Berlinale 2022 review: Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter (Gustavo Vinagre)

“Ultimately, Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is a touching manifesto on the nature of youth, as filtered through the perspective of one of the most promising young directors working in cinema today.”

Had Éric Rohmer made a film centred around the trials and tribulations of a group of young queer individuals in the working-class suburbs of Brazil, it would very likely resemble Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter (Portuguese: Três Tigres Tristes), an ambitious and peculiar comedy by Gustavo Vinagre, which is just as wonderfully evocative as its alliterative title, expressing the sense of playfulness that the director bases the narrative around. The film tells the story of three young queer people in São Paulo – two of them residents, the third a visiting relative there for more sobering reasons than simply a casual stopover – as they spend roughly a day together traversing the bustling streets of a city they feel they can conquer, if they can muster up the confidence to emerge from the shadows in which they have found sanctuary from a hostile world that does not understand their experiences. A challenging but powerful work that is as heartwarming as it is thought-provoking, Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter carries a weight that is difficult to ignore, especially in the moments when the more unconventional elements temporarily abate, and we are given direct insights into the profound depths that motivated this film and its creation.

Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is a revelatory entry into the sphere of contemporary queer cinema, particularly in how it presents the challenges faced by the main characters. There is a tendency for contemporary films on the subject of queerness to be both severe and comprehensive, often structured around characters that are assured in their identity for the most part. This film does it slightly differently, presenting us with a trio of protagonists who are not entirely sure of who they are yet, and are searching for their identities through trial and error, simply venturing out into the world and discovering what works best by interacting with those around them. Vinagre constructed a film that aims to redefine queerness from a modern perspective, playing into the discovery that, contrary to popular belief, identity is malleable and ever-changing. This is reflected in the film’s very easygoing tone, where we witness these friends set out into their neighbourhood over the course of a few hours, interacting with those they encounter, and gaining invaluable life experiences simply through being present. This ultimately makes the more serious conversations embedded in the film even more poignant, since the journey to get to that particular point has been so complex, layered with meaning that can only be drawn from an engaging and insightful understanding of issues surrounding identity within the LGBTQIA+ community, which serves as the foundation for this enthralling film.

Considering the subject matter of Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter, it is hardly surprising that the film is just as queer as its characters when it comes to execution. Even the most cursory glance at the director’s previous work will make it abundantly clear that he is not someone who aligns himself with conventions, instead choosing to pursue more off-kilter stories of eccentric personalities, and infusing them with a sense of reality (rather than the other way around, which is far more standard). The film is produced along the ambiguous lines of magical realism, combining gritty stories of the social and cultural surroundings with a more abstract method of storytelling. This culminates in a stream-of-consciousness approach to the narrative, whereby the film functions as a series of episodic moments in the day-to-day rituals of these characters, vivid tableaux of their working-class malaise, which stands in stark contrast to their unapologetic queerness. It is in this approach that Vinagre adds a level of gently absurd humour, placing these characters in bizarre situations that stretch the limits of reality in favour of a more illogical but nonetheless captivating style of storytelling. It may be perpetually off-the-wall in terms of its sensibilities, but Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is always sincere, touching on some very serious issues through the lens of earnest comedy. The intersections between the internal journeys of these characters and broader subjects relating to the queer community, whether it be institutionalized homophobia or the HIV/AIDS crisis, add to the deeply melancholic sensations that punctuate this outlandish surrealist adventure, which manages to say more about the experiences of queer youth through its bizarre narrative methods than nearly any other film on these subjects in recent years.

Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter proves that a film can easily be provocative without coming across as insensitive or exploitative. The key to this success comes in the realization that there is method to the madness – Vinagre does not set off to simply shatter every notion of plausibility when telling the story of three wayward youths without having some kind of structure, which is reflected in the quieter moments. We are constantly reminded through the interactions of these characters about the insatiable importance of friendship, especially amongst a community that is often made to feel isolated from the outside world. The film rejects a conventional narrative structure, preferring to take an approach that is much more experimental, but carefully avoiding becoming alienating, which could be fatal to a film so intent on pushing boundaries, attempting to make sense of the natural absurdities associated with everyday life. Ultimately, Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is a touching manifesto on the nature of youth, as filtered through the perspective of one of the most promising young directors working in cinema today, and someone whose perspective is not only fascinating but invaluable, especially when combining the unhinged artistry of his absurdist vision with the genuine compassion he infuses into every frame of this astonishing testament to the simple joys of being young, wild and free.