Resembling an all-male late-20th-century version of the Ziegfeld Follies, the cabaret group Dzi Croquettes used an empowering sexuality to counter Brazil’s military dictatorship. “Dzi Croquettes — the Documentary” is Tatiana Issa and Raphael Alvarez’s pleasure-packed exploration of the group’s impact, using a multitude of talking heads and period footage to restore the troupe’s seminal influence on their time and within today’s culture. Deservedly sharing the docu prize in Rio, this is a surefire winner for gay fests and could play strongly among targeted smallscreen auds.
A creatively solid opening provides a brief discussion of the 1964 coup that ushered in Brazil’s repressive years under a harsh military dictatorship. Censorship increased, political activity was tightly controlled, and yet, in the early 1970s, a group of irrepressibly “out” performers formed Dzi Croquettes, revolutionizing not merely Rio’s cabaret scene but also the country’s understanding of resistance through sequins. It might sound unlikely, but the numerous interviewees convincingly position the troupe as a beacon of sedition whose message and style directly influenced Brazil’s relationship with gender and the power of a nonconfrontational celebration of individual freedom.
What set the troupe apart from the average drag show was its emphasis on absolute stage professionalism. American Lennie Dale, a bad boy among Broadway chorus boys who succumbed to the lure of the Brazilian beat, brought rigorous dance training in the style of Jack Cole and Bob Fosse to the group, seen in numerous clips. Though the men donned outrageous makeup and glittery butterfly wings, their costumes basically consisted of G-strings: retaining their chest hair and beards, they toyed with visual concepts of sexual identity by embracing both masculine and feminine elements without ever pretending to be anything other than male. What’s never exactly clear is how they managed to skirt censorship and remain such an exhilarating force.
A chance visit by Liza Minnelli turned into a stroke of luck when she became a sort of godmother, paving the group’s way to huge success during their European tour when all Paris seemed to be at their feet. Josephine Baker, Maurice Bejart and Peter Brook, among many others, celebrated their skill and style, but by the mid-1970s, the troupe’s incestuous closeness began to take its toll, and tensions mounted. There’s a sadness to the end years, when bickering, AIDS and even murder devastated the troupe, but the helmers keep the docu fixed on Dzi Croquettes’ achievements and the positive impact it exerted in Brazil and beyond.
Though many of the interviewees will be unfamiliar to non-Brazilians, the enthusiasm with which they recall the personalities and performances transcend the usual talking-head format. Minnelli provides an animated appreciation of the troupe’s style, and marvelous footage of the act in top form can’t help but put smiles on auds’ faces. Helmer Issa, narrating, has a personal connection: Her father, Americo, worked with Dzi Croquettes as a set and lighting designer.