RADIANT CIRCUS went to see MY OWN PRIVATE HELL at BFI Flare 2018. Introduced by co-director / screenwriter Guto Parente & Flare programmer Jay Bernard, the film was followed by an audience Q&A (24 MAR 2018, BFI Southbank). Here’s our writeup.
Introduced by co-director/screenwriter Guto Parente as a film made “with little money but with big heart”, MY OWN PRIVATE HELL aka Inferninho (2018) has sufficient handcrafted passion to power many a bigger budgeted opus. Starting life as a proposed television project, MY OWN PRIVATE HELL is the result of a collaboration between a film and a theatre making collective in Fortaleza, Brazil (aka the “5th most violent city in the world”). It premiered in Rotterdam earlier in 2018 and then found its way to the shores of the Thames.
Set almost entirely in the confines of a low-rent dive bar, Pedro Diogenes and Guto Parente’s film tells the story of Campari-drinking transvestite bar owner Deusimar (Yuri Yamamoto) who has a romantic relationship with sailor Jarbas (Demick Lopes). Deusimar’s dreams of moving onto something better are triggered when government lackeys muscle in and “offer” to buy the bar. What’s to be gained, and what could be lost?
Along the way we encounter other denizens of the dark including cabaret singer Luizianne (Samya De Lavor), cleaner Caixa-Preta (Tatiana Amorim) and waiter slash community conscience, Rabbit (Rafael Martins). In this STAR WARS cantina for queers, Rabbit is able to assert his non-human identity (despite the obvious theatricality of his costume and roller skates), and a mostly silent chorus of misfits – dressed variously as Mickey Mouse, Pocahontas, Wonder Woman, the Silver Surfer and Darth Vadar – finds safe harbour.
MY OWN PRIVATE HELL offers an enchanting tale of community, self-belief and belonging shot-through with very contemporary politics about government-backed gentrification and the displacement of non-conforming communities. Through its diverse cast of non-speaking characters (who wouldn’t look out of place touting for tips in front of the National Gallery), it also manages to cram a compelling vision of humanity’s near infinite potential into the close confines of a neighbourhood queer joint.
The lo-fi, high contrast world building reminded us of O.B. De Alessi’s recent KUO’S EYES at Billy Chainsaw’s Nova Nights (08 MAR 2018, The Horse Hospital). If you’re looking for an antidote to imagination-sapping CGI or have become immune to handsomely mounted, awards-hungry drama, this handcrafted aesthetic is a real fillip. Who needs big-budget photorealism when, with a few bits of wood, fright wigs and stage makeup, you can create absolutely anything on a tiny, spotlit soundstage?
Unlike other films we saw at BFI Flare – and that includes acclaimed ‘new classic’ 120 BPM – MY OWN PRIVATE HELL’s intimate community of players delivers instant rewatchability. The film’s outsider aesthetic also resists the very gentrification that, we felt, rather muted Robert Campillo’s larger and longer historical-comedy-drama. Instead, its sensibilities find earnest manifesto in such forebears as counter-cultural musical Hair. Whilst the direct address of My Conviction might have been superseded by more urgent hashtags, it pretty much describes our queer humanist ethos at RADIANT CIRCUS:
“You know kids, I wish every mother and father in this theatre would go home tonight and make a speech to their teenagers and say: ‘kids, be free, no guilt, be whoever you are, do whatever you want to do, just so long as you don’t hurt anybody’. Right? Right!” (My Conviction, Hair).
Of course, the film won’t be everyone’s cup of rollerskating rabbit. To anyone who argues that drag queens and leather pups give Pride events an ‘image problem’, Parente’s film probably won’t speak to your integrated gayness. For devoutly queerer folk, MY OWN PRIVATE HELL is an unashamed hymn to the importance of community and the giant papier-mâché Mickey Mouse-headed freak in each of us.
We can’t wait to see it again.
Afterwards, Guto Parente discussed MY OWN PRIVATE HELL with BFI Flare programmer Jay Bernard. RADIANT CIRCUS kept notes and posed a question in the audience Q&A that followed.
Jay Bernard [JB]: I wondered about the inception of this film… It started at out as a TV project?
Guto Parente [GP]: I was part of a film collective of artists called Alumbramento, a bunch of people working together with low budget films. We’ve made lots of movies – this is my 8th feature film – and we’ve done many films with a very very short budget [sic]. I live in the North East of Brazil, Fortaleza, a city by the coast. Unfortunately it’s the 5th most violent city in the world. We try to keep doing what we love and it’s very hard…
There’s this theatre group there, Bagaceira. We admire them a lot and we’ve been talking about making something together for a long long time. Then in 2013 they came to us with a brief idea of what became Inferninho. We started to work together. At first we thought about a TV series and we’ve got a little funding for that – for a pilot – but then we started to develop the script and we understood it had to be a movie.
The creative process was done throughout these years together with the theatre group in very collaborative ways. We were always sharing ideas and I wrote the script with co-director Pedro Diógenes and Rafael [Martins, aka ‘Rabbit’] from the group. We could do some rehearsals and work the script together with the actors.
[JB]: Were the cast part of the theatre group?
