Last week at Julia Murat Regra 34 (Rule 34) won the Locarno Film Festival’s main prize, the Golden Leopard. SWI swissinfo.ch spoke to the director, who sees her award as a victory for her country’s “mistreated cultural sector”.
This content was published on August 18, 2022 – 14:19
“Bolsonaro Forum!With the words “Bolsonaro out!” actress Sol Miranda used Brazil’s provocative opposition chant to close her acceptance speech after picking up the Pardo d’Oro, or Golden Leopard, at this year’s Locarno Film Festival for the film Regra 34.
For director Julia Murat and her team, present in Locarno, it was essential to take a political stand, as many other Brazilian artists and performers have done at high-level international events.
Murat told SWI swissinfo.ch that the ultra-conservative government of Jair Bolsonaro has made it an explicit policy to dismantle the country’s cultural sector. “You don’t need censorship or the other usual authoritarian tools – just stifle it [the cultural sector] financially,” she said.
Turn off the tap
The film industry, in particular, is booming. Right now, the only safety net for the domestic film industry are international streaming companies.
“Everyone I know works for Netflix right now,” Murat says. “For the technical teams, it’s a job bonanza, there’s a lot of work.”
“I wonder how long this will last,” she adds, “because Netflix, Amazon, and HBO are changing their production guidelines, so even this little respite might be short-lived.”
For creative professionals, however, the picture is dire. “Small independent producers are closing their doors,” she says. “I haven’t had a salary for over a year. My [production] company [Esquina Filmes] goes bankrupt and owners or partners of other companies do line production for streaming companies to make a living.”
Brazil experienced a boom in audiovisual production from the early 2000s, thanks to a mechanism by which projects supported by the federal film agency could raise funds through private companies and individuals, who could then deduct the amount in the form of tax credits. Since Bolsonaro took power in 2019, all film submissions for federal approval have stalled. Regra 34 was only able to move forward because it was part of the last batch of projects to be processed after its submission in 2017.
The five years between the filing of his film for financing and its consecration at Locarno have been long and bumpy. “We finished filming a week before the Covid lockdown hit Rio de Janeiro,” says Murat. The pandemic was not the only obstacle, because suddenly there was no possibility of raising funds for post-production in Brazil. A “miraculous” grant from the Gothenburg Film FestivalExternal link (Sweden) for filmmakers from “countries where democracy is in danger”, saved the day.
Everything is porn
Rule 34 in the film’s title is an internet concept that states that everything in real life, even if made up, has a corresponding pornographic depiction. The film’s official synopsis – “Simone, a young law student whose sexual desires draw her into a world of violence and eroticism” – leaves out all the nuances that make it an impressive film, harsh on all its edges. Simone is a black woman. Her sexual desires delve deeper and deeper into sado-masochistic (BDSM) practices, while her well-dressed character as an apprentice prosecutor deals daily with horrific misogynistic abuse, domestic or otherwise.
The simple dualism of pain and pleasure, or humiliation and revenge, is not enough to explain or satisfy Simone’s urges. The challenges she finds in the legal world are more complicated, including how the state can protect its citizens without inflicting even more violence on victims. Another question is whether prostitution should be banned. Inequality, racism, injustice, machismo, fear and silent desperation creep into almost every dialogue – as they do every day in the life of every black woman in Brazil.
The initial idea for the film had nothing to do with its final form. Simone didn’t even exist, explains Murat: “I wanted to investigate the world of pornography because it was a world that I didn’t know and about which I had a lot of prejudices – and I don’t consider myself the just like a moralist. ”
But then a business partner showed her an interview with famous porn actress Sasha Grey. “For her, porn is about pushing the limits to push the limits of your body, your desires, your thoughts. For me, that’s when the story of the film really started,” says Murat.
To be political or not to be
His victory at Locarno was initially a complete surprise for the critics, the participants, the public and even the film crew.
Rule 34 had a pretty good reception at the festival despite, or because of, the film’s opening minutes, which shocked more puritanical minds (no further spoilers here). It was a good start, after all there was not much shock in the program this year. Still, the movie pundits in attendance didn’t consider the film a strong contender for the main prize, but not for lack of merit.
Given the programming of Locarno, where highly politicized films set the tone by addressing current debates such as decolonization, the “new fascisms” or the rise of illiberal democracies, Rule 34 displayed its policy in nuances. It is not about dictators, political repression or censorship, but its plot unfolds against a constant backdrop of violence.
That was also the message of Sol Miranda’s acceptance speech, the actress who plays Simone but in real life is also an educator and a mother who grew up in a slum. She is a candidate for a seat in the federal parliament in the next Brazilian general elections, on the same list as the left-wing ex-president Lula.
Miranda’s role model and inspiration is Marielle Franco, the Rio de Janeiro city councilor who was murdered by militiamen in 2018. The criminal investigation remains inconclusive, but Miranda is one of many poor, black and disenfranchised who worked with Franco and ran for office after her. death.
“It’s not yet a success story, however,” Miranda says, “it’s a constant, never-ending struggle.” This year’s election campaign saw a record number of women joining the race, but they still make up just 33% of candidates.
The Golden Leopard, however, created a more upbeat vibe. Murat is delighted to reveal that after he was nominated to compete in Locarno, a member of the film crew’s WhatsApp group, dreaming of winning the Leopard, renamed it ‘Nothing is impossible’. While SWI swissinfo.ch addressed Murat, they renamed it, this time “Everything is possible”.
Edited by Mark Livingston/gw
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