Berlinale 2019 Review: Greta (Armando Praça)

“Beat on, heart, cause the only thing we take from this life is the love we humans have to give…” Daniela (Denise Weinberg) chants as she governs the poorly lit stage of a grim gay bar in Fortaleza, Brazil. She’s a decaying transgender performer who earns money by renting a room for casual sex between men. Daniela already had a kidney removed and is facing serious health complications. Her brother Pedro (Marco Nanini) is a nurse in a public hospital. They only have each other in life. She wishes to die, but Pedro insists on helping her – however it’s possible – to stay alive.

Daniela’s condition worsens. When she arrives at the hospital, there are no available beds in the women’s section. Pedro performs sexual favors for a patient in exchange for a bed. When the space is available, Daniela refuses to settle in the men’s section. As they negotiate, an injured criminal is hospitalized, handcuffed to the coveted bedstead. The young man’s name is Jean (Demick Lopes), and while defending his partner Meire from her violent ex, Jean was stabbed in the torso. Meire’s former partner was killed. Once again, Pedro reaches an agreement to free the bed. He’ll release Jean and hide him at his apartment, in exchange for which they will have sex. But as they begin to get closer to each other, hospital authorities identify Pedro as one of the suspects in Jean’s disappearance.

Greta is fundamentally an essay on gender and sexual orientation. Pedro is a solitary cis gay man, obsessed with Greta Garbo, who spends his nights cruising in local bars. The arrival of Jean – and Daniela’s critical condition – will disrupt this steadiness, both on an emotional level and in the evolution of his sexual identity. Daniela is a trans woman whose struggle for gender recognition is severe enough she rejects using a man’s bed even in harsh health conditions. Jean, who comes from an underprivileged background, seems more attracted by the promise of love and care than by a particular gender. Even in Meire’s small character there is a statement: although the character is a cis woman, she is portrayed by a trans actress, Gretta Star.

Armando Praça’s debut feature focuses on the layered persona of its central character and the complex, co-dependent relationships with his sister and new lover. In certain scenes, the film aims to challenge the audience by depicting sex between a rarely represented kind of pairing like Jean and Pedro, but its finest moments come in the delicate, non-sexual search for love and acceptance of the characters. The film finds its major strength in the ensemble cast, particularly Marco Nanini’s portrayal of a weary yet restless Pedro.

The film contributes to the recent wave of Brazilian queer cinema, an even more pertinent crusade now that Jair Bolsonaro has taken over the local government, imposing transphobic evangelical values in public education. Violence towards minorities has skyrocketed in the past year. Jean Wyllys – the only openly gay congressman in the country – had to leave his seat and flee the country after continual death threats; while bisexual city councilor Marielle Franco was assassinated in Spring 2018 after a life devoted to black feminism in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.

Beat on, old heart, because it will be a pleasure to die from love…