The 38th edition of the annual fall film festival, the Festival du Nouveau Cinema, hit the ground running this past Wednesday at various art film houses around the city. Xtra spoke to one of the international guests, gay Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues about his 2009 feature Morrer Como Um Homem(To Die like a Man) as he presented it to Montreal audiences. The film explores the narrative of a dying male-to-female pre-op tranny who is slowly being pushed out of the drag scene as she ages, and pushed out of life as her breast implants poison her. A heavy tone and drag-in-everyday-life subtext is present as the film’s opening scene feature a uniformed military officer getting oral sex from another officer, while Tonia the drag queen lavishes on the layers of performers’ makeup she will need for that night. Xtra spoke to Rodrigues about re-imagining the classic Hollywood narrative, Lisbon drag queens and Pedro Almodovar’s influences on his auteur filmmaking.
Xtra.ca:Under the weight of such a heavy film, how do you remain subversive in your message?
JoãoPedro Rodrigues:My idea when making a film was not [to be] subversive or provocative, but to try to tell my story the way I feel is the only possible wayto tell and film it. There’s perhaps the idea of subversion in theway that I tried to rethink the classical narrative codes of Hollywood cinema, such as the way the film starts out as a war movie and becomes a melodrama approaching tragedy. My idea was also to make a musical with no music, so the characters sing as in everyday life with no music behind.
Xtra.ca:What was it like to work with local real-life drag queens? Were theyable to give insight on the lived experience of a drag queen in Lisbon?
JR:They brought many things to the characters, even tough they don’tplay their own roles, they brought a kind of truth and reality to the characters. Before writing the script, I interviewed many transvestites, transsexuals, doctors in order to write my story. Butthe film doesn’t pretend to be a portrait of transsexuality—it is a fictional work.
Xtra.ca:Your film has been compared to Fassbinder or Almodovar oeuvres. Who are your inspirations?
JR:My inspiration are silent movies, movies by Robert Bresson. Fassbinder of course, because he re-imagined Hollywood genres in manyof his films in much the same way [that] I try to re-think classic films.
Xtra: The beginning of the film features protagonist Tonia applying paint to her face, and a soldier applying camouflagepaint. Why did you decide to incorporate a military theme? What message did you want to explore with the narrative of war?
JR:The film starts out as a war movie, I thought about Raoul Walsh’smovies like Objective Burma [that] then become something else. First,there’s the idea of surprising the audience–people think they’re going to watch a film about transvestites and so they can think thatperhaps they’re in the wrong theatre. Then, there’s also the idea of subverting a genre, the war movie is not really a war movie because suddenly the two soldiers star to fuck. There’s of course the parallel between the camouflage paint and Tonia painting herself. It’s also a false clue to the title of the film that can be read is amilitary expression.
Xtra.ca:Can you comment on the assertion by some, that your film is in partbased on the life of Portuguese performer Joaquim Centúrio de Almeida?
JR:The film is based in the life of many persons, dead and alive but is a fictional work.
Xtra.ca:What projects are you working on now?
JR:[I am] still not working in any new features, [but I am] going to do a documentary and two short films that I wrote together with my partner who usually works closely with me in the writing and production design of all my films.