Tattoo (Tatuagem): Rio De Janeiro Review

A chaotic, melancholy homage to alternative theater that fizzes with the spirit of period transgression.

Hilton Lacerda’s film debut is a lively take on the conflict between the straight establishment and the gay avant garde in late '70s Brazil, and won a clutch of awards at the recent Rio festival.

The spirit of Fassbinder lives on in Hilton Lacerda's Tattoo, at once an homage to the anarchist theater scene in late 1970s Brazil, a portrait of a society on the edge of change, and a punchy critique of Latin American homophobia. As drama, Tattoo tells an often-told story, but it does achieve a distinctive air of controlled chaos, managing to be both bouncy and thought-provoking in an unsubtle kind of way. Having picked up several awards in Rio, Tattoo should go on to leave its mark at festivals where the gay and the political meet. Its five Rio awards included best actor and best supporting actor.

Thoughtful, troubled Clecio (Irandhir Santos) runs an alternative theater group in 1978 Pernambuco, based on a real theater group of the time, with the end of the dictatorship still a few years away. The star of the show is the screamingly camp, couldn’t-care-less and totally immature transvestite Paulete (Rodrigo Garcia), and its content ranges from the homoerotic bawdy to the Marxist poetry readings of Professor Joubert (Silvio Restiffe). Clecio’s partner is Deusa (Sylvia Prado), with whom he has a son, Tuca (Deyvid Queiroz de Morais).

Well-scrubbed young soldier Finhina (Jesuita Barbosa -- the character’s name is Arlindo, but he’s credited with the feminine name his fellow recruits have baptized him with) is a victim of homophobic attacks at the barracks. Bisexual, he lives with a frighteningly conservative family presided over by the fearsome Aunt Zozima (Auriceia Fraga) and is going out with Paulete’s sister Jandira (Bruna Barros). One night Finhina finds his way to the theater and into the arms of Clecio.

As long as the worlds of the barracks (sample quote: “We respect our mothers, but we love our country”) and the world of the theater (“jealousy is the first mode of capitalist possession”) are separate, things sort of work. But the arrival of Finhina creates all sorts of problems, among them the jealousy of Paulete and the annoyance of Deusa, who wishes her son would avoid all contact with the military. Things inevitably escalate as the double standards of Brazilian society, then and now, are exposed: Lacerda’s script is careful to remind us that there is no sector of society that is exclusively gay or straight. (More radically, it also suggests that the same is true of individuals, though they might not know it.)

The plot is intercut with lengthy sequences of the shows themselves, which are a homage to the spirit of those times. Bawdy without ever being obscene, they are colorful Rabelaisian affairs designed to offer their audiences of the time a new perspective -- “we bring the razor’s edge today”, Clecio explains, “so that the people will bring the grammar tomorrow”. The shows occupy close to half of the running time, which is just indulgent, but at least a variety of different moods are represented. The virtuoso close-in camerawork of Ivo Lopes Araujo does bring the viewer palpably into the action, while the hilarious lengthy final sequence, with its exclusive focus on one portion of the human anatomy, is well worth waiting for.

The sizeable cast throws itself uninhibitedly into roles which a priori require a lack of inhibition, but the much-lauded actor Santos stands out, convincing across a range of registers stretching from the tremblingly intimate at the one extreme to gaily inserting flowers between his buttocks at the other. His is the performance that straddles the two worlds portrayed, and is thus the emotional core. By contrast, Fininha may be the engine of the drama, but he’s an underdeveloped character whose potentially rich inner life is barely explored; Barbosa, who took best actor at Rio for his performance, struggles to prevent him from coming over as a little flat.

For the record, there is some full frontal nudity, while the sex is non-explicit.

Production: Rec Produtores Associados
Cast: Irandhir Santos, Jesuita Barbosa, Rodrigo Garcia, Sylvia Prado, Silvio Restiffe, Sylvia Prado, Deyvid Queiroz de Morais, Auriceia Fraga, Bruna Barros
Director, screenwriter: Hilton Lacerda
Screenwriter: Goifman, Jean-Claude Bernardet
Producers: Joao Vieira Jr., Chico, Chico Ribeiro, Ofir Figueiredo
Executive Producer: Nara Aragao
Director of Photography: Ivo Lopes Araujo
Production Designer: Reneta Pinheiro
Music: Dj Dolores
Editor: Mair Tavares
Olivia Brenga
Sales: Imovision
No Rating, 110 Minutos