life of the people who work all year to see their work exhibited in a city modified for (and by) them.

During carnival, Rio de Janeiro is an invisible city, idealized by its people, which becomes real for a brief period of time. A delirium of a population that wants to call the public space theirs, living these few days intensely; and if the city will soon be taken out of the hands of these people, if everything will end on Wednesday, then let it be an apotheosis of freedom, colors, scents, music, sex, joy and beer cans on the floor.

Bernardo de Britto Ribeiro (1986) has a Bachelor degree in Film from Universidade Estácio de Sá and a specialization in Arts and Philosophy from PUC-RJ. He worked in art production at TV Globo from 2009 to 2012. He participated in the research group “The Image of the Body and the Body as Image: The Work of Matthew Barney”, and “Expanded Cinema and the Female Body”. He worked as the art director of the short films “Toque” (2006), directed by Renata Doné “Dora” (2007), by Rodrigo Schulz and “Onda”, by Pedro Modesto. He currently produces his own video works.


[1] Parade area built for carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

[2] The king of carnival

[3] Typical carnival costume

[4] Group of merrymakers

[5] Slums