The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MEDUSA | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MEDUSA

Medusa review
A fundamentalist young woman leads a cult targeting women whose lifestyles they disapprove of.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Anita Rocha da Silveira

Starring: Mari Oliveira, Lara Tremouroux, Arthur Santileone, Felipe Frazao, Bruna Linzmeyer, Thiago Fragoso

Medusa poster

The other day I was chatting to someone whose MA compared Islamic and Christian eschatology. As you can imagine, being a fascinated outsider I had a billion questions, and over the ensuing conversation they patiently explained that there was a great deal of narrative overlap between the three Abrahamic religions, with points of divergence occurring due to slightly different interpretations of similar events: elucidations which calcified into the doctrines which have defined the major creeds for ensuing millennia. To me, a respectful interloper, it seems that the belief systems which people build their understanding of the world around, and in some cases their identity, are fundamentally analogous. And further to this, a person's faith, the camp they fall into, may ultimately be tribal; an ideology perhaps defined in opposition to ostensibly separate classification, with the believer compelled by a human desire to be a part of something which has meaning bigger than the self. It's a similar dynamic to supporting a particular football team, or, in the case of Medusa, Brazilian filmmaker Anita Rocha da Silveira's at times startling sophomore feature, being part of a teenage gang: a need to belong, which, if desperate enough, overrides all logic and individual reason.

Medusa review

In what could be the most adrenalised opening of the year, an androgynous dancer contorts against a pitch-black background, their impressive body twisted into an upside-down crawl (you know, like Regan going down the stairs) which they appealingly wrench to some intense night music, all the while lit by the stop/start tease of strobing red and green lights. Before you can say, "Oi Gasper (Noé), wake up you're having that dream again," we pull out to reveal a pair of black lacquered hands holding an iPhone screen wherein the action plays out, and a female face watching with suitable erotic wonder. Cut to night-time, Brasília: a wide angle takes in the blue shadowed depths of the back street where our dance dazed heroine leaves her bus to walk home alone. Except, not for long, as filling the background behind her is an eight strong gang, distinguished by the blank white Les yeux sans visage masks they all wear. They kick our girl to the kerb, screaming that she is a "filthy slut" and "a pervert" while they punch and boot her. As the gang terrorises the kid we notice their long hair, willowy frames and treble voices: they're girls themselves.

Medusa's tricksy, exciting opening trains us to consider what comes next with a Brechtian eye, foregrounding its cultural themes and rhetoric. Concerned with female-on-female violence and the rising wave of active conservatism in Brazil, Rocha da Silveira's film is a serious satire of where the filmmaker sees Brazil heading, and which confronts its audience with vivid and sensual imagery to make its point.

A key member of the gang is Mariana (Mari Oliveira), who spends her evenings stomping girls who her crew see as impure and imploring them to make video confessions converting to Christianity, and her days practising in a choir for a church which sanctions both activities. Their pastor (Thiago Fragoso) is an evangelical who is running for political office: "When He descends from heaven/ The whole universe will quake," the choir intone to a mini-pops beat, wall to wall smiles beaming beatifically. It is the campest thing you've ever seen, and a high comedy contrast to the cruelty of a few scenes earlier. As inspired by the nightmare rhythms of giallo, nothing is subtle in Medusa.

Medusa review

Mariana is the dead spit of British actor Zawe Ashton - i.e., utterly gorgeous, which makes a justified retaliation from a would-be victim wherein Mariana gets her cheek cut open all the more poignant. Except not really: it's only a scar, but it doesn't coincide with the fascistic values of Mariana's contexts. Girls should be "beautiful, demure and at home," according to the church credo, and Mariana's so-perceived disfigurement means she can't be a receptionist at a Cosmetic Surgery anymore, a business where "looks are everything" (I did say that it was blunt). Mariana's boss chastises that a "worthy woman doesn't walk alone at night" and the disgraced gang member is forced to work as a nurse in a hospice, where an almost mythically revered patient resides: a hideously scarred casualty of the sort of carnage Mariana gleefully enacted.

Medusa follows an A Clockwork Orange arc, wherein the stylised violence its anti-hero doles out in opening sequences are juxtaposed by the humble pie of the middle act. The problem with Medusa, however, is that during the ensuing plot it never quite recaptures or even capitalises on the kinetic potential of its opening. We understand its outlook within the first 20 minutes, and then it's a case of experiencing two hours or so of variations upon the theme. As Mariana inevitably falls in love with a male nurse, has tentative intimacies with a female colleague, and generally begins to realise that she's been an arsehole for x amount of years, the film is always watchable due to João Atala's gleaming cinematography and Rocha da Silveira's lively sense of humour. But if only the knife which assailed Mariana could have also slipped and lopped off some of the running time: less would be more to facilitate Medusa's mean and keen pop impact wherein Rocha da Silveira makes salient points about Brazil's socio-political situation.

Medusa review

The recent news that the political future of (sure inspiration for Medusa's antagonism) Jair Bolsonaro has been apparently halted following an electoral ban provides welcome succour to Rocha da Silveira's disparagement of the forces which play upon insecurity and weaponise religion in order to foster hatred and sow tribal division. Duly, Medusa ends in existential crisis, with the reassuring prior promises of belonging and salvation ultimately proving to be as hollow and hopeless as a scream into the void.

Medusa is in UK/ROI cinemas and on VOD from July 14th.

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