Big Screen Movies

Berlin Int’l Film Festival offers politically charged queer narratives

A still from Tinta Bruta.  

In a dimly lit room, Pedro’s body is barely visible. Especially when captured by the grainy lens of a webcam. But as he pops open a bottle of bright paint and seductively applies it over his body, the colours leap out of the screen and so does Neon Boy, Pedro’s online persona.

Vibrant colours have had a close association with queer identity, as is evident in the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ community. In Tinta Bruta (Hard Paint), Brazilian directors Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher use this symbolism to portray both liberation of and control over one’s body.

Pedro is often seen wearing clothes smaller than his frame. It’s not that he is a large man. He is, in fact, as one would call in queer slang, an archetypal “twink”.

According to Reolon, the protagonist’s clothes are emblematic of him outgrowing his heteronormativity. But Pedro is not a cross-dresser. He is an ordinary young man in Southern Brazil’s Porto Alegre, who uses chat-rooms to make money and find companionship.

Hard Paint begins with him being tried in a courtroom, but it refrains from revealing the charges he faces. It appears that he is involved in a traumatic case of violence. He is met with stares as he walks down the street. “You don’t know if they are staring at Pedro because he has committed a crime or because he is gay,” Reolon says.

A still from Obscuro Barroco.

A still from Obscuro Barroco.  

Under the looming shadow of #MeToo, body politics and resistance to patriarchy have been the dominant themes at the Panorama section of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, which concludes today. The Berlinale has been promoting LGBTQ narratives for the past 32 years through the Teddy Awards, which are given to queer-themed films. The Oscar-nominated Chilean dramaUna Mujer Fantástica (A Fantastic Woman), about a transgender widow, won the Teddy last year for Best Feature Film.

Stories of trans people find prominence in this year’s programming as well. At the centre of the French and Greek co-production Obscuro Barroco and Brazilian documentary Bixa Travesty (Tranny Fag) are two trans activists and artists of colour, who use their bodies as political statements against machismo and patriarchy. In Obscuro Barroco, filmmaker Evangelia Kranioti highlights trans activist Luana Muniz’s body using shots that allow details to emerge. There’s ample soft, flattering light and close-ups of Muniz’s long eyelashes, painted nails, brown skin and enlarged breasts. The filmmaker doesn’t flinch from capturing the genitalia of a transvestite performer as she strips on-stage.

A still from Bixa Travesty.

A still from Bixa Travesty.  

“It’s political to love oneself,” says Linn da Quebrada, a pop performer who raises her voice in support of effeminate queer men and transwomen, in Bixa Travesty. Quebrada’s body is fully in her control as she performs on stage, calling herself a woman with a penis. “When people look at me and yell ‘faggot!’, I think, ‘Am I disguising myself? Do I need your reminder?’,” she says. Directors Claudia Priscilla and Kiko Goifman supplement Quebrada’s impudent transexuality with intimate images of nudity, tearing deep into the binaries of the human body.

Martín Rodríguez Redondo’s Marilyn is set in rural Argentina, where a conservative, lower-income family leaves no room for a young man, Marcos, to explore his sexual identity. “Our idea was to show that the society fences in the family, and in turn the boy’s mother fences in her son,” says Redondo. Marcos is never uncomfortable with his homosexuality but is frustrated at having to contain it. Marilyn, therefore, isa coming-of-age film that skips the process of coming to terms with yourself and instead focuses on the question: what comes after being comfortable with homosexuality?

A still from Marilyn.

A still from Marilyn.  

The confines of class play a pivotal role in Tinta Bruta as well. Pedro resorts to chat-room performances for money, which, unexpectedly, helps him develop his sexual identity. Both Reolon and Matzembacher have been extensively involved in queer activism apart from their work as filmmakers. It’s impossible, therefore to talk about Tinta Bruta without addressing the politics around the narrative.

Pedro, for instance, enters a relationship with a gay black man. With a tiny ethnic queer population in Brazil facing a rise in political conservatism, the involvement of a black actor, Bruno Fernandes, was imperative for the filmmakers. “It’s important to see the film through colour, class and race,” observes Fernandes. “If you’re black, fat or ugly, you will face added phobia, even within the gay community.”

Obscuro Barroco,on the other hand,blends trans visibility with anti-government protests in Brazil. Kranioti depicts parallels between the city and Muniz through a series of contradictory images. Both are in a state of constant transition, and are unafraid to express themselves. For Muniz, the human body is a prop; a costume at a perpetual carnival. What better way to illustrate that than capture the lifelessness of papier-mâché idols and cardboard faces, covered in colour and glitter, that lie unused after the protests are done?

Bixa Travesty depicts the impermanence of the human body as it enters a hospital room where Quebrada is being treated for cancer. Her body is stripped of all its adornments as it lies in a state of jeopardy.

The feisty activist is shown to be at her most vulnerable when she could possibly lose the most effective tool of her activism — her body. But through her perseverance and fight against cancer, Bixa Travesty shows that the best activism is a life lived with unrelenting authenticity.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2021 8:48:40 AM |

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