Film Reviews

Review: ‘Obscuro Barroco’

Hot Docs 2018


Obscuro Barroco
(France/Greece, 60 min.)
Dir. Evangelia Kranioti
Programme: Nightvisions (North American Premiere)

A lyric ode to bodies and cities, an essay on self-invention, a multi-sensory immersion in the sights and sounds of Rio de Janeiro during Carnival: Obscuro Barroco is, gloriously, all those things.

Drawing on Clarice Lispector’s novel Água Viva, trans activist Luana Muniz narrates meditations on transness and the city of Rio as spaces of pure potential and fluidity, constantly creating themselves anew, over sumptuous images of Carnival costumes, dramatic fireworks, kids dancing in the street, underground queer parties, protests and Rio’s iconic landscape of beaches, hills, tropical flora and urban sprawl. It’s all edited together into a seamless flow of impressionistic images and poetic refrains with one foot in the tradition of the great city symphonies and essay films and the other in the world of queer aesthetics and, of course, Rio Carnival’s idiosyncrasies.

Costumes are one of the film’s strongest motifs: through them, Kranioti shows how both queer and Carnival cultures engage in gender play, shedding old identities and assuming new ones with cloth and makeup. But costumes are also about what they hide, and when they come off, Kranioti delights in the bodies underneath, in all their fleshiness and plasticity and malleability and rhythm.

Later, a protest calling for transformations to society echoes the transformations undergone by trans bodies: just as transness is rooted in authenticity and liberation—calling those ideas into question only to better adhere to them—so too, the film seems to say, is radical politics. “There will be no coup! There will be a battle!” It’s not just about any change, but the right change.

There’s a lot more to say about it, but in short, Obscuro Barroco is a delight: sexy and hypnotic and provocative and resonant. And above all, beautiful. “Within this night, I seek life raw and bloody, full of saliva,” Muniz says. “I seek this word: ‘splendor.’”

Obscuro Barroco screens:
-Wed, May 2 at 9:00 PM at Hart House
-Thurs, May 3 at 12:00 PM Scotiabank
-Sun, May 6 at 1:15 PM Scotiabank

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!