Interview by Brad Balfour
When the 8th Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil screened its 15 films in June, it wasn't the end of this traveling festival but only the beginning. As part of a growing trend this fest has become a huge promoter of Brazilian cinema worldwide. The fest moves to Vancouver in July (from the 15th to 18th
), then Miami in August 13th to 21st
, and on to London (Sept. 1st - 5th)
, Montevideo (Sept. 23th - 29th)
Buenos Aires (Oct. 14th - 20th) Rome (Nov. 24th - 28th
) Madrid (Nov. 30th - Dec. 4th
) and finally, Barcelona (Dec 10th - 16th).
Among the films seen during the festival (and earlier at the Tribeca Film Fest) was Elvis and Madona -- an off-beat, low-budget, sort-of romantic comedy timely in a special way. In light of the recent GayPride celebrations and the-soon-to-be-released The Kids Are All Right, it also envisions an alternative family, Brazilian style. Enhanced by a serious social message as well, with a bit more drama and soap opera (it's a lot less Almodovar and a lot more tele-novella) Elvis and Madona is more than a broad domestic-borne rom-com.
Though promoted as a unique, fun comedy, Elvis & Madona offered some controversy for members of the gay and lesbian crowd and garnered some critical razzes as well.
Written and directed by straight director Marcelo Lafitte, the film lightheartedly posits an enduring romance between a transvestite-maybe-transsexual hairdresser and his young bi-sexual lover who get knocked up so they live together struggling to produce his drag show. If successful it end all their financial troubles and make for a functional family.
Set in the vibrant Copacabana district of Rio de Janiero, Elvis and Madona's unlikely love help them chase dreams, deal with the obstacles that arise along the way and fulfill Madona's plans for a spectacular drag show that redeems everyone.
At audience Q&As, the film prompted its share of contention and praise for unique sexual stance. And director was bothered that so many descriptions of the movie (even in Tribeca's program) described Madona as a drag performer. The director pointed out to audience and critics alike that in Brazil, they would call Madona a transvestite not drag queen though it's not sure he saw the distinction between transvestite and trannie.
Through the haze of terrible interpreter and a couple of prickly journalists, Lafitte tried to set the record during a small roundtable held in May.
[Marcelo & Igor (r)]
Q: So what prompted you to make this as your first feature film?
ML: This film had been [brewing] in me for a long time. I came out of doing documentaries; I even used to be the president of the Association of Documentary Filmmakers but I also did four shorts before Elvis & Madona. Though my name is so strongly associated with being a documentary filmmaker, for seven years I have been doing fiction films; I did the four fiction shorts because I thought it was important before I did this feature film because all the learning I acquired.
Q: But why this theme?
ML: I wrote the script for Elvis & Madona a long time ago, in 2001, when I did my first short film. That’s when it came to me. I had been to a show with a transvestite and there was this story about a transvestite that had left his hometown as a man and years later comes back and he’s a [drag queen]. His father had remarried and he falls in love with the daughter of his father's new wife and he’s madly in love. That’s how I [got the idea] for Elvis & Madona back then.
At first, my idea was to get a real transvestite/transsexual to do this, but then it was like where is the right one? I was searching and it was in the air but 10 days before the date when I had to have someone cast as Madona I was introduced to Igor [Cotrim] by a common friend and there you go.
Q: The chemistry between Elvis and Madona is the whole fabric of the film. Was the audition process was complicated?
ML: It was of no use to find the ideal Elvis or ideal Madona if there was no chemistry between them. At the end of the day, it had to be Elvis and Madona. They go together.
Q: So this has been a long process?
ML: It’s taken 10 years to make this movie. This is a movie of a lot of struggle and making dreams come true. And in a way, the film also talks about this: people trying to find and realize their dream.
Q: So who is this movie made for? Is it for heterosexuals to enjoy lifestyles of people they may not understand.
It's to reach for this social inclusion. And yes, there is this tendency in society to look at this issue and bring about the need for the social inclusion.
Q: Though many people feel they’re born a homosexual or a lesbian, It does not mean that they’re incapable of having sex with the opposite sex, and your comedy is about how that can happen. But in the eyes of some viewers, it could be seen as though you're saying, "Oh they just have to find the right opposite sex person to balance them out.
ML: My gay and lesbian friends in Brazil love the movie because they feel that it shows it as normal. The way it’s treated, the way it’s shown, it’s like everything is normal. Not only in Brazil, in Melbourne too, where the film has been seen, the gay and lesbian communities, and friends, they all liked it because they like how the normality, how the issue is approached. But in Sao Paulo, one lesbian came to say, “You are homophobic! Because at the end of the day what you’re saying is that a man can only be happy with a woman.”
Q: You were confronted by someone who is offended by the film, she’s making a serious critique. Without sloughing it off, how do you as an artist and filmmaker -- trying to do something serious in this movie -- reflect upon that kind of criticism?
ML: Maybe this person didn’t really get the idea of the film. Or maybe even she didn’t even get the idea of herself. If 99% of the people got it or enjoyed it and 1% was offended and hurt by it, there’s something being said right there.
The one thing that is the mission of this film, and my mission as an artist who created it, is that it’s bringing about the debate, the issue to be approached. My mission as an artist is not to create the truth, a truth that he doesn’t even have himself, but just being able to bring the issues up to the discussion table and have people face it.
Obviously Madona's tale is like a fable, that maybe in real life you’re not going to find a story like this, but maybe there will be a story like it. So it’s like a reference.