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The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

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The “Femme” Fatale in
Brazilian Cinema

Challenging Hollywood Norms

Antônio Márcio da Silva


the “femme” fatale in brazilian cinema
Copyright © Antônio Márcio da Silva, 2014.
Softcover reprint of the hardcover 1st edition 2014 978-1-137-39920-5
All rights reserved.
First published in 2014 by
PALGRAVE MACMILLAN®
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registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills,
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Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies
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ISBN 978–1–349–48570–3 ISBN 978–1–137–39921–2 (eBook)
DOI 10.1057/9781137399212
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Silva, Antônio Márcio da, 1980–
   The “femme” fatale in Brazilian cinema : challenging Hollywood
norms / by Antônio Márcio da Silva.
    pages cm
   Includes bibliographical references and index.
  
   1. Femmes fatales in motion pictures. 2. Motion pictures—Brazil—
History—20th century. I. Title.
PN1995.9.F44S55 2014
769.92—dc23 2013040071
A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.
Design by Newgen Knowledge Works (P) Ltd., Chennai, India.
First edition: May 2014
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For my family
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Contents

Introduction 1
1 The Black Femme Fatale in Xica da Silva 21
2 The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender in Madame Satã 47
3 Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy in
Bonitinha mas ordinária 73
4 The Fetish “Dirt” as “Social Pollution”: The Married
Femme Fatale in A dama do lotação 97
5 The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale in As intimidades de
Analu e Fernanda 125
6 “Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale in A dama do
Cine Shanghai 149
Conclusion 169

Notes 175
Filmography 187
Bibliography 189
Index 201
Introduction

T he femme fatale (often translated into English as “deadly woman”)


is a well-known figure in the arts, popular culture, and the media
in general, especially in cinema where the character has become
­prominent—for example, in noir and neo-noir films of the twenti-
eth century. Despite the term commonly being used to refer to sexu-
ally “dangerous” women, defining it on a deeper level is a complex and
challenging task. For instance, Hanson and O’Rawe observe that the
femme fatale is both an “entrenched cultural stereotype and yet never
quite fully known: she is always beyond definition” (Cherchez 1) because
she evokes more than she describes. However, this research argues that
the femme fatale is beyond a single definition because she has multiple
gender and sexual identities, and belongs to different social classes and
racial groups, which does not mean that she cannot be defined at all.
Moreover, Doane’s claim that the femme fatale “never really is what she
seems to be” (1) may be better rephrased as “she is not only what popular
culture imagines her to be”: a deadly beautiful heterosexual Caucasian
woman, as evident in various portrayals of the figure in cinema. Indeed,
because such a conception and construction of the femme fatale are dis-
seminated and deeply ingrained in social imaginaries about her, other
femmes fatales who do not fall into such a category are ignored, as this
book aims to show in relation to Brazilian cinema.
Although different authors describe the femme fatale in similar ways
(e.g., beautiful, sexually attractive, seductive, intelligent, mysterious,
greedy, dangerous, a man-eater, and ultimately destructive) and refer to
her in different ways (e.g., the “ultimate” femme fatale [Dickos], the “tra-
ditional” femme fatale, and the “ultra” femme fatale [Miklitsch]), they
offer no definition of the character. In many studies, the term is often
taken for granted. For example, Neale talks about the femme fatale but
does not define the term. He mentions what she does instead of what she
is. Dickos refers to different characters as being variations of the noir
femme fatale but he also does not explain what the femme fatale really
is. However, these authors are not alone in this as most books on film
2    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