[GP]: We cast pretty much all from the group. We were developing the characters already with the actors. There are three actors who are not from the group, who are the bad guys [in the film].
[JB]: I just loved the characters, each one had their own own story. I had a sense these came from real life, from the city you live in?
[GP]: There are lots of things we are putting in the script that come from the characters’ lives, like Yuri [Yamamoto] who plays Duesimar: he actually had an experience living in a bar. He was raised by his grandmother then his mother and he actually grew up in a bar drinking Camparis since he was young. So there are lots of things about his own life that are in the movie. Also, that suicidal scene, that was a moment he had in his life which was really hard. And Rabbit – they know each other more than 20 years. In that scene where he makes a speech with Duesimar, that scene was totally improvised and he brought lots of things they had between them and their relationship.
[JB]: Rabbit is one of my favourite characters. So scared and so tender. I just love the way Rabbit tries to defend Duesimar as well as being mistreated. There’s lots of complexity that feels like it comes from a real place. Was any of your personal experience in this film as well?
[GP]: Mine? No.
[JB]: So it was all fictional…?
[GP]: More aesthetically and stylistically. I can say that being part of a group of artists in a very hostile city and having to do the things we want to do the way we can, I also have this feeling of being trapped and being in a ghetto. I think the film talks a lot about that. How to deal with these external forces that want to destroy us. This subject of buying the bar – this guy from the government who comes offering him money when you don’t have any choice whether to accept it or not. This is something that is very common in our city because there’s a city that is growing a lot, there is development. So if you don’t have money and you are living in an interesting area, the government will kick you away and you have nothing to do.
[JB]: This happens in London too – all the time. Something that’s really common in cities that massively impacts on queer communities all over the world. I also wanted to ask about the aesthetics of the film because I think they are wonderful. It’s a low budget film but there’s something about the way this has been shot that feels very rich. It’s quite dark and the colours are quite muted but there’s a real richness to the production. Could you talk a little bit about how you shot it?
[GP]: The film was shot in ten days. Everything works together, like budget and all the conditions you have. You have to deal all the time with those forces and try to do the best of it. We shot in 10 days and that determined a lot of the choices. We had plenty of time of rehearsing and rewriting and that’s only way we could do it in 10 days… 10 or 12, I don’t remember…. We thought a lot about handheld camera, we actually created the whole bar in a set up situation, we worked the light trying to do it in a way that we didn’t need to change very much from scene to scene so we could do it faster. We always wanted a very dark place with spotlights and shadows. I also worked with colour grading, a lot of work colour grading in post-production.
[Q1]: Did you storyboard the scenes?
[GP]: We didn’t draw it but we had it all planned. We made some plans before, and every day before shooting we would go scene to scene with the cinematographer and then we rehearsed with the camera.
[Q1 cont…]: Was it a concept you had from the beginning to use a small number of long takes? I was particularly impressed with Rabbit’s monologue that it was all in one take and there was a tracking shot to Deusimar afterwards… that seemed very powerful and reminded me a lot of other really close, long takes in the film. Was this a philosophy that you had, a visual philosophy?
[GP]: Yes, we had to deal with the two things… the construction of the space, we never have an open shot. You don’t have the totality of the bar. We wanted to build the bar in fragments, we wanted to make it extend outside the frame to make you complete what you saw, because the place, for us, it floats, it’s not concrete. We had to deal with this construction in fragments but as well we wanted certain scenes to be entire as you said.
[Q2]: I thought your choice of using Asian aesthetics in some parts of the movie was interesting. Why did you choose to use this? For example, when she’s travelling, and also when she’s imagining herself?
[GP]: That was something that came together with the actor because his descendants are from Japan, so he brought this and then we wanted for the travelling scene, we wanted the character to go to.. not only the usually tourist countries, but there a lot of influences from… the main actor.
[RC]: The film has a profound sense of community and this sense of a very rich and extraordinary mix of characters in a strange and peculiar space to us, but one that they inhabit beautifully as a community. My question is about the cast of non-speaking characters – Darth Vadar, Pocahontas, Wonder Woman – they add so much to this sense of an almost infinite universe in a tiny space and I wondered how those characters came about?
[GP]: That was just a crazy idea that we had at the beginning – and we thought that was just an idea that will fade away, but then we started to understand that it talks a lot about this fantasy of being someone, this dream… this place where you can be whoever you want to be. And that’s what it is about: we could be whoever we wanted to be. That’s something that’s bigger than anything. I believe those characters are there for that.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- Check out Guto Parente and MY OWN PRIVATE HELL at IMDb.
- Don’t just take our blogging word for it. MY OWN PRIVATE HELL was also reviewed by BETWEEN THE FRAMES, BIG GAY PICTURE SHOW and LATINO LIFE.
- London’s LGBTQ film festivals include BFI Flare, Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest and GFEST.
- LGBTQ-themed short film nights include Queerly Beloved and Queerbee.
- The next screening by short film showcase The Film Bunch – “our mission is to improve access for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to mainstream short films, so we provide English captions and British Sign Language interpreters” – is focused on LGBTQ films (18 APR 19:00, The Others).