Tattoo: Where Revolution Resides

in 15th Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival

by Juan M. Dominguez

Perhaps, even though its political agendas is totally opposed, the film that really echoes the non-nostalgic yet warm and tender sense of family that drives Hilton Lacerda’s Brazilian film Tattoo (Tatuagem) and the genuine “once in a lifetime” aura given to its artistic troupe (in this case, a based-on-reality alternative theater group that performed during the ’70s dictatorship in Brazil) is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights.

Like Anderson, Lacerda encourages (in a strong way but without losing either its joy or its fascination with this still present in today’s art but watered-down revolution) the genuine synergy of an instant that it is impossible not to look at without questioning the present. But, compared with Anderson’s vein, Lacerda’s sense of beauty is more visceral, more sexual and even more riveted in genre (that would be melodrama, of course). But the amazing thing is how he manages to merge all this in a flawed but alive picture, a mighty sexual mischievous love letter to a certain attitude in a certain country that manages to call attention to the lack of nerve in mixing sex, love and politics in cinema these days.

Tattoo also shares with Boogie Nights the idea of a young outsider (in this case a new and naive soldier played with the right amount of natural and non-natural stiffness by newcomer Jesuita Barbosa) being the point of view, exploration and finally witness of the life and fall of certain ideas. Only in this case, these ideas have to do with the Latin American Free Love movement (the film indicates that although they were imperfect, through calling jealousy a capitalist possession, they were capable of some sensual and theatrical beauty that, as sparkly as its gets, breathes in a very powerful way even when recalled on a screen). The soldier, who starts as Arlindo and is later called Finhina by the troupe (the movie in a subtle but defining gesture of its connection with its protagonists and the respect for their Douglas Sirk-like sense of intensity and misplacement credits the character by his female name) falls in love with the leader of sorts of the theater group, Clecio (Irandhir Santos). In fact, Finhina’s visits into the group’s shared house are the thing that starts to show the cracks in the idyllic Free Love aggressive and political camp spectacle. But Lacerda doesn’t go about pinpointing the failures of both systems (the military sphere, homophobic and repressive – and, obviously, murderous – and the third-world Avant Garde utopia). Rather, he judges their capacity to contain out-of-their-world ideas: Fininha, as dizzy as he is, becomes the more sincere character. His fears are sincere, his humble approach to sex, his ambiguous way of living: in his innocence, he shows the lack of sincerity of both worlds (of course, one is more human in its flaws, but the military one – Lacerda seems to say – is also terribly human). But it isn’t in Lacerda’s agenda to say this like he is creating a new source of energy: he wants to show the energy in people that think they can change the world (even if that world is as small as a filthy subversive theater where a beautiful bare-assed and glittery musical is used to critique a lethal and violent dictatorship) and how this energy mutates through the violence of not being sincere with our most brutal and most beautiful human desires. And how something that is even more complicated and inexplicable than violence is created by the State or jealousy inside a countercultural non-blood-related family. He knows he’s talking about something bigger than the ’70s in Brazil (and yet only grounded in its characters and his country is where his ideas become truthful and seem honest). But he decides to be visceral, and not judgmental, about it. That’s where the beauty of Tattoo resides: knowing that any revolution should start from within us.

Edited by Carmen Gray