Dzi Croquettes: Film Review

Dzi Croquettes Film Still - P 2011

Dzi Croquettes Film Still - P 2011

Lively doc about a Brazilian cross-dressing troupe should have been a lot more illuminating.

Directed by Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez, the doc pays tribute to a cross-dressing group of performers in Brazil who may have modeled themselves on the Cockettes.

A decade ago, a well received documentary called The Cockettes chronicled the impact of a San Francisco-based troupe of drag performers during the 1960s and '70s.  Now Dzi Croquettes, directed by Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez, pays tribute to a similar group of performers in Brazil who may have modeled themselves on the Cockettes. But the Croquettes were making a more highly charged political statement because they emerged during a time of extreme repression in Brazil. A military government took over the country in 1964, and new laws passed in 1968 placed severe limits on artistic freedom. So the Croquettes were defying governmental restrictions as well as the mores of the time.

The most compelling sections of the new documentary are the early scenes recounting some of this history and juxtaposing the repressive mood in the country with the group’s uninhibited underground performances. Unfortunately, the film does not sustain its momentum, which means that it will have only very limited exposure in theaters (it opens in Los Angeles on Friday and in New York a week later), though the interview material with Liza Minnelli, a champion of the group during the '70s, will stir some audience interest.

Once the film has sketched the political backdrop, it turns into a portrait of a number of the performers, including Lennie Dale, a Brooklyn-born dancer who moved to Brazil and helped to found the troupe. Their shows were not typical drag shows. The men wore scanty women’s clothes but also exposed their hairy chests and muscular bodies, so they cultivated a more cheeky androgynous tone than standard female impersonators. As a number of interviewees suggest, the Croquettes helped to launch the gay liberation movement in Brazil, and when the troupe traveled abroad, they became a sensation in Paris, performing in the same theater where Josephine Baker had established her following. Eventually AIDS claimed the lives of several of the performers, including Dale, though some of them survive and are interviewed in the film.

The footage of their performances from the '70s have a rather shoddy technical quality, but audiences can still appreciate the impudence and energy that the dancers exuded. A few dozen musicians, actors, and directors share their reminiscences on camera, but many of their comments are fairly superficial. Although the film recounts an intriguing slice of social history, it is too haphazard and repetitive to be truly memorable.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 11 (Tria Productions).
Director-Producers: Tatiana Issa, Raphael Alvarez.
Executive producers: Bob Cline, Tatiana Issa, Raphael Alvarez.
Director of photography: Jorge Galo.
Music: Claudio Lins, Claudio Tovar.
Editor: Raphael Alvarez.
No rating, 98 minutes.