The action of the movie takes place in the sertao, the desertified Northeast backlands of Brazil, that is traditionally beyond the rule of law, and that was the site of some of most enduring folklore. The sertao is the region of myth, encapsulated by the historical world of progress symbolized by the highway. The tale employs the cast of folklore characters: the colonel of the ranch; his mistress; the colonel's sidekick; the colonel's enforcer; local bandits (typical of the gangs that grew up in the region either as enforcers or as rural poor abandoned by a patron who lost a local battle); a group of millenialists (similarly, typical of groups of disenfranchised rural poor); the local teacher, a dependent of the colonel. «Antonio das Mortes» is a character at at war with himself.
«The very sound of this film title suddenly takes me back to my 1968s. Glauber Rocha was for politically engaged young filmmakers like myself one of those cult directors whose films we also tried to imitate because of their visually anarchic power. But finding the Brazilian "grandeza" in our own country proved futile.»― Fredi M. Murer