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    Madame Sata

    Rio bravo

    The story of the Brazilian drag pioneer "Madam Satč" is no prettified fashionfest — it's a muscular, animalistic romp through the Rio de Janeiro underworld of the 1930s.


    "Madame Satč" is a movie with the wrong name. The title comes from the stage name of Brazil's most famous drag queen of the Rio de Janeiro Carnaval. But viewers expecting to see a Brazilian version of "To Wong Foo" or "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" will be surprised, maybe even a little shocked. Those movies about drag queens were fairly clean, tame and feminine. "Madame Satč" couldn't be any more different.

    Written and directed by: Karim Ainouz.
    Cast: Lázaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui, Felipe Marques, Emiliano Queiroz, Renata Sorrah, Giovana Barbosa, Ricardo Blat, Guilherme Piva, Marcelo Valle.
    Cinematography: Walter Carvalho.
    In Portuguese with English subtitles.
    Human Rights Watch International Film Festival 2003
  • Overview
  • I'm Taraneh, 15
  • Ford Transit
  • Jiyan
  • Madame Satč
  • Pinochet's Children
  • Rana's Wedding

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  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2001

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  • Perhaps "Before "Madame Satč' " would be a more appropriate title, since the film is about the story of Jočo Francisco dos Santos before he became the famous carnival dancer of the 1940s, named after Cecil B. De Mille's film "Madame Satan." Director/writer Karim Aēnouz invites the audience to be a fly on the wall of the underbelly of the bohemian Lapa district of Rio de Janeiro in the 1930s, and into the dirty, raw and very masculine world of the movie's main character and impromptu family.

    Jočo Francisco — portrayed masterfully by cinema newcomer Lázaro Ramos — is a muscular, quick-tempered, testosterone-pumped and overwhelmingly male "queen."

    The film begins with the open lips and wide eyes of Jočo Francisco from behind what seems to be a crown of beads. He is mouthing the words as if they were his own, rather than being sung by a woman burlesque stage artist to a drunk and rowdy audience. In those moments Jočo Francisco is, in his own mind, the star.

    But the scene quickly turns. Vitória dos Anjos (Renata Sorrah) comes off stage, tosses her shawl at Jočo Francisco and demands her next costume. As her stage dresser he quietly he quietly submits to her verbal abuse while she scoffs at his praise of her routine — at least this time.

    The rest of Jočo's life is anything but submissive. He lives in a flat with a makeshift "family" of fellow underworld bohemians. Laurita (Marcelia Cartaxo), Jočo's best friend, is a prostitute with a brash laugh and less-than-motherly instincts towards her infant daughter. The real "mother" of the family is Taboo (Flavio Bauraqui), a transvestite with a flair for cooking, sewing and general housekeeping. The one-year-old Firmina (Giovanna Barbosa) is often seen in the motherly arms of either Taboo as nanny or Jočo Francisco as adoptive father. Jočo rules the house, Taboo tends to it, and Laurita fits in somewhere in between.

    Madame Sata  
    Jočo Francisco has no need for anything feminine. Laurita may be his best friend, but he's attracted to men, not women. Nor does he like the tenderness of a homosexual like Taboo. Jočo Francisco is a man's man, and wants the same. One night in the Blue Danube, the local bar, he sets his sights on Renatinho (Felippe Marques), makes a pass at him in the bathroom, and eventually seduces him in the paint-stripped bedroom of his home.

    The sex in "Madame Satč" resembles X-rated versions of "Wild Kingdom" more than tame love scenes. Jočo Francisco makes love like he lives life — with anger, passion, fire and a primordial hunger that is more reminiscent of big-game cats than humans. He is a sleek black puma, and the rest of the world is his prey.

    One lover, Renatinho, is welcomed into the lair. Another — a paying John who speaks in code when he asks for "a sister who looks like you, has thighs like you" and sticks his tongue down Jočo's throat — becomes a target for Jočo Francisco and Taboo's mischief. Taboo breaks into the room screeching that the police are on a house-by-house search for a murderer. The client flees, and they laugh after the middle-class man runs out with his shirt in his hands and pants undone ∑ and missing his cash-filled wallet that he'll never report stolen.

    It's apparent that these three — Jočo, Taboo and Laurita — could have continued to live quite contently for years in Lapa, making money through prostitution, thievery and other odd jobs. But Jočo has an inhuman temper. "You're like a wild animal, banging its head against a wall," Laurita cries in desperation after witnessing Jočo's rage.

    One evening at the cabaret Jočo is caught trying on one of the singer's costumes, and she nags and belittles him like a hellish grandmother to a small child. He finally has had enough. He fights back verbally against her, throws a few props around the dressing room, then goes to the bartender and quits. But he won't leave until he's paid what he's owed — two months of wages. Jočo ends up leaving with his money after using his knife and capoeira-style street-fighting skills on the goons at the bar. But the matter doesn't end there. Jočo is eventually arrested for stealing from the cabaret owner and serves some time in jail.

    After getting out he's inspired to do his own show, and convinces bar-owner Amador (Emiliano Queiroz) to perform at the Blue Danube. The show is a smashing success and Amador and Jočo discuss continuing the performances that will eventually make him famous, until Jočo's anger gets the better of him once again.

    First-time feature director Ainouz apparently took years to write the script and assemble the cast and crew, and the fermentation of the project is apparent. The cinematography by Walter Carvalho, with its handheld camera techniques and overexposed footage, brilliantly brings the grit of underworld Rio to life and enhances the superb acting.

    "Madame Satč" takes place in foreign territory lost today even to Brazilians, but feels utterly honest and real. There aren't many Brazilian films that make the translation to the U.S. market, but those that do ("Pixote," "Central Station") are often hard looks at the difficult life of the common people. "Madame Satč" joins them.

    JULY 19, 2003

    Reader comments on Madame Sata:

  • Dignity for all   from Adhemar, Jul 27, 2003
  • Madame Satč   from Claussius, Sep 19, 2003
  • Re: Madame Satč   from anjelina bolleio, May 24, 2004
  • Re: Madame Satč   from Adhemar, Feb 6, 2005
  • Re: Madame Satč   from Ilconde, Feb 7, 2005
  • One of the best films ever made   from Paul Beppler, Dec 5, 2004
  • Re: One of the best films ever made   from Ilconde, Feb 6, 2005
  • Where he is buried?   from Ilconde, Feb 6, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Madame Sata"