Thursday 13 August 2020

Caw: "Seduction of the Flesh/Sedução da Carne"

They've done it. Over the past few months, I've speculated that our cinephile pals at MUBI UK were amusing themselves during lockdown by running an inhouse competition to find the most obscure, least commercial title ever to be set in stone on the official UK release schedule. They unearthed some very strong contenders: the patchwork tone poem fashioned entirely from offcuts of material, the hybrid film about the academic researching old letters in a Canadian library. But - no - with cinemas reopening and some vague sense of normality returning to our screens, MUBI have at last found The One, the all-timer, the bizarro artefact no critic nor viewer could possibly have been expecting to set eyes on at the start of 2020. Here is the IMDb plot summary for Seduction of the Flesh, no word of a lie: "A delicate and tenacious writer, widowed three years ago, engages in frequent conversation with a parrot. However, she's always observed by a large portion of raw meat." And you thought we were getting a Bond film, a new Nolan and a Fast & Furious sequel this summer.

It would be going some for any film to live up to that eccentric description; the extraordinary thing about Seduction of the Flesh is that it very nearly does. Its opening five minutes find veteran filmmaker Julio Bressane fiddling about with his camera up some trees, to a soundtrack of his own heavy breathing. The next five or so minutes find Bressane on a beach, bothering some fisherman at work. At which point, if the film were being released anywhere near a cinema, you can imagine aggrieved punters abandoning their seats and making a beeline for the box-office window: "Excuse me, kind madam, where is my parrot? Where is my large portion of raw meat?" Hold your horses, tripe fans. At precisely the 14-minute mark, the actress Mariana Lima materialises in the role of the widow Siloé, and - yes - embarks upon an hour-long monologue to an especially well-trained parrot. She is indeed observed in turn, from the corner of the frame, by a plate of violent-pink liver or ham that would presumably have stunk up something rotten beneath the studio lights. Siloé isn't messing around. Practically her first words concern the long history of interspecies copulation, and from the way she eyes the bird up and rubs her thighs together as if in the hottest of Copacabanan heat, it's joltingly clear she's keen to extend this tradition further. You won't know whether to carry on watching or send in the RSPB.

Is it possible to take any of it at all seriously? Well, get past Bressane's initial camera fumbling, and that monologue is elegantly shot: the table at which Lima sits and the parrot perches is a neat little still life, surrounded by darkness. The actress, very game, deserves both a lifetime ban from Whipsnade Zoo and some form of prize for the movies' most committed display of animal husbandry since Charlotte Rampling had it away with a chimp in 1986's Max Mon Amour; a late shot of her caught in what's apparently postcoital bliss, hefty slabs of steak positioned over her erogenous zones, is presumably being uploaded to the Internet's most specialised websites as we speak. (The great Czech animator Jan Švankmajer would love that slithering charcuterie, giving itself an impromptu toilet bath before going down on our heroine.) Beyond that, I have to concede, you're entirely on your own with this one. That Bressane is dealing in wilful obscurity can be intimated from the long sequence that finds Lima writing notes behind gauze, set to a song that may only mean anything to viewers raised in the heyday of Garrincha. It strikes me as likely that the parrot holds symbolic value, its green-and-yellow plumage instantly redolent of the Brazilian flag (and thus a country about to get screwed by its handlers?). Even that reading is contradicted, however, by the scene where a single feathered wing is seen disappearing between the widow's legs, as if to convey that the bird is the seducer here. (Like Brazil gearing up to fuck the people? Who knows.) The only certainty I can pronounce is that this really is one of those rare occasions where, for better and worse, you won't have seen anything like it. MUBI's Brazilian summer season has shown us a film industry adopting diverse coping mechanisms to deal with the rise of right-wing populism. What this most extreme of outliers suggests is that the country may also have gone quite, quite mad.

Seduction of the Flesh/Sedução da Carne is now streaming via MUBI UK.

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