A dog appears on a desolate hilltop. It is followed by the rest of its family: illiterate ranchhand Fabiano (Átila Iório), his wife Vitória (Maria Ribeiro), their two sons (Gilvan and Genivaldo Lima), and a parrot. Baleia the dog hunts cavy, a local rodent that the family eats, and the parrot is itself eaten before we even learn its name. Vultures hover in the trees, and maybe, just maybe, it will rain. A wealthy landowner (Jofre Soares) gives Fabiano a job and then fails to pay him his fair share. One of the sons asks Vitória what hell is, but the family is already there. After filming documentaries in the desert of Brazil's northeast sertão, Nelson Pereira dos Santos returned to make Barren Lives, based on a novel by Graciliano Ramos about an itinerant family in the early '40s. One of the key films of Brazil's socially conscious Cinema Novo movement of the '60s, Barren Lives embodies what another Cinema Novo pioneer, filmmaker Glauber Rocha, called "the aesthetics of hunger." For Pereira dos Santos, there is nothing picturesque or charmingly folkloric about the sertão. Cinematographer Luis Carlos Barreto used high-contrast film stock and unfiltered light to blast the celluloid with sun (the parched ground is often as white as the sky), and the film is scored primarily to the harsh grind of a wagon wheel. Banned in 1964 after a military coup, Barren Lives remains both a stark depiction of poverty and an austere work of art.