The shadow of Terry Gilliam’s darkly humorous sci-fi hangs almost as heavily over the 2014 Brazilian film White Out, Black In (Branco Sai, Preto Fica) as the specter of real racial violence. The film, which shows November 12 at the Michigan Theater as part of U-M’s Lusophone Film Fest, focuses on two men disabled by injuries sustained in a brutal 1986 police raid on a disco on the outskirts of Brasilia. DJ Marquim (Marquim do Tropa) was paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair, and dancer Sartana (Claudio Irinaeus) lost his leg below the knee. That much is based on fact; there really was such a raid, and both men were actually injured when police violently ejected black patrons from the club. Their weary faces show the toll their injuries and their life in the destitute suburb of Ceilandia have taken, as director Adirley Queiros follows them in long, contemplative shots.
But there’s also a surreal sense of humor to the men, and to the film itself. Marquim and Sartana are plotting to deploy a musical weapon of mass destruction that will level Brasilia. They’re being tailed by Dimas (Dilmar Duraes), a government agent from the future who pilots a spaceship that looks suspiciously like a shipping container and is lit by what appear to be disco balls. Marquim and Sartana’s clandestine but jovial efforts to create the ultimate club track–their “big boom” of retribution–are intercut with Dimas’s bumbling attempts to stop them .
White Out, Black In is both a surprisingly successful genre mash-up and a truly one-of-a-kind revenge fantasy, giving the victims of this real tragedy the validation of a wickedly righteous artistic retribution. The film will be shown November 12 at the Michigan Theater.
A similar bittersweet sense of humor about past injustices permeates the 2013 film Tattoo (Tatuagem), screening December 3 at the State Theater. Director Hilton Lacerda focuses on a risque cabaret troupe operating in 1978 Brazil under the oppressive but increasingly ineffective military rule that would end in 1985. The film’s three main protagonists are all gay but have very different social backgrounds and levels of sexual confidence. Clecio (Irandhir Santos) is the savvy leader of the troupe, paternal beyond his years; Paulete (Rodrigo Garcia) is his flighty transvestite partner; and Finhina (Jesuita Barbosa) is a soldier in the Brazilian military who discovers the troupe–and his own sexuality–when he dates Paulete’s sister.
Lacerda devotes long stretches of his film to sexually explicit performance sequences, bawdy scenes work well both as entertainment and character development. The film’s young actors are quick with comic banter but just as capable of conveying the fear that underlies their characters’ transgressive, inherently political art. The characters experience verbal and other oppression daily in a variety of situations, under the withering gaze of mainstream society. As tension mounts, it’s increasingly hard for even the most seasoned among them to withstand.
And yet a certain warmth prevails. Where White Out, Black In finds dark humor in oppressive circumstances, Tattoo finds great joy–not only in self-expression despite society’s daily rebukes, but also in persistence in the face of defeat. Both films are fascinating as political documents of Brazil’s history and as unexpectedly witty celebrations of the socially downtrodden.