You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlinale: Brazil’s Felipe Bragança on Brazil’s Legacy of the Past, Decadent Machismo

Sold by IM Global’s Mundial, ‘Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!’ Bragança’s first solo feature, plays Berlin’s Generation

MADRID  — Over 1864-70, Brazil and Paraguay fought maybe the most terrible war in Latin American history, the War of the Triple Alliance. In it, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans, mostly Guaranis, in a massive land-grab. 150 years later, on the Paraguay-Brazil border, the setting for “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” the historical memory of how the (central) West was won for Brazil still rankles.

One of the latest pickups by IM Global’s Mundial, selected for Sundance and now Berlin, “Alligator Girl!” starts off as an across-the-tracks story of first love between Brazilian teen, Joca, and a Paraguayan girl, Basano, who calls herself the “Tattooed Queen of the Apa River,” in reference to the river which separates the two countries.

As the film also turns to take in Joca’s brother, Fernando, a member of a bikers Calendar Gang which races against rival Guarani motorcyclists down moonlight roads, the film broadens to considerations of conflict, driven by retrograde models of masculinity, and a father, a big landowner, who still wants to keep Guaranis off his land by fair means or foul. Soon Guarani corpses are once more floating down the Apa River.

“A fairy tale connected with the heart of the people” in Brazil’s central-West, the equivalent of the U.S.’s Old West, “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” positions Bragança as a younger member of a Brazilian generation that is challenging the official story of Brazilian history and channelling big history into fictional psychological narrative.

Post-Sundance, pre-Berlin, Variety caught up with Felipe Bragança, for whom “Alligator Girl!” is his first solo feature, after a series of more experimental movies co-directed with Melina Melinda and a creative collaboration with Karim Ainouz, Latter includes a co-scribe credit on Ainouz’s Berlin competition player “Futuro Beach.”

“Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” talks about the legacy of the past in terms of war, but also in first love and in tragic models of masculinity. Would you agree? 

The film talks about memory in a lot of ways. Memory of the past, of the War of the Triple Alliance that our official history tries to forget but is always there, and Joca’s memory of the recent ideal love story of his teenage years, which maybe everyone carries with them in different ways. This moment that created us as who we are. I wanted to create a dialogue between the two layers.

How does the War of the Triple Alliance play out in contemporary Brazil? 

The war with Paraguay helped create the country we are now today. After that war, the country changed a lot. The army got stronger. We became a militarized society, which we continue to be, even in democracy. Sometimes I think about Brazilian identity as being like Joca in the film. We would love to be a heroic country, a country of the future. But we are too stuck in memories of the past to move forward.

The film also talks about models of manhood. Joca’s father is absent, his far older brother Fernando is desperately trying to earn the respect of the father that abandoned both of them by being an uber-man…

I wanted to talk about the decadence of a macho man society. Joca senses that the model of manhood he sees in his brother is in decadence. But he doesn’t have the referents around him to know how to deal with that. So he ends up mirroring his brother, creating his own gang of friends who go around on push-bikes, rather than motorcycles.

Did that influence the way you shot the biker gang with heavily-stylized references to classic or modern classic American movies in terms of color and composition? 

The idea was that the world of the gang and everything surrounding Fernando was always seen through Joca’s imagination, with a feeling of fable, an atmosphere from comic books and even American movies that every boy sees in the afternoons after school. Films like “The Warriors,” American cinema that reaches these regions in Brazil via TV, creating a reference of what it is to be a man.

Where did you shoot the film? Rio Grande del Sur?

Matto Grosso del Sur, in Brazil’s far South-West. The real reason for the War was Brazil’s push south in an attempt to occupy the region, bring in settlers, carve out farmlands, on lands used by the indigenous peoples..

It sounds like the conquest of the American West…

Yes. When I researched the movie, one reference was American Westerns. That’s why Brazil raised Paraguay’s capital, Ascension: To destroy Paraguay’s economy, which is why it is still the poorest country in the region.

Your film was shot in Brazil’s South-West, Marcelo Gomes’ competition player “Joaquim” and Daniela Thomas’ Panorama opener “Vazante” were both filmed in Brazil’s imposing eastern mountains, Davi Pretto’s “Rifle” on the farmlands of southern-most Brazil. You talked about Brazil’s identity. I sense your films are mapping this by exploring the huge events and factors shaping Brazil’s present.

My sense is that about a decade ago, when we were trying to establish an auteur cinema in Brazil, we made films about things close to us. Now, as Brazil faces a large crisis which is not only political but about identity, we’re talking about bigger issues: Who we are, where we come from.

More Film

  • Forrest Gump

    Guild of Music Supervisors Awards to Honor Joel Sill; King Princess to Perform (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Guild of Music Supervisors has announced that Joel Sill will receive the organization’s Legacy Award for his contribution to music in film. Sill’s body of work includes “Forrest Gump,” “The Goonies,” “Blade Runner,” “The Color Purple” and “My Cousin Vinny.” He will be joined by Spotify’s RISE artist, King Princess, who will be performing as [...]

  • Vice Christian Bale Sam Rockwell Playback

    Listen: Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell on Early Acting Days and Reuniting for 'Vice'

    PLAYBACK is a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films. New episodes air every Thursday. Oscar-winning actors Christian Bale and Sam Rockwell first met 20 years ago on the Italy-set production of Michael Hoffman’s Shakespeare adaptation “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” With the business in their blood [...]

  • Rebecca Campbell Disney

    Disney Sets Out International Leadership Team Post-Fox Deal

    Rebecca Campbell, Diego Lerner and Uday Shankar are set to be Disney’s three key international chiefs when its deal for 21st Century Fox closes, the company announced Thursday. Campbell will run the Europe, Middle East and Africa team under the new structure, which is conditional on the Fox deal closing. She also adds Russia and [...]

  • 'Dumplin'' Review: Netflix's Sweet, Dolly Parton-Blessed

    Film Review: 'Dumplin''

    “I’m not the Dalai Lama, but I’ll try to offer up a few words of advice,” Dolly Parton chirped in her 2008 single “Better Get to Livin’,” before doling out exactly the brand of wholesome, no-nonsense wisdom you’d expect from the indefatigable country queen: If you keep your head up, keep moving forward and say [...]

  • Russell BobbittMarvel Studios talk at Beth

    The Best Gifts For Marvel Fans

    From the success of “Deadpool 2” (stream, $5.99 on Amazon) to the rise of “Black Panther” (stream, $3.99 on Amazon) 2018 was a big year for the Marvel Universe. With the holidays just around the corner, we’ve rounded up some of the best Marvel-related gifts, fit for wannabe superheroes, and casual fans alike. 1. Spider-Man [...]

  • Valerian

    EuropaCorp in Advanced Talks to Sell Off Its Post-Production Facility (EXCLUSIVE)

    Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp is in advanced discussions to sell its vast post-production facility, Digital Factory, to Chinese research and engineering studio Southbay, Variety has learned. Southbay specializes in 3D conversion, VFX and post-production for film and TV, and has offices in Los Angeles and in Hangzhou and Shaoxing in China. EuropaCorp is one of Southbay’s clients, along [...]

  • 'Self-Portrait With Boy' in Development at

    'Self-Portrait With Boy' in Development at Topic Studios

    Topic Studios (“Leave No Trace”) has bought rights to Rachel Lyon’s debut novel “Self-Portrait With Boy” and plans to develop the project as a feature film. Lyon will adapt her own novel. John Lyons (“Boogie Nights”), who recently signed a first-look deal with Topic Studios, has come on board to produce. The story is set [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content