Movie Review: “Medusa” — “She’s Beautiful and She Screams”

By Nicole Venetia

Brazilian director Anita Rocha’s latest film Da Silveira is a spliced ​​female howl of fury at right-wing Christian conservatism.

Astonished, directed by Anita Rocha Da Silveira. In select theaters July 29.

Michele (Lara Tremouroux) and Mariana (Mari Oliveira) take center stage with their slut-shaming girl gang. (Image courtesy of Music Box Films)

The Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and the federal abortion law came suddenly, but not unexpectedly; America’s conservative Christian right has spent the past fifty years gradually undoing the historic decision by death through a thousand state-imposed cuts. We knew it was coming but, in the meantime, between the leak of the initial draft and the official decision, the Biden administration and high-ranking “pro-choice” Democrats like Nancy Pelosi absolutely did. nothing except back anti-choice candidates and asking for more campaign donations to waste. My sister and I ended up being the ones to break the news to our mother (who was fifteen when Roe was delivered) and she immediately shut up in horrified disbelief. Even with the assurance that nothing would change in Massachusetts, I sensed the indescribable rage and sadness that washed over her in waves. Before she had me, my mother was a social worker helping at-risk girls and young women, many of whom she escorted to clinics through screaming crowds of protesters. All of this makes me want to run through the streets screaming at the top of my lungs until my legs or vocal cords give out, whichever comes first. It’s the only thing I feel in my power to do.

This is the climax of Brazilian director Anita Rocha’s latest film Da Silveira Astonished, a gender-spliced ​​howl of female fury over right-wing Christian conservatism. In the great feminist tradition of reinterpreting and rewriting the Medusa myth, Da Silveira modernizes the tale as an allegory of the violence women inflict on each other to preserve phallocentric power structures as well as their notions of purity. feminine and submissive. Most interpretations of the Medusa myth treat the figure as a monstrous woman whose sexual desirability was a crime in itself. As punishment for being raped by Poseidon in her temple, Medusa was transformed by the virgin war goddess Athena into a hideous snake-haired gorgon whose face petrified men of stone. Beheaded by Perseus as a wedding gift to her king, Medusa long represented female malevolence and the threat of castration until feminists claimed her as an avatar of female rage. With her second feature, Da Silveira channels all that suppressed female fury into an inspired cinematic form that’s equal parts horror, fantasy, darkened satire, and sci-fi character drama.

In a near-future Brazilian society where church and state have merged, Mariana (Mari Oliveira in a stunning physical and emotional performance) and her best friend Michele (Lara Tremouroux) dedicate their lives to evangelical Christian worship directed by a charismatic preacher (Thiago Fragoso) whose dogmatic sermons on the moral failings of the nation and the innate evil of women draw crowds of young people. By day, the girls preach the good news of their lord and savior Jesus Christ and sing bubblegum pop songs about the impending apocalypse in the cult’s girl group, The Treasures. At night, Mari and Michele don white face masks and roam the streets as part of a vicious girl gang chasing, assaulting and publicly shaming perceived “sluts” whom they deem to stray from the “right path” of God for women.

Appearance is everything to The Treasures – any “good modern Christian woman” knows how to “show” herself chastely in the eyes of God as intuitively as taking the perfect selfie for Christ (which Michele will demonstrate later). In addition to holding each other to the cult’s incredibly ‘pure’ standards of femininity, the girls are held in line by a cautionary tale about a beautiful sex worker/actress named Melissa (Bruna Linzmeyer) horribly disfigured by a ‘holy woman’ laying his face on the fire as punishment for having “defiled” the city with his sexual promiscuity. No one knows what happened to Melissa afterward, but Mari and Michele believe she’s still somewhere, and they intend to drag her into the public eye for more ritualistic humiliation.

One night, Mariana’s face is slashed by a potential victim of a gang attack defending herself from the treasures, leaving Mari with a subtle but visible scar on her cheek. She immediately loses her job as an assistant to a plastic surgeon because her damaged face disturbs the wealthy clientele. Potential suitors from the cult’s paramilitary boy band, The Watchmen of Sion, immediately lose interest in Mari. Her “disfigurement” disqualifies her as a suitable wife worth showing off. Mari’s psychic fallout on the Scar gradually causes her to question her own beliefs, eventually identifying with Melissa to the point of believing she is possessed by her ghost as she wanders off and away. from worship to one’s own self-realization.

Several films over the past few years have attempted to explain how girls and young women experience misogyny amid the growing cultural backlash against fourth-wave feminism, often exploiting different genres, ranging from outright horror to black comedy to psychological thriller. By employing all three in varying degrees, Astonished the skirts being pigeonholed: it creates a world that feels uncomfortably like our own but worse given its extremes, sardonically satirizing the present via a dystopian dispatch from the near future. It’s an incredibly effective way for movies to encapsulate the zeitgeist “first as tragedy and then as farce” in all its senseless unpredictability. America and Brazil share this constant deluge of chaos better than you might think.

In AstonishedIn accompanying press notes, Da Silveira cites the rise of radical right-wing conservative Christian youth movements under the president and the march Petri dish COVID Jair Bolsonaro’s government as inspiration for the plot. But the role of women in complicity in these ultraconservative crusades cannot be underestimated. Stories of teenage girls attacking each other in the streets over perceived promiscuity – and sharing the beatings on social media – disturbed Da Silveira enough to realize that violence between women is a crucial form of control exploited by patriarchal societies. The myth of the Medusa is one of the first examples of this dynamic promulgated throughout history, enshrining “women wanting to control themselves [as] is part of the very foundations of this civilization.

On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Da Silveira names none other than Dario Argento’s Supernatural Giallo Suspiria as a key creative influence on Astonished. Conceptually, Astonished doesn’t seem to share much with Eurohorror’s cult classic about ballet students being terrorized by a group of witches who run their German dance academy. But the stylistic cues Da Silveira draws from Argento’s cinematic assault on the senses are unmistakable: bright Technicolor mood lighting, spacious and physically imposing sets, richly detailed mise en scene, and more. SuspiriaIt’s a film that dozens of filmmakers have (poorly) emulated in one way or another to the point of uninspired cliché.

In Astonishedthe visual references that Da Silveira borrows from Suspiria accentuate the two films’ mutual interest in violence between women and the preservation of hierarchy (although this is far more apparent in Luca Guadagnino’s thoughtful adaptation than in the sensually sinister original). I saw Argento’s again Suspiria a few days after viewing Astonished in preparation for a two-part film Suspiria (1977) against Suspiria (2018) episode of my podcastand I was surprised by the number little details Da Silveira recontextualizes and pays clever homage to; when Mari finally encounters Melissa in the coma ward she may or may not be residing in, Melissa’s silhouette is visible behind a curtained sheet backlit with a not unlike neon green light The snoring figure of Helena Markos bathed in blood red.

With Astonished, Anita Rocha Da Silveira carves out a special place in the pantheon of acclaimed international feminist filmmakers like Lucretia Martel, Claire Denis and Agnieszka Smoczyńska, transforming generic forms and tropes into a howling treatise on the return of the repressed feminine. If we women are really something monstrous, then God help those who seek to destroy us.

Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with a master’s degree in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, focusing on feminist media studies. His writings have been featured in MAY Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazineand Boston University hoochie reader. She is the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or, the death of cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Sub-stack.

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