(Brazil, 89 min)
Dir. Elaine Caffé, Carla Caffé, Beto Amaral
The streets of São Paulo erupt in performance, colour, and conversation in Southern Sorceresses. Less of a cohesive narrative and more of a kaleidoscopic portrait, the film is an invigorating glimpse into Brazil’s LGBTQ+ community amid the country’s current conversations and reckonings. It radiates a sense of fierce determination and hopefulness.
The backdrop for most of the film is a bustling street in downtown São Paulo, where we’re introduced to a core group of LGBTQ+ artists, performers, and activists. The film opens by trailing the “cast” as they ask vendors for permission to film in their stretch of the street, placing viewers simultaneously behind-the-scenes and in the audience. Boom mics and the production crew dip in and out of frame as part of the film’s mise-en-scène. The film flows naturally between the street, a stylised monochromatic studio where monologues begin, clips from current events, and back to the street, in a sort of tapestry.
The group chants, puts on a show for the camera, and sounds off about issues like transphobia, anti-Blackness, colonization and Indigenous peoples of Brazil, in a public conversation with passersby. What stands out the most is the confidence and calmness they display when confronted by a dissenting opinion, an uneducated person, or even harassment. The tone in these public conversations is kept cordial yet confrontational when needed.
Everyone is dressed as if they’ve pulled costumes from a massive treasure trunk, and people off the streets are given hats or accessories as props to join the production. A man approaches the group, saying he’s curious because he’s “doublesex.” When they ask what he means, he says he “enjoys being with both men and women.” After inquiring further, someone offers him the term “bisexual” and the group repeats it, “BEE-sexu-al, BEE-sexu-al” until he’s warmed up to his new identifier. The meat of the film resides in moments like these, of which there are many.
Overall, Southern Sorceresses offers an international audience an educational glimpse into important movements and discussions happening in Brazil. More than this, it offers an example of a courageous kind of activism that deals directly with Brazil’s oppressors by talking them down from their positions of prejudice or power. Southern Sorceresses and its titular protagonists do so with grace, joy, and style. São Paulo
Southern Sorceresses screens at RIDM until Dec. 2.