By Roger Costa
In the opening scene, a young woman is hunted down on the dark night streets, brutally attacked by a female masked-gang, who call themselves vigilantes for God, seeking to restore sinners through a violent action, punishing them and forcing them to publicly confess their transgression and make promises of “following the Lord Jesus, and becoming devoted and submissive to Him”. For many Christians, like me, this initial take feels indeed like a blasphemous provocation, and could cause an immediate rejection to it. Being a Christian means to avoid any type of persecution, violence, hatred reactions, or punishment. Jesus’ law is based on love, tolerance and empathy. Therefore, any person who acts in such manners may think they are Christians (luckily, Jesus loves them too, no matter what), but they are totally wrong and have completely distorted Jesus’ commandments.
We live in an increasingly intolerant society, where hate seems to infiltrate everywhere, corrupting all the pillars of existence: school, work, Government, family and, of course, the Church. There’s no escape: anywhere in the world, one can find aspects of intolerance, injustice, hate and discrimination. And extremism/fanaticism and hatred intolerance co-exist in every religion, it’s up to those who profess their beliefs to act accordingly.
It is essential to quote director Anita Rocha da Silveira’s intentions with this project. In a statement, she declared that “the film doesn’t aim to criticize religious manifestations, but rather to raise awareness of certain groups who make peculiar interpretations of the Biblical texts, promoting all sorts of intolerance and hate.” With such information collected, it feels like a relief, for anyone who might have felt disrespected about the context, though, of course, it might fuel and trigger the enthusiasm of those seculars who don’t really care about it, and actually enjoys criticizing religious groups.
Marking her sophomore directorial effort, Brazilian emerging filmmaker Anita Rocha da Silveira proves herself to be a visionary and socially-committed artist, unafraid of daring, provoking and stirring up controversy. Blending realistic elements of contemporary Brazilian society, social, political and religious behaviors, the result is an utterly euphoric and truthful allegory on the issues related to hatred intolerance, sexism, political influences, manipulation, moral disorder and religious extremism. All these turbulences are developed as a coming of age story examining faith, loyalty and the virtues of friendship. Mari and Michele are the leaders of their all-female Praising ministry in their local congregation, as well as their role models. They preach purity, perfection and devotion, as well as vigilance. At night, they put on their masks and become a girls’ gang determined to cleanse the city’s streets off “sluts” and “home wreckers”. In one of these operations, Mari is defeated by a victim, who slashes her face leaving her with a permanent scar. She loses her job, but finds opportunity in a remote, spooky Hospital where all the patients are comatose, developing a (forbidden) connection to a male nurse. As she becomes intrigued by the mysterious circumstances surrounding one of their group’s most notorious victims, Melissa, a mystical woman who was set on fire and had her face disfigured, Mari starts to see her beliefs and actions from a different perspective, creating barriers between her inner Evangelical world, and the worldly pleasures she has never experienced.
A fiercely accurate, hauntingly timely, unnerving and visually astonishing satire to contemporary Brazilian youth society, the increasingly manipulative self-called Evangelical system in Latin America (which is directly influenced and involved in politics and its process of elections) and the inclinations to violence and intolerance, director Da Silveira scores a top-notch horror-comedy of manners, an absorbing and horrifying look at a chaotic divided world, where values, virtues and honesty all have been compromised by some particular, bizarre ideas. She also brilliantly comments on the consequences of President Bolsonaro’s government, which promotes intolerance against women and minorities, to portrait what could have become of Brazilian society if they follow such ideas.
Gorgeously and inventively shot, perfectly performed by a group of fantastic non-professional actors (only a few of the players have worked in cinema or TV before), visually entrancing and subversive, “Medusa” is one of those cases where either you get immersed in its dystopian narrative or you’ll give it up after seeing the first take. You shouldn’t, because despite all the polemic, and the stirring religious-behavior content, Da Silveira crafted a raging female tale about violence and intolerance. It is definitely one of this year’s best and most accurate achievements, a masterwork that mirrors and reflects on our urban nightmares. It is a remarkable and unique film that will have everyone talking, discussing, arguing about it, examining from all angles possible. And when a film manages to cause such a revolution, simmering ideas and raising questions, it becomes a social movement through art, that is irresistible to ignore.
(Music Box Films. 7/29. Angelika Film Center NYC. Director Anita Rocha da Silveira will attend selected Q&A sessions.)