This article looks at Brazilian films from two periods—the late 1960s and the last three years—in order to compare the ways in which they elaborate two moments of defeat for the Left: the 1964 military coup against João Goulart and the 2016 impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Its focus is not only the stories the films tell about these historical junctures but also the way they implicate or fail to implicate themselves and their audience in those stories; in other words, the depth of the self-scrutiny they propose and the incisiveness of their diagnosis of the Left. Paying special attention to Glauber Rocha’s 1967 Land Entranced and Petra Costa’s 2018 The Edge of Democracy, the author argues that the recent crop of documentaries tend to be much less critical than the films produced around 1968 and suggests some explanations for that. Among those is the way the memory of the struggle against the dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s is mobilized today with inverted signs, establishing dubious parallels between the two moments. Due to these critical deficits, these films risk hindering a collective working through of defeat by reinforcing an understanding of what counts as political “realism” that prevents a clear-eyed assessment of the recent past and limits the imagination of future possibilities.

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