Elvis e Madona

By 23 May, 2011

“Only in Copacabana could you find Elvis and Madona, together, live in colour.”

The bars and beaches of this famous Rio district form part of the backdrop for what is essentially a simple love story, albeit with some complications surrounding the couple’s sexual orientations and gender identities.

The film starts when, Madona, a transvestite showgirl, has a sum of money stolen from her by João the ‘Tripod’, an unsavoury former lover and partner in porn who pops up throughout the film to ensure that the course of true love doesn’t run quite as smoothly as it could. Our biker dude Elvis, turns up on the doorstep just after the crime, on her first pizza delivery shift, and ends up picking up the pieces and falling in love.

Both are quick to explain their claims to their superstar aliases. Elvis is really called Elvira, she says, as she shrugs her leather jacket shoulders and casually flicks her fringe back; and Madona comes from the ‘da’ in Adailton. Very little else is made of the immensity of their names as it feels entirely apt that Elvis is a tough and blasé motorbike rider while Madona is hypersexed and attention-seeking to the point of intimidation.

What these megapersonas do achieve however is the sense of universalisation which the director was after. This film was inspired by him seeing an odd scene on tv where a man had abandoned his family and come back as a transvestite. The fight was not caused by shame at the father’s choice of clothes, but because the father and the son’s wife were in love. He wanted to show that however bizarre, love can happen in any situation.

In spite of their upside-down heterosexual relationship, the adversity which the lesbian, Elvis and transvestite, Madona, face is not even solely caused by their gender-defying identities. The scene where they first meet quickly establishes that they have an instant mutual attraction, and we later learn that they live in Copacabana to escape prejudices and live with understanding friends. The major complications which they face are actually those which can affect any couple: ghosts from past relationships, family pressures and unplanned pregnancies.

It is supposed to be a universal and transferrable love story, and you can also see the director Marcelo Laffitte playing around with the specific concepts he has chosen to highlight, as well as providing comic elements. After one night of passion, (which thankfully doesn’t come across anywhere near as weird as it could have been) the pair enact the typical post-coital scene where the macho guy smokes and stares into the distance, partially ignoring the affections of the female, and then makes excuses to go back to his own bed.

Madona’s history is significantly darker than Elvis’ and is never focussed on fully. Her past in the porn industry, in Copawood keeps coming back to her via the strange and abusive relationship with João Tripod. It is quite frustrating to have so little explanation for Madona’s outrageous character, but perhaps we are, like her, to be content with bottling up and pushing aside those memories with distractions in the form of bright colours, flamboyant clothes and diva performances.

In all the film is not mind-blowing. The Rom is fairly predictable; the Com a bit better, if a little contrived, it is just a shame when other films have approached the gender-bending genre with such spectacular effect. Priscilla Queen of the Desert, for example, is much more fun, and stunningly shot with some genuinely touching gooey relationship stuff. Todo Sobre Mi Madre (All About My Mother) too is unsurpassed in its deep, dark intensity and its twisty plot.

The only genuinely original scene is when Elvis takes Madona back to meet her family. The camera spins around the table, bringing the heads and ornaments of the fore and middle ground to focus simultaneously, which produces something of a whirling and confused effect. The director claims to be particularly proud of this scene, perhaps the motion sickness encouraged in the viewer is supposed to simulate the tension and cranial whirlwind of an awkward social situation. The trouble is that even this eye-straining piece of cinema is not quite enough to save what is effectively a trite and cliché plot, i.e. that love between two people can conquer all.

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