July 2003
Madame Satã

Reviewed by Niija Kuykendall

Madame Satã
Distributor: Wellspring Cinema
Director: Karim Ainouz

Isabel Diegues, Mauricio Andrade Ramos, Walter Salles, Marc Beauchamps, Donald Ranvaud, Vincent Maraval, & Juliette Renaud

Screenwriter: Karim Ainouz
Cast: Lazaro Ramos, Marcelia Cartaxo, Flavio Bauraqui, Felippe Marques, & Emiliano Quieroz
Running Time: 105 min
Language: In Portuguese with English Subtitles
Website: http://www.filmforum.com/films/sata.html


A breathtaking Brazilian offering from writer/director Karim Ainouz, Madame Satã is a historical narrative that explores the true life of Joao Francisco dos Santos, a chameleonic figure of Brazilian history with almost mythic fame. As a young man dos Santos lived in the bohemian district of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro in the 1930’s and forged his fame fulfilling his dream as a flamboyant, transvestite stage performer, all the while never shedding his claims to the streets. Dos Santos died in 1976 after leading a dramatic life in and out of notoriety and jail.Ainouz’s work tells the story of dos Santos, pre-Madame Satã, as he continuously throws a wrench in the societal wheels by repeatedly redefining his identity while trying to transcend the stigmatizations of class, race and homophobic feelings. The narrative follows the daily life and dramas of dos Santos as a violent yet caring enigma and ends on the brink of Francisco’s transformation into Madame Satã. The intimacy of the work is striking as we watch the son of ex-slaves live his life in constant flux, from street fighter to lover, from prisoner to stage performer.

The most amazing aspect of the film is Walter Carvalho’s work as Director of Photography and Marcos Pedroso’s production design. The imagery of the film is dark, intimate and rich. What you see on film brings to mind the stench you would actually smell in the run-down neighborhood in which dos Santos’ makeshift “family” lives in the 1930’s. The pain of dos Santos’ unrealized dreams we can see in the colors and textures on screen. Opening July 9th at the Film Forum in New York City, the film is one of beauty and complexity addressing one man’s ability to invent himself and live free in an imprisoning world.