noir fail to explain what the femme fatale is or her significance and evo-
lution in the genre. But their failure to provide such an explanation and
their preoccupation with what she does demonstrate how difficult it is
to define her as a single character, and that her identity as a fatal woman
is performatively constituted through her acts—as this book proposes
regarding the femme fatale in Brazilian cinema.
Although much research on Brazilian cinema has been conducted,
existing film scholarship has not discussed the presence of the femme
fatale and her significance. Hence, by engaging with the femme fatale’s
performativity, this book aims not only to discuss this figure in Brazilian
cinema but also to show that she is not a single character that represents
a given culture in its entirety. That is, defining the femme fatale’s iden-
tity based on the aforementioned descriptions (e.g., beautiful, greedy,
seductive), which often occurs in cinematic portrayals of her, is limited
as these are not necessarily required for the figure to be a femme fatale.
Therefore, some questions can be raised to challenge such cinematic rep-
resentations. Must the femme fatale be “beautiful” and who defines this
beauty? Does she always have to be “sexually attractive”? Does this fig-
ure that is believed to threaten and challenge patriarchal norms need to
be a biologically born woman? Does such a character always have to be
Caucasian? Why is she so easily identified in and associated with cer-
tain film genres1 and national cinemas, such as film noir and neo-noir in
American cinema, but ignored in others, such as in Brazilian cinema—
particularly in film scholarship? These are some of the questions that
motivated me to conduct this research about such an intriguing figure in
Brazilian cinema.
Besides the discussion of the femme fatale per se, the prominent
themes in this book have hardly been developed in Brazilian film scholar-
ship, especially those of gender and sexuality and their relationship with
other issues such as race and social class.2 This also applies to some film
genres that have been considered unworthy of serious academic attention,
particularly the sexploitation films (the so-called pornochanchadas)—a
genre to which a few of the films analyzed herein belong. Only recently
have some studies that engage with such films been published, but there
are still very few of them. To date, Nuno Cesar Abreu’s study is probably
the most detailed work on this film genre. In his analysis of the films,
Abreu focus on social class, which is a prominent issue in this film genre,
not only in terms of themes and production but also in their reception:
most members of the audience were believed to belong to the work-
ing or middle classes. In an international context, Dennison (Sex and
the Generals) reads pornochanchada in comparison with international
sexploitation filmmaking to bring this prolific cinematic production
Introduction    3

to attention outside Brazil. Da Silva engages with a subgenre of porno-


chanchada, the WIP (Women in Prison) Film, and analyzes the films
through a gender framework that tries to recuperate such films as worthy
of academic attention because, although primarily intended for titillation,
they end up exposing many different issues of Brazilian society, such as
male anxiety and gender violence.
In addition, although films such as Xica da Silva (1976) and A dama
do lotação/Lady on the Bus (1978) have received considerable academic
attention for various reasons, many others have been ignored and little
research is available about them, which has happened with Bonitinha
mas ordinária/Pretty but Slutty (1981) and As intimidades de Analu e
Fernanda/Analu and Fernanda’s Intimacies (1980).3 Besides this, research
on themes such as homosexuality has been limited compared to the
scholarship on Brazilian cinema in general, despite homosexual charac-
ters being present in the country’s cinematic production since the early
decades of the twentieth century (see Moreno). Homosexuality, however,
still seems to be a taboo in Brazilian scholarship as most studies about
it in Brazilian cinema have been conducted outside Brazil (e.g., Foster,
Gender and Society). Homosexuality is not an exception because gender
and sexuality in general have probably been the most under-researched
areas of Brazilian cinema. Hence, through its discussion of the femme
fatale, this book aims to reduce the dearth of research on these subjects.
Moreover, it hopes to contribute to film studies in general by systematiz-
ing and theorizing constructions of the femme fatale that uncover repre-
sentations of her that have been ignored in Brazilian film scholarship and
have often not been recognized as such in an international context.
This book engages with six films as its main material to illustrate the
discussion developed in each thematic chapter. All but one were produced
in the 1970s and 1980s. This time variation is to show the “atemporality”
of this character because these representations of the femme fatale reflect
different historical periods while relating to the time the films were actu-
ally made. Hence, such variation recalls the “time tensions” of neo-noir
films as these, according to Luhr, were more about “the tensions between
their own ‘present’ and other times” than about “the time in which
they were made.” Still according to Luhr, they were “more temporally
diverse than their predecessors” (12). This is particularly the case with
Madame Satã (2002). Despite being produced in the 2000s, it explores
Brazil’s 1930s context and hints at the views that particular society had
of gay (and black) people—views that also apply to the period this book
mostly explores in which the gay and lesbian movements were develop-
ing in Brazil. Furthermore, its neo-noirish cinematography links it to the
neo-noir filmmaking produced in the 1970s and 1980s and the film also
4    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

