'My Own Private Hell' ('Inferninho'): Film Review | Rotterdam 2018

Courtesy of International Film Festival Rotterdam
Has sufficient offbeat charm to carve a cultish little niche.

Yuri Yamamoto stars in Pedro Diogenes and Guto Parente's directorial collaboration, premiering in a sidebar at the long-running Dutch event.

A tender tribute to louche losers and last-chance saloons everywhere, Pedro Diogenes and Guto Parente's My Own Private Hell (Inferninho) unfolds almost entirely within the confines of the seedy, gay-friendly Brazilian bar which provides its Portuguese-language title. Cramped in terms of setting and budget alike, it's a miniature with a big heart that should prove a popular pick for LGBT events in the wake of its world premiere at Rotterdam.

The rough-edged Dutch port is an ideal launching point for a story set in an unspecified coastal city (presumably Rio) which kicks off with the arrival on the scene of a footloose sailor, Jarbas (Demick Lopes). Hailed as a passable lookalike for Sean Penn, the easygoing dude immediately catches the eye of world-weary transvestite proprietor Deusimar (Yuri Yamamoto).

Jarbas is cordially welcomed by the other denizens of this shady niterie —  many of whom visit in elaborate, fantastical costumes, including superhero/heroine garb (watch out for the bearded Wonder Woman and a chubby Wolverine). Most eye-catching in the ensemble is Coelho ("Rabbit"), played by co-scriptwriter Rafael Martins, a worrywart whose pink-bunny outfit endows proceedings with a through-the-looking-glass vibe.

Resident chanteuse Luizianne (Samya de Lavor) sets the tone for the bar and the film alike, this incongruously glamorous young woman warbling a string of torchy numbers which punctuate the action. What she lacks in terms of vocal control and pitch she more than makes up for with plentiful emotion: It's evident that, in her own eyes, at least, Luizianne is the Aaliyah of the Rio waterfront.

The flimsy plot revolves around nefarious developers' plans to demolish the bar, while further complications are provided by Jarbas' former shipmates turning up in pursuit of unpaid debts. But narrative is less important than character and mood, detailing how the marginalized club together to form a self-supporting little community, a family of freaks in a bar that provides a shady, gaudy backdrop for parodically torrid melodrama. Thanks to Jarbas, flinty, sad-eyed Deusimar grasps what may be a final chance of happiness after a life of romantic disappointment ("I've had more than a few affairs, but never true love").

Diogenes and Parente — whose previous collaborations include 2011's At the Wrong Place — wear their influences on their grubbily tattered but defiantly spangly sleeves, with My Own Private Hell (even the title is a nod to Gus Van Sant) slotting into a nanobudget-showbiz subgenre alongside the likes of Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales and John Cassavetes' Killing of a Chinese Bookie. The campy-grimy aesthetic and artificial theatricality, meanwhile, borrows several pages from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Querelle playbook.

Such homages will doubtless strike appropriate chords with the target audience, in a film which breaks no new ground thematically or formally but which scores by detailing its bizarro gallery of characters with palpable sympathy throughout. The directors' approach is even more location-restricted than their cinematic predecessors, the sole "excursion" from the Inferninho being an amusing back-projected sequence depicting Deusimar's whirlwind tour of global tourism hotspots.

Originally conceived as a stage-play collaboration between a film collective and a theatrical troupe, My Own Private Hell combines the rambunctious poetry of the dingy demi-monde with a streak of sardonic humor that enables Parente (also responsible for Rotterdam 2018 highlight The Cannibal Club) and Diogenes to transcend evident financial limitations.  

Production companies: Marrevolto, Tardo, Bagaceira
Cast: Yuri Yamamoto, Demick Lopes, Samya De Lavor, Rafael Martins, Tatiana Amorim, Paulo Ess, Galba Nogueira
Directors: Pedro Diogenes, Guto Parente
Screenwriters: Pedro Diogenes, Rafael Martins, Guto Parente
Producers: Caroline Louise, Rogerio Mesquita, Guto Parente, Amanda Pontes
Cinematographer: Victor De Melo
Production designer: Tais Augusto
Editor: Victor Costa Lopes
Composers: Vitor Colares, Felipe Lima
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Bright Future)
Sales: Embauba Filmes, Sao Paulo, Brazil

In Portuguese
81 minutes