Armando Praça’s Berlinale debut taps into the kind of melodrama once popularised by Greta Garbo, and yet it’s her most famous quote that directly inspires the film’s protagonist most. Like her, Pedro (Marco Nanini) also wants “to be alone” too – or so he claims at first – but things soon take a surprising turn when this 70 year old nurse hides a younger man from the eyes of the law.
Based on a Brazilian stage comedy called Greta Garbo Quem Diria Acabou No Iraja from 1973, Greta transforms the queer caricatures of the original into distinctly modern figures with uniquely modern problems. The film opens with Pedro wiping mascara from his face as he follows his friend into an ambulance following a serious case of kidney failure. The police fail to acknowledge Daniela (Denise Weinberg) as the trans woman she is, referring to her consistently as “he” and the hospital won’t allow her to stay in the female ward either.
When we learn that she doesn’t have long left to live, Daniela wearily tells her friend that she’s “used to pain”, something which the pair clearly have in common. With lust in his heart and tears in his eyes, Pedro ventures alone to gay saunas and queer bars, asking strangers to call him “Greta” while they hook up. It’s not until a wanted fugitive called Jean (Demick Lopes) enters his life that Pedro can finally admit that he doesn’t really want to be alone anymore, after all.
Praça doesn’t shy away from explicit nudity and sex in his feature debut, treating the carnal desires of his older protagonist with a rare dignity. Through absorbing long takes, Pedro and Jean open themselves up to each other and the audience too, revealing a vulnerability that is sometimes overlooked in queer arthouse movies of this nature.
Daniela’s cabaret performance towards the end is both tragic and empowering all at once, Praça’s casting choices are rather noteworthy. By using a cis-gender actress in the role of Daniela while casting a trans star called Gretta Sttar as cis-gender, he effectively plays around with notions of intersectionality that are relevant now more than ever.
At a time when things are looking worse and worse for the LGBTQ community in Brazil, films like this are a political necessity, actively exploring the fluidity of gender and identity with the kind of respect these issues deserve. Unfortunately, the depiction of Jean’s sexuality is somewhat more dubious and at points, it’s hard to tell whether the character is genuinely queer in some way or simply ‘gay for stay’.
As the film comes to an end, Praça personifies Pedro’s obsession with Greta Garbo through use of old camera tests that feature the star herself. Through these clips, it’s easy to see why Pedro longs to be more like the silent Hollywood star, but in truth, this is the moment where he’s finally learned to accept his own identity as Pedro, rather than Greta. For better or worse, he no longer wants to be alone.