reflects issues of contemporary Brazilian society, especially the increase


in homophobic crimes.4
The choice of films in this research is also intended to demonstrate
that the femme fatale is not restricted to American film noir—a view
shared by some more-recent studies (e.g., Neale; Jancovich). Even in the
American context she appeared in a variety of genres, not in film noir
only (see Jancovich). Moreover, unlike various studies on the femme
fatale, the choice of films herein was an attempt to engage with films
that were popular with the audience but rejected by critics, and films that
were box-office successes and acclaimed by the critics. By doing so, this
study aims to show that the femme fatale pervades different contexts and
film genres but is also staple in both “popular and high culture” (Hanson
and O’Rawe, Cherchez 1). However, as is the case with different artistic
representations, it is important to point out from the outset that such
films leave room for different readings. Indeed, they could be (and some
have been) read as conservative texts, particularly the ones considered
pornochanchadas, or as representations that give important information
about the context in which they were made (e.g., regarding gender, sexu-
ality, and social class) and help to produce a progressive reading of them.
Moreover, because I aim to show that the femme fatale is beyond genre
specificity and single definitions, the variety of films chosen for this book
will contribute to a multifaceted reading of this character, which adopts a
trans-genre perspective.
The analysis of the films concentrates mainly on three features besides
their narrative: the iconography of image, the visual style, and the
characters’ lines, that is, the language they use. According to Place, the
iconography of image pertains to how the femme fatale’s sexuality is por-
trayed, which, the author argues, is explicit. It relates to the femme fatale’s
appearance, which is adorned with makeup and jewelry to symbolize her
power. Regarding the visual style, Place points out that it concerns how
the femme fatale’s power is constructed on screen through cinematogra-
phy, camera angles, camera movements, lighting, and her dominance in
composition. This is evident in the ways the femme fatale “controls” the
camera movement as she moves and by her seemingly directing the hero’s
gaze as well as the gaze of the audience.5
Like the iconography of image and the visual style, language is also a
vital element in films depicting the femme fatale (particularly in neo-noir
films), as her use of it challenges patriarchal law especially in terms of
hegemonic gender and sexual roles. As Wager points out, the femme fatale
manages to get what she desires through not only seduction but also ver-
bal acuity. For the author, she is impressively eloquent, which shows that
she is in control of her sexuality and her language. The latter appropriates
Introduction    5

that of the forbidden, challenges what is perceived as acceptable, and


breaks the rules patriarchy imposes. Thus, because verbal acuity is a fea-
ture the femme fatale exploits while exercising her power of seduction, it
constitutes an integral element of her (gender and sexual) performativity.
The language the new femme fatale uses also reveals the sexual practices
she adopts and the new sexual arrangements she makes.6 Therefore, this
study, similar to Stables’s, argues that the language deployed by the new
femme fatale has developed from that used by her predecessors and is
a form of transgression in the films discussed herein, which were made
earlier than the Hollywood ones to which Stables refers.
Furthermore, the depictions of the Brazilian femme fatale are discussed
in this work from a perspective that aims to decolonize the generally
beautiful heterosexual Caucasian “ideal” type of femme fatale propagated
in European and American cinemas. To do so, this book proposes that
the femme fatale be understood as a representation or more accurately as
a “performance” that threatens and challenges the hegemonic roles patri-
archy establishes, dictates, and endeavors to maintain—especially those
associated with gender, sexuality, race, and social class. Such a perspec-
tive stems from Judith Butler’s (Gender Trouble) use of performativity in
relation to gender identity. In her study, Butler proposes that gender iden-
tity is performatively constituted rather than a biological destiny. That
is, gender should not be a compulsory consequence of one’s biological
sex but an identity that is constructed through “performativity.”7 Hence,
based on Butler’s groundbreaking formulation, the term “ femme fatale”
in this book denotes a male as well as a female body that challenges prees-
tablished social boundaries through its performance of the “fatal role.” By
doing so, I aim to show that, as with gender performativity, the danger the
femme fatale represents to society is not an innate feature but is instead
constructed as it derives from her acts against patriarchal society.
Therefore, I contend that to see the cinematic femme fatale as a per-
formance that disrupts, threatens, and challenges both hegemonic power
and social values sheds light on a range of issues within Brazilian soci-
ety (particularly from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s—when most of
the films discussed in this book were made). These issues concern social
changes taking place in the country, such as those stemming from the
sexual revolution as well as the feminist and gay/lesbian liberation move-
ments. However, although exploring such changes and their connection
with the social and political unrest in Brazil during the second half of
the twentieth century (mainly from the mid-1960s onward), I also refer
to other periods when the analysis requires (i.e., the eighteenth century
in Xica da Silva and the 1930s in Madame Satã). Additionally, this tur-
bulent period for the country (i.e., from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s)
6    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

