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Brazil 2004
Directed by
Karim A´nouz
99 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Madame Sata

Synopsis: A portrait of Joao Francisco dos Santos (Lazaro Ramos), flamboyant homosexual and drag queen with a hair-trigger temper, he became a legend in the clubs and slums and prisons of Brazil. Born about 1900 he spent 27 of his years in prison, 10 of them for murder.

Writer-director, Karim Aïnouz 's first feature, Madame Satã, which also gives a debut leading role to Lazaro Ramos, is an interesting film, Bunuelian in its near-hallucinatory depiction of the Genet-like life of its subject, but not necessarily a satisfying one. Clearly budgetary restraints have something to do with this but the film, shot on video, mostly in lowly-lit nocturnal settings, tells its story by selecting a portion of dos Santos's life from the 30s and showing incidents from it in a fragmentary fashion. Thus, whilst we get an effective impression of him as the product of the squalor and violence of Rio's criminal quarters (one recalls Fernando Meirelles' film City of God, 2002), as a person he remains obscure and our relation to him static.

Ramos gives an electrifying performance in the lead, alternately tender and violent, charismatic and fiercely proud, but whilst we see him in a variety of situations over a span of time, Aïnouz does not manage to develop his character or give us any basis on which to relate to him. He remains throughout almost literally a "creature" of passion, a victim of his pathological drives, imprisoned in his mental and social ghetto. In this respect the other main character in the film, the woman he lives with, a prostitute named Laurita (Marcelia Cartaxo) and their effeminate male servant, Taboo (Flavio Bauraqui), also a prostitute, are more tangible..

Madame Satã is a film which is technically well-made but fails to do justice to its potentially fascinating subject.




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