Loose and ebullient, “Tattoo” sees worlds collide as the omnisexual leader of an anarchist cabaret troupe falls in love with an 18-year-old soldier serving Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1978, just before the next year’s amnesty law would commence a gradual return to democracy. With a gender-blurred atmosphere of glitter, nudity and impudence right out of “The Cockettes,” the pic’s primary club setting establishes a tenor both transgressive and innocent that carries over to the somewhat amorphous narrative. Winner of several top prizes at Rio, this first directorial feature Hilton Lacerda, a longtime scenarist (especially for Claudio Assisi), is a colorful flashback that should flourish on the gay fest and niche home-format circuits, with potential for wider exposure in select territories.
Lacerta’s native metropolis of Recife is home to the “Moulin Rouge of the outskirts, the Broadway of the poor, the Studio 54 of the favela,” as impresario/director/performer Clecio (Irandhir Santos) terms the Star-Spangled Floor. That establishment’s motley performers live and love communally, with Clecio himself raising a teenage son he’s sired with Deusa (Sylvia Prado). That aside, he has an otherwise tres gay lifestyle, including on/off involvement with flighty, temperamental, frequently drugged-up audience favorite Paulete (Rodrigo Garcia). They’re having too much fun to worry about being broke, or on the radar of the government censors — at least for the moment.
Meanwhile, handsome young Fininho (Jesuita Barbosa) is not enjoying his military service, particularly as one sergeant keeps gay-baiting him over his disinterest in going out whoring (although the sergeant may be hiding some sexual issues of his own). Tasked with delivering a letter from his sometime girlfriend to her sibling Paulete, the soldier is enchanted by the club’s freewheeling environs. He’s even more taken with Clercio, and vice versa. But the players soon begin to worry this crew-cut interloper is a spy, as their outre onstage antics risk being shut down by the authorities.
It’s no surprise when that indeed comes to pass, or when the two men’s affair raises the jealous ire of both Deusa and Paulete. But there’s not too much plot per se going on in “Tattoo,” which is driven instead by the infectious, hedonistic energy of the Floor denizens onstage and off. The myriad performance segments are faithful to their period in having a cheerful, semi-amateur air, while encompassing song, dance, skits, performance art, sexploitation, subversive political messages, juvenile scatology, sexploitation, drag camp and the proverbial kitchen sink. There’s genuine romantic and erotic heat to some fairly graphic scenes between the male leads, which, like everything else here, have a spirit closer to liberation than prurience.
Perfs are well turned all around, and packaging is aptly high on color and verve.