Memories of a Bygone Era
“Madame Sata” is a film based loosely on the life of one of the most amazing characters in the popular culture of Brazil, Joao Francisco dos Santos who lived from 190o until 1976. He was a thief, a transvestite, a street fighter, a cook in a brothel, a convict and father to seven adopted children. He was sometimes known as “dos Santos” but was better known as Madame Sata. Likewise he was also a performer in gay clubs who pushed social boundaries during tumultuous times. He film starts in 1932 in the bohemian district, Lapa, of Rio de Janerio when he was about to realize his dream of becoming a star on the stage. Lapa was a sordid place—its inhabitants included hustlers, pimps and prostitutes and the underworld of Rio. Joao was head of a family that included the prostitute Lorita and her baby daughter, a hustler named Taboo, Joao’s teenaged lover, Renatinho and Amador who owned the Blue Danube the club where Madame Sata performed.
“Madame Sata” is a movie about a bygone era as it concentrates on the life of a charismatic man who had an interesting and colorful life. Joao was a poor black homosexual man living in a society dominated by masochism. As the movie opens we hear a list of charges against him as he is older and then are taken via flashback to watch his life to see what brought him to that point. He begins his foray into bohemia as an assistant to a third-rate chanteuse and see him aching to take her place.
This was an era where women who were larger than life inspired gays to imitate them. When Joao finally gets the chance to perform in the style of the great divas of that day, his success is unheralded because of an innate talent somewhere within. But tragedy ensues when a loud drunk takes matters to himself and brings about serious consequences and Joao begins a life with the doors of prisons revolving around him.
AS Joao, Lazaro Ramos gives a performance of a lifetime. In portraying a man who was way ahead of his time, Ramos is one reason to watch this film. His performance is subtly nuanced and a real tour de force.
Here is the story that it is inspirational in that it shows the triumph of the human spirit and the victory of love which both can overcome the most sordid of circumstances.
He look of the movie is important and evocative, the mages are dark and you can almost smell the cheap cologne and pomade on the slick hair of the madame and feel the sweat and shed the tears.
Joao is the epitome of tough, resilient, talented black queer who is also attracted to women for stature and to men for sex. He was born to slaves and then sold as a child and was consumed by rage that only performing in public could ease.
As the movie floats through a series of dark and thinly etched vignettes, the subdued lighting causes moments to flicker as if candles have burned away or electricity has failed. At first it appears that there is not much there but atmosphere. Joao, rejected because he is poor and black, uses flamboyant theatricality to emphasize his presence. Every vignette is intense. There is a great deal of energy in the film and also what appears to be a life force that is inextinguishable. The material is unconventional and bold and it is perfectly sensible. The way wild gay life progresses is clear and beautifully presented and this is a movie tribute to an age gone but not forgotten.