“What is not sung or danced in the film is still very much choreographed in an inventive and exquisite manner, whether it involves the composition and the lighting of the shots, the rhythm of the scenes, or the musicality of the dialogue. All this makes us want to live in the wonderland of Fogo-fátuo until 2069, as the characters do.”
Fogo-fátuo is the Portuguese term for will-o’-the-wisp, and it turns out to be an ideal title for a film like the last one from director João Pedro Rodrigues (To Die Like a Man, The Last Time I Saw Macao), presented at the Directors’ Fortnight: unpredictable, shining blazingly, and ending suddenly. The film clocks in at just over one hour, but it nevertheless covers a broad spectrum of genres, ideas, visions – broader than in a lot of movies way longer than this one. Rodrigues merges today with a distant future, a musical with theatre-like transitions, sex with intersectional struggles in favour of ecology and equal rights. All of these things are different manifestations of the straightforward energy which is at the heart of Fogo-fátuo, its inner flame: the fact that everything in life is about desire, whether it is a sexual, artistic or political one. Hence everything in the film comes from a desire and bears a political, artistic or sexual significance – and most of the time several of these at once. As one of the two protagonists, Afonso, says to the other, Alfredo, “How can one defend something that he does not desire?”
Their common desires are the reason Alfredo and Afonso’s paths will cross, even though everything in their lives and backgrounds is supposed to keep them apart. Alfredo is of royal blood and white; Afonso has immigrant roots and is black. As a way to ridicule them, they play joyfully with these labels when they eventually perform what is the most transgressive act of all in the eyes of those who would rather have everyone stay put in their preordained position: they have sex. While they make love to one another, Alfredo and Afonso call each other hideous names (‘slave owner’, ‘anthropophagist’) which should be their heavy inheritance from the past but are shrunk down to a naughty means of arousal. Knocking over these offensive words is one of the means the two men use to achieve what they aspire to do: abolish the imperialist and traditionalist culture from yesterday in order to save everything it damages today.
The crew of gay firefighters which Afonso is a part of and Alfredo enlists in, is the ideal environment for the latter to put into practice the principles he expresses in the introduction, in a vibrant speech addressed to his parents and the audience. The immediateness between Alfredo’s statement and its accomplishment among the firefighters is in line with the fairytale nature of Fogo-fátuo. Rodrigues’s goal is not to tell us a realistic story but a dreamlike one, where everything is voluntarily theatrical, surreal and overtly symbolic. A good part of the film consists of songs and dance numbers, the climax of those being a gorgeous group ballet taking place in (and taking over) the barracks. What is not sung or danced in the film is still very much choreographed in an inventive and exquisite manner, whether it involves the composition and the lighting of the shots, the rhythm of the scenes, or the musicality of the dialogue. All this makes us want to live in the wonderland of Fogo-fátuo until 2069, as the characters do.