What a Drag Queen
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Madame Satã was a famed transvestite on the Carnival circuit in Rio de Janeiro. He constantly won costume contests, and was a regular fixture in parades and celebrations. He raised the bar when it came to over-the-top. His past is shrouded in mystery, and there are rumors that he once committed murder. His real name was João Francisco dos Santos, and in Karim Aïnoz’s new biopic, “Madame Satã,” we get a potential past of the legend. Unfortunately, the Aïnouz portrait is not pleasant, or, I dare say, interesting.
João (Lázaro Ramos with a frantic and hateful energy, full of action and aggression.) is not a pleasant man. He snaps at everyone, and frequently looks to start fights. In many scenes, he and his friends attempt to enter a few of the posh Rio clubs, and always end up being thrown to the curb by the police. His friends are a kindly mother, Firmina (Giovana Barbosa), and a fey gay man, Taboo (Flavio Bauraqui). These two are kind and understanding, and have a bond with João. But he treats them so poorly, we wonder why they keep him around. He’s also having a rather heated yet private affair with a local boy; an affair that has no future, and indeed, doesn’t seem to have any tenderness. When the two of them make love, it’s not tender. It’s not loving. It’s not even lustful. It seems almost like another form of combat. João also has his obsession with a burlesque performer, Laurita (Marcelia Cartaxo), which, leads to him dressing in the same outfits and performing the same act. The film ends before the birth of Madame Satã, when João commits murder.
Even for those who are familiar with the myth of Madame Satã (name taken from the DeMille film) probably cannot find that over-the-top legend in these proceedings. We instead see a sad, hated gay man, so blinded by rage that he cannot focus on anything else. He spits out, near the end “I’m queer by choice!” as if his mere sexuality was an act of war. It would be comfortable to hear that if we could defend him, but João is so unpleasant, that he seems like just another thug.
N.B. the film was shot by the same team that photographed the beautiful and amazing “City of God.” The look is fantastic.