Marcelo Caetano is a newcomer, but ambitious feature director who has a fascinating approach to gay cinema and LGBTQ relationships. His debut, Body Electric, is a candid and tender tribute to Brazil’s racial and sexual heterogeneity, as well as an unbridled, sincere addition to this year’s BFI Flare Festival.
Set in the marvelous São Paulo, the film follows the work and love life of Elias (Kelner Macêdo), a 23-year old gay man who works as an assistant designer and loves exploring his sexuality and intimate friendships in his free time. Childlike and mysterious in nature, Elias is still rather restricted by his circumstances from fully externalizing his sensuality. Despite being professional and fairly popular amongst his colleagues at the clothing factory, the young man still has reservations about being open with his lifestyle. However, that doesn’t keep him from experimenting and oftentimes crossing professional boundaries with his co-workers in an attempt to achieve sexual liberation. The main character’s guileless temperament concurrently mirrors the film’s light-hearted and jubilant impression, as Body Electric seems aimed more towards creating a bemused and mellow state of mind in the viewer rather than making a cognizant, political statement on social issues.
Constructed more as a “mood movie” than an impactful experience, Caetano’s debut offers artificial insights into various workplace, nightlife and societal environments without actually articulating any infringement, abuse or social issues present within these surroundings. An example of this is the lax portrayal of the small clothing factory where Elias works. Although the film makes it apparent that the protagonist has a privileged position there – as he is also consistently financed by an older gay ex of his – little light is shed on the chagrin of his exploited colleagues who are under-compensated and struggle to squeeze in extra work hours.
Another instance where Caetano peruses real social issues is regarding LBGTQ violence. Brazil is indeed a tolerant and progressive country, but certainly doesn’t lack homophobia and abhorrent hate crimes. However, Corpo Eletrico’s depiction is conversely that of a tranquil gay paradise, where judgments are mostly absent and almost every character is a peace-loving, kind soul. Even within Elias’ work environment we find only open-minded individuals who emphatically accept and welcome the protagonist and his sexually-charged lifestyle. Albeit a positive and desired outcome, this scenario is rarely a reality for openly gay men. The only moment when this laissez-faire attitude is brushed off is when Elias’ manager lightly alludes to the fact that the young man’s gushing sexual persona might intrude or affect his career. The sex scenes themselves also appear toned down as to not seem too vulgar or lewd.
This movie will either be a very pleasant experience or a very disappointing experience, depending on what you’re expecting going in. Although it is not your typical LGBTQ drama or justice-driven motion picture, Caetano’s debut does sublimely consecrate the diversity of beauty, race and sexuality present within Brazil’s largest city. Forming a dreamlike film that flows organically and instinctively, Caetano does manage to create a truly unique ambience, overflown with serenity, love and voluptuousness. The anticlimactic plot is atypical for this genre, but nonetheless successful in helping the film retain its simplicity and ease. Macêdo’s performance is also unerring in bringing a warmth and earnest hunger to the character which further serves to immerse the viewer in a carefree, jaunty atmosphere.
Caetano describes his production as “a poem that celebrates the diversity of bodies and the beauty that exists in every action of the body, […] that sings the encounter of the bodies and the value of community”. Body Electric thus accomplishes a tasteful and genuine representation of a feel-good niche group from Brazil and touches upon the gratifying aspects of libertinism and open sexuality. Amidst its colorful and cheery shots, the film shows us how individual differences can work towards bringing us closer together instead of drifting us even further apart and praises individuality and freedom as our indisputable birthrights.