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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

This week at SFC: Madame Sata


Fernandes Industrial Centre
Eastern Main Road

STUDIOFILMCLUB is located in the front foyer space of building 7.

Our screenings are FREE and all are welcome to.
Thursday April 9th
Start time 8:15pm

Legendary criminal. Proud homosexual. Cabaret star.Capoeira expert.Passionate lover. Killer. Devoted father of seven adopted children. Saint or devil? Madame Satã.

Madame Satã (Karim Ainouz/2002/Brazil/103')

''I'm a queen by choice,'' the defiant title character of ''Madame Sata'' furiously retorts to a gay-baiting drunk in the dingy Rio de Janiero bar where he has just driven a packed house into a euphoric frenzy with an extravagant drag performance. ''It doesn't make me less of a man.''

It is 1932 in the impoverished bohemian neighborhood Lapa, home to pimps, prostitutes, thieves and misfits of every stripe. And Joao Francisco dos Santos (La¡zaro Ramos), the lean, fiery-eyed street (capioera) fighter and prostitute who transforms himself into Madame Sata, a glittering transvestite singer, storyteller and Brazilian answer to his idol, Josephine Baker, has just begun to feel his show business oats.

His feverish act, driven by the sizzle of samba, is a strutting, writhing celebration of the body during which sweat pours off his rippling torso, and the exotic fantasies he spins in songs and stories match the wildest inventions of Scheherezade. The names of his stage alter egos -- The Negress of the Bulacochac, Jamacy the Queen of the Forest, St. Rita of the Coconut Tree -- names worthy of a Jack Smith fever dream, speak for themselves.

The movie doesn't pretend to be a meticulous biography of the real Francisco, who was born in 1900 to slaves in the wasteland of North Brazil and was sold by his mother at 7. It is a voluptuous, hot-blooded portrait of a social outcast, a black, homosexual criminal who in acting out his gaudiest Hollywood dreams, transcendently reinvented himself. (The stage name Madame Sata was an homage to Cecil B. DeMille's film ''Madame Satan.'')

The film also creates a romantic vision of a bygone urban demimonde with many resemblances to Jean Genet's Parisian underworld. After making his cabaret debut in the early 30's, Francisco rose to become a nightclub legend who never really calmed down. Before his death in 1976 he was imprisoned many times; he spent 27 years behind bars.

Mr. Ramos's incendiary performance burns like a fuse, lighted from deep inside his skin, that explodes with devastating emotional fireworks. When first glimpsed, he is a bedraggled, newly arrested prisoner charged with a crime whose nature isn't revealed until near the end of the film. From here the story drops back nearly a year to show Francisco soaking in stage magic in his job as the dresser and assistant to Vitória (Renata Sorrah), a European cabaret singer whose act he worshipfully pantomimes backstage while she performs it.

We also meet Francisco's unorthodox extended family: Laurita (Marcaclia Cartaxo), a tough, jolly prostitute and sometime partner in crime; her baby (in real life Francisco adopted eight children); and the couple's giggly live-in servant, Taboo, an effeminate male prostitute who sews Madame Sata's gowns.

At home Francisco is the slave-driving master of his decrepit house. With his slicked-back bush of hair pomaded to gleaming perfection, he conveys an imperious macho authority that his androgynous coiffure and plucked eyebrows only enhance. Francisco is also a practiced street fighter with highly developed martial arts skills who when affronted is quick to wield a razor or aim a gun.

When Francisco meets Renatinho (Felipe Marques), the handsome petty thief who becomes his lover and whom he fawningly calls his ''Indian prince,'' he pursues him into a restroom and the two glare at each other eye to eye like cowboys girding for a final showdown. Once they're out on the street, Renatinho begs Francisco to teach him how to fight. And their sex, a rapacious, lightning-fast duel of jabs and parries, is charged with violence. Their explosive passion does not generate trust. No sooner have they finished making love than Renatinho, true to his profession, steals money from Francisco, who angrily catches him in the act.

''Madame Sata,'' the formidable first feature film of Karim Ainouz, is told as a series of impressionistic flashes into the heart of this flaming creature and his world of proud, nocturnal parasites. Life in Lapa is lived to the full and lived for the moment, and its dizzying highs are as ferocious as its spasms of violence. After Francisco and Taboo run a scam in which Francisco robs a mark, and a panicked Taboo bursts in to announce a phony police raid that sends the client running, the two collapse in mad, hysterical laughter.

Francisco cannot tolerate rejection. When he and his household are refused entry to a nightclub for being lowlifes, he flies into a rage and starts a brawl. He confides to Laurita that he feels increasingly consumed by a rage he can't explain. Performing turns out to be a powerful antidote to that anger. And after his initial triumph he declares that for the first time in his life, he is truly happy.

Filmed in rich high contrast that turns the streets of Lapa into an ominous shadowland, ''Madame Sata'' is no exotic tour of the slums of Rio. It takes you deeper into the soul of its title character and his desperate world than you imagined a movie could go.


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