Body Electric

We speak with filmmaker Marcelo Caetano.

With his film Body Electric (Corpo Eletrico), filmmaker Marcelo Caetano immerses us in the day-to-day life of people who live in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.

Elias is a handsome young deputy manager in a garment factory in São Paulo. When he’s not working, he enjoys casual encounters in the big city. The arrival on the factory’s production line of a young African, Fernando, piques his interest and Elias finds himself increasingly drawn into socialising with his work colleagues. Even though his bosses warn him about becoming too friendly with the workers, he resists their concerns.

This is a richly textured and authentic portrait of working life in contemporary Brazil. It offers insights into the characters’ daily lives — whether it’s at work, home, or during leisure hours in clubs and bars – flirting, drinking, dancing, and having sex.

It’s observational storytelling in a way, there’s no major dramatic arc, but small revelations and glimpses of events that enable us to build a picture of the lives of the characters and their experiences and aspirations.

Cast includes:

  • Kelner Macedo
  • Lucas Andrade
  • Welket Bungue
  • Ronaldo Serruya
  • Ana Flavia Cavalcanti
  • Henrique Zanoni
  • Marcia Pantera
  • Linn Da Quebrada

After its successful run on the festival circuit, ahead of the film’s general release we spoke with filmmaker Marcelo Caetano for a behind-the-scenes look at Body Electric:

What was your inspiration for this story?

Body Elecctric was originally inspired by a poem written by Walt Whitman in the mid-nineteenth century, I sing the Body Electric.

The poem celebrated the beauty that existed in each body without any kind of judgment, nor prejudice, and with a desire for absolute freedom.

The initial idea was to translate the images of the poem into a cinematic structure, and from there came the character of Elias – the main character of the film, a young gay man who wanders through very different universes, always attentive to the possibilities of contact with other bodies.

What was the production process like?

The film was shot in March and April in 2016. We worked over five weeks. Before that, we had a long process of rehearsals with the actors, for about three months.

In my method of work, I like to build the scenes with the actors in the rehearsal room. So the mise-en-scène and much of the dialogue is discovered in this partnership with the actors. It’s a very intense process in which the film begins to reveal itself.

Was it difficult to raise the funding required?

We raised the money fairly quickly. We had the support of the federal government, the state of São Paulo and the city of São Paulo.

The success of my short films, and my experience of working on a number of feature films in recent years probably made the funding process a bit easier for Body Electric.

What was the casting process like?

Casting is one of the essential parts of my work. I don’t look for actors capable of building characters, but actors available to live the situations proposed and even share their personal stories. So the casting needs to be quite extensive, with several phases and conversations.

An important stage of the casting is also to see how the actors interact with one another, the affinity between them. Plus they must have an ability to improvise and react to what happens during the filming process.

What does the film tell us about day-to-day life in São Paulo?

Work and consumerism are the main religions in São Paulo. People come from everywhere to make money, and the ‘Paulistanos’ consider themselves to be the motor of the country.

In opposition to what happens in the rest of Brazil, Paulistanos are always talking about work, and this can be quite oppressive. So it can be a pretty sad city, if you can’t find ways to subvert its logic.

What I try to show in Body Electric is that pleasure and hedonism are ways of subverting the dynamics of this city. Traditionally, Brazilians experience time differently from people in Western cultures – we live our day-to-day life in a more fluid and sensual way, and work is definitely not the most important thing. So, in the film I try to portray hedonism as an attitude of resistance to São Paulo dynamics.

What does the film tell us about what life is like for gay men in São Paulo?

Brazilian society talks a lot about sex, and LGBT identities are now on the agenda of the mainstream media. At the same time, Brazil is one of the countries with the largest number of LGBT people being killed compared to anywhere in the world – most of the victims are trans women and feminine gay men. So I can say that masculine gay men living in São Paulo are extremely privileged and enjoy enormous tolerance in the city.

Elias, our main character, found this freedom when he left conservative Paraíba to live in São Paulo. It’s interesting to see his freedom, but it’s also a sad note as it’s a limited freedom and doesn’t apply to all LGBT people. That’s also why the drag queens in the film are portrayed almost as super-heroines.

It’s observational storytelling in a way, there’s no major dramatic arc, but small revelations and glimpses of events that enable us to build a picture of the lives of the characters and their experiences and aspirations. Were you worried that perhaps audiences would want some more action or drama in the film?

No, I wasn’t. I strongly believe that it’s not enough to create LGBT characters, we have to invent queer ways of telling stories.

The form of the film needs to be queer, unpredictable, from a different point of view, and with a challenging notion of time. I believe that LGBT cinema has been negotiating a lot with the mainstream and the romantic-normative culture. It’s losing its originality and its inventive side.

I’m fed up seeing boy-meets-boy and girl-meets-girl stories at LGBT festivals. Always the same predictable structure! I think that we have to invite the viewer to an active experience, the viewer must live the situations with the characters, breath with them, lay in the bed and hear their stories.

What sort of reaction have you had to the film so far?

The audiences have generally reacted warmly. Of course there are people who expect to see a traditional LGBT drama and get frustrated, but people seem to enjoy it most when they allow themselves to float in the stream of the movie.

What do you hope that people feel when watching the film?

I hope they feel like having sex with the universe! But I know that sounds a bit ambitious for the subtle film I made.

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