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.
By MARY BETH BARBER
"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.
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
|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.
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Jočo Francisco portrayed masterfully by cinema newcomer Lázaro
is a muscular, quick-tempered, testosterone-pumped and overwhelmingly
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
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
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
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"
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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|
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