Body Electric ***
Starring: Kelner Macêdo, Lucas Andrade, Welket Bungué, Ana Flavia Cavalcanti
Director: Marcelo Caetano
It’s rare that a film succeeds in managing to convincingly capture a realistic snapshot of daily life, but Body Electric leaves a really memorable impression about what life is like in São Paulo, Brazil. Following the story of a young man as he finds both his personal and sexual identity, the film serves a slice of normality for a working class Brazilian, giving a vibrant impression of both the city and its people.
Elias (Macêdo) works at a clothing factory. Though advised by his boss not to mix too much with his colleagues, he soon finds that the lives of the people he has been warned against are a lot more interesting than those he has not. Though their hours in work are long and drab, the moment they leave, they have a stimulating social life, through whom Elias encounters a group of free-spirited misfoits who do not abide by society’s rules. Their aim is simply to be happy and through them, he soon begins to realise that it is authenticity he wants over any pretence of inflated value.
Essentially, this film attempts to encapsulate the essence of Queerness. It refuses to allow people to be stereotyped according to their gender or sexuality, instead allowing them to be fluid and surprising. At its start, Elias appears to be yet another sexually confused boy whose angst-filled indecision is what will drive the film, but the director plays against this type, broadening both his taste and his interests far beyond just other shirtless frolicking boys. Yes he lives for his newly developed party lifestyle, but that lifestyle is welcoming of people of all types and of all lifestyles.
At its best moments, Body Electric is filled with dancing, pithy dialogue and vibrant characters. Contrasted with the uniform drudgery of the factory, the two sides to Elias’ life are played off each other very effectively, but in its observational style it also seems to forget to obtain any real semblance of a plot. It does genuinely feel like your sampling a brief moment in the life of São Paulo, but this is clearly intended to be something more. It features characters in a fictional circumstance, so it’s obviously not a documentary, but it just shuffles forward without any real purpose or direction. Which is a shame, because the world it shuffles through is both fascinating and well-composed.
For the people whose life begins and ends in the factory, Elias’ journey comes across like a wild odyssey. Though hardly an angel before, it is through embracing an unconventional life that he finds himself. Macêdo himself appears to be playing against type, but it is actually never really that convincing. He appears just a little bit too well-presented, a little bit too conventional and little bit too… basic… for his later escapades. Not that someone like him COULDN’T enjoy sexual liberty with three naked and defrocked drag queens, but Macêdo just doesn’t pull off making it plausible.
Anthropologically speaking Body Electric is an interesting piece of cinema, but for those who want to be told a story it doesn’t quite deliver the goods. This is a coming-of-age indie flick that will, unfortunately, be forgotten alongside releases that are far less adept at capturing the spirit of a place, but managed instead to create a story we want to hear.