Director: Gustavo Vinagre (Brazil). Year of Release: 2022
São Paulo, not quite the present day. Maybe some time in the near future. Everything is the same, but different. A deadly virus is in its fourth phase. Everyone wears masks, and sprays themselves, particularly in the mouth. One of the main effects of the virus is on the memory – many of the characters that we see are attacked by a bout of forgetfulness. When their memory briefly returns, they longingly talk about waiting for the “Golden Phase”.
Pedro, aka Babyface, is speaking, crop in hand, via Webcam to his online followers. If they have the money, he’ll do what they want. Well, it’s a living, and after his old boyfriend – a bearded accordionist – died, he needs to finance himself somehow. His flatmate, Isabella, is fine with what he’s doing in general, but asks him to be a little quieter – she’s taken a load of drugs to do an all nighter studying in the kitchen for her exam, and she needs to be able to think.
The pair are visited by Jonata, Pedro’s nephew, the son of his stepsister, who is roughly the same age, and everyone calls them cousins. Jonata normally lives in the remote town of São Lourenço. He is partly here because his HIV treatment isn’t working, and maybe he’ll find new solutions in the big city. In a sense he does – later in the film, a doctor will tell him that he can no longer transmit the virus. It’s almost as if the new disease is rendering the old one ineffective.
As Pedro is asleep when he arrives, Jonata goes out for a walk to the nearby square. The woman on the door is presumably affected by the virus as she fails to recognise him, and only begrudgingly lets him out. In the square, Jonata meets a man who shamelessly flirts with him and asks for his number.
While Jonata and his new friend are, for no apparent reason, carrying each other on their backs, people in the background are doing all sorts of random things. It’s hard to say exactly what it is that they’re doing, but this is one of those films where minor characters on the edge of the screen are continually upstaging the main actors.
Pedro, Isabella and Jonata wander through the city centre. They notice that everything is closed, but football matches go on. They casually deface an old poster of president Jair Bolsonaro. Isabella considers leaving as there’s no work. They end up at the house of one of Pedro’s clients. Pedro normally works from home, but he makes an exception for some people who are particularly ill.
None of this description gives the remotest idea of what Three Tidy Tigers… is like as a film. This is partly because I’m not sure that the available words exist. There are lots of phrases that we can bandy about – surrealism, magical realism – that accurately describe what sort of film we have, but are less good at letting you know what we are actually seeing. One character says “A new world is impossible, and that’s where we’re headed,” which just about sums it up, while saying nothing at all.
I haven’t begun to mention the best scene – a musical number containing everything from a powerful bald singer to the dead accordionist. I haven’t mentioned this because it is just indescribable – you really need to watch the film to start to understand (and even then you won’t get too far). It was an astounding bit of cabaret which had a different feel to the rest of the film, but somehow fit exactly. Sorry, I’m still not being very clear, am I?
And for all the abstraction, Three Tidy Tigers… is a deeply political film. More that one person talks about “crapitalism”. The protagonists are not politically active, but their lives are affected by the acquisitive society around them. In a video broadcast before the film (winner of the TEDDY award at the Berlinale), director Gustavo Vinagres talks about how making this sort of film is becoming increasingly impossible in Bolsanaro’s Berlin.
It is not just the LGBT people such as those depicted in the film who are affected. Last year there were 20 Brazilian films at the Berlinale. This year there are only 3. But there is a more general point. As conservative Brazil cracks down on other voices, the fact that this film can be made – and receive the last state funding that is likely to be spent on this sort of thing for a while – is some sort of victory. Even if you can’t really get into it, it’s great that someone has been able to make this film.
I think this review could have been summarized in the following words: go and see it for yourself. You may like it, you may hate it. But nothing that I say will help you understand it any better.