A text by Bernardo José de Souza on República
A spyglass aims its inquisitive lens towards a mythical memory constantly projecting its shadows over the future: a carrousel of ghosts, of inner images that acquire shape through a peephole, allowing for a glimpse of strangers – glimpses of times past and present, a swirl of fear and desire. One foot set upon earth, the other sailing the Atlantic, bouncing back and forth between Brazil and Europe (and Africa, on an ancestral and underlying note).
República, the new film by Luiz Roque, begins its unstable loop with a solid shot of Edifício Racy, a sinuous modernist building designed by Aron Kogan, who was responsible for some of the most iconic skyscrapers of downtown São Paulo, a city as brutal as its dodgy & lavish cosmopolitan features. This semi-documentary investigates the nature of intimacy and desire in an era of fragmented identities, when sex has become not only an expression of pleasure but also a political object and artifice: a weapon of sorts, exposed to the public gaze.
Sheer vanity, labour force, pure indulgence or relentless death, as real and perishable as human nature, the body has gained unprecedented centrality in the current public debate, both as a result of a commodified economy driven by sex & money and a burning agora under the subversive political fire of gender and race. Not to mention the risks of HIV and other STDs, let alone COVID, the frailty of the body has been exposed as a cultural malaise, the most conspicuous sign of centuries of colonialism and slavery, as well as of the patriarchal, oligarchic and homo/transphobic efforts against the “fringes” of society, which are, in fact, its very vibrant and pulsating core, though often dismissed as a “phantom limb”.
As governments around the world continue to turn a blind eye to their colonial legacies by refusing to respond vigorously to the increasingly evident cursed inheritance, the tearing down of public statues (the corpses of ill-intended leaders) has become the most effective and acute display of political action today, not to be underestimated, no matter how superficial it may appear. Alternating between dissonant individualism and historical collective consciousness, República brings into play a parade of sculptures, bodies, gods and monsters who emerge either from the public arena or the private world of its pivotal character: Marcinha do Corintho.
The voyeur behind the camera stares at a sturdy man leaning naked against what from a distance looks like a pedestal (in truth just a neoclassical bridge ornament in the historical city centre of São Paulo). He appears to be a (queer) replacement for what would have been the bust of some plutocrat before being torn down during a public demonstration.
The scrutinizing eye zooms in, and we ironically read “Fast Life” tattooed on the hairy chest of the moustached hustler floating about República Square at night. He is not alone, as the camera shows in one of its swinging movements around the field. Other fractions of bodies appear: glossy limbs under the rain, like fake plastic body parts flashing before our eyes, shifting their features in a stone-made, albeit tropical landscape.
The bloke slides around the square as if on top of a display mechanism, a conveyor belt, or a device that allows him to swiftly catch his prey: the viewer. The camera captures yet another fragment of his body, his absent dick, a volume that has disappeared behind a beige rubber attire, the same colour as the skin on his neck, around which we can read a phrase slashed as if made by a knife: “Bless this Mess”.
The central figure of República, a clockwise-spinning transsexual diva bust, ornamented with heavy jewels, imputes the collapse of sex as the ultimate resort under the scorching life in the Equator – as opposed to the gentle snow-fall in a remote Europe that she vividly recollects as a showgirl in Milan in her heyday. The golden era of just yesterday seems to have faded under the spell of today’s overt collapse of any romantic pursuit of the future — a Brancusi* burns reflected in a pair of shades, as if signalling the world will never be the same again. Ashes to ashes.
And as the promise of finding redemption in sex has proven to be unbearable, and somehow deemed to be cancelled — even if by the force of medication — the administration of daily doses of hormones becomes a timely antidote for pain; sexual castration bluntly orchestrated for the sake of individual freedom. According to our anti-heroine, Androcur (a medicine whose name could be loosely translated as the cure for manhood, as per its Greek suffix) has ultimately saved her from the evil of sex.
In a society where sex is generally perceived as the ultimate pleasure — and even as an attribute to be publically addressed through a myriad of social media channels — for Marcinha do Corintho, instead, it has become some sort of obligation, a compulsory burden far too heavy to be seen as a redeeming source of fulfillment.
In República, the construct of sex is under scrutiny, as well as notions of manhood in a phallocentric society driven by violence, domination and axiomatic ideals of wellbeing, resilience and self-sufficiency. The sequence of image-blocks unfolding in the film, the quasi-totemic and mythological creatures appearing and vanishing before our eyes, all stand as warriors, misfits, sailors in misleadingly calm yet troubled waters.
Nevertheless, there is a profound sense of care pervading the film’s entire narrative: a gentle look emanates from the camera, caressing the characters as if to preserve their existence under the brash and abrasive light of our times. Against the glare of strangers, nothing really stands for what it appears to be. A tender soul hides beneath the white veil of the viscous spit falling out of frame from the mouth of our mischievous hustler, as somehow envisaged by Jean Genet in his Diary of a Thief.
República was partially shot in Brest, the port in France where Querelle (another character by Genet) acquires life: a sailor, a thief, a homosexual, a criminal, a passionate bandit travelling the seas. This is a film about outcasts, a digression into le temps perdu, a reflection on the colonial bounds between the Old and New Worlds that still thrive on both sides of the Atlantic. It is about a never-to-be-found paradise, a cherished fantasy and an endless quest for freedom.
Bless this mess!
* The Brancusi shot was extracted from Luiz Roque’s film Rio, about the fire that struck the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro, in the late 1970s, destroying a significant part of its collection. The Brancusi painting in question remained intact. Here, the image works as a cameo of sorts, a reference to an earlier chapter in Roque’s filmography.