“coincided” with the “rebirth” of the femme fatale in cinema (e.g., within
the neo-noir films in American cinema), a fact that guided the choice of
most of the films discussed herein.
As was the case in other countries in which the femme fatale “reap-
peared” and became prominent in cinema, around this period the femi-
nist movements and debates about gender and sexuality, including gay
and lesbian rights, were developing and gaining momentum in Brazil
(Carbonari; Green, The Emergence and More Love; Sarti). But this hap-
pened later in Brazil than it did, for example, in the United States, France,
or the United Kingdom, because at the end of the 1960s and in the early
1970s Brazil was undergoing the most difficult and violent years of its
military dictatorship,8 which lasted from 1964 to 1985.9 It was only from
the mid-1970s that Brazilians experienced a more “relaxed” dictatorship,
the so-called distensão política (also known as abertura política), which
would lead to redemocratization and the subsequent end of the military
dictatorship in 1985. Many other issues concerning the struggle against
the regime that were considered to be more urgent (e.g., ending the gov-
ernment’s extreme violence) overshadowed and held back the develop-
ment of gender and sexual politics, particularly regarding gender equality,
and female and gay sexualities (Green, The Emergence; Sarti).
During the dictatorship in Brazil, many women got involved in guer-
rilla warfare—the so-called luta armada (armed struggle)—that aimed to
fight the military government. Through their actions in the luta armada,
(e.g., participating in kidnapping and armed robbery, among other acts
associated with hegemonic masculinity), these women challenged and
transgressed patriarchal law. They became, therefore, a threat to Brazil’s
conservative society as they subverted the domestic roles imposed on
women. The subversive woman was defined by the military regime as
“puta comunista” (communist whore) (Carbonari). Moreover, Ana M.
Colling observes that according to documents held at the Department of
Social and Political Order (DOPS),10 the subversive woman was involved
in the movement for no other reason than “hunting” for men because she
was a mal-amada (“badly loved woman”).11
As these examples show, the traditional subversive woman is fun-
damentally defined in terms of her transgression of hegemonic sexual
and gender roles, as is the femme fatale. Not surprisingly, segments of
Brazil’s patriarchal society tried to contain her in different ways: she was
violently punished for her subversion by the military government; fami-
lies attempted to keep their daughters a virgin—a requisite for finding a
husband; and the Catholic Church interfered mostly in issues concerning
family planning and abortion. The last issue and others of women’s inter-
ests that were being debated in other countries, such as sex for pleasure,
Introduction    7

were not welcomed by the patriarchal Brazilian society of the time (Da
Cunha). The issue of virginity is an example of this, as most Brazilians
saw it as an essential quality for a single woman to be considered respect-
able (Da Cunha). Not being a virgin disqualified her from “more serious
commitment” (Da Cunha 207). Thus, these patriarchal responses that
sought to control the transgressive woman had a negative influence on
the development of feminism in Brazil, as they did on gender and sexual
politics.
Hence, cinematic depictions of women who were seen as transgressors
(either through sexuality, gender, or criminality, for instance), not just
those in Brazil but in other countries as well, became synonymous with
the femme fatale in this period. The figure permeated social imaginaries as
a source of anxiety because she challenged patriarchal law. Consequently,
she became a symptom of contemporary anxieties, and patriarchal soci-
ety projects its anxieties onto this representation of woman who is an
ambivalent symbol of transgression because she is hated yet simultane-
ously venerated. As Doane points out, the femme fatale is “the figure of a
certain discursive unease, a potential epistemological trauma . . . She har-
bors a threat which is not entirely legible, predictable, or manageable” (1).
This is not the case of the Brazilian films analyzed in this book only; it is
also strongly indicated in neo-noir films in which the femme fatale is a
staple character that exposes patriarchal society’s contemporary anxiet-
ies, especially regarding gender and sexual politics.
The so-called neo-noir or new noir (produced from the late 1960s
onward)12 derived from film noir, a well-known film genre that was pro-
duced mostly in the 1940s and 1950s in the United States.13 For Erickson,
neo-noir is a “new type of noir film, one which effectively incorporates
and projects the narrative and stylistic conventions of its progenitor onto a
contemporary canvas. Neo-noir is quite simply a contemporary rendering
of the film noir sensibility” (qtd. in Spicer 130). Thus, neo-noir contains
many of the features its predecessor developed, and it consciously appro-
priates this classic genre (Hanson). Moreover, neo-noir also incorporates
features from other film genres into its production, and a detailed analy-
sis of neo-noir shows its relationship with the social context of its time,
which is a connection that film noir also had in its heyday. For instance,
Telotte argues that film noir “mirror[s] the modern psyche”  (28). It is
often associated with the post-Second World War anxieties in American
society (Telotte), whereas neo-noir touches on different coexisting issues
such as the 40 years of the Cold War and the sexual revolution (Schwartz).
The way sexuality is portrayed in neo-noir film, for example, indicates
anxieties about sexual behavior that are believed to have resulted from
the social changes of that particular time, especially because of the sexual
8    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

revolution.14 This is mostly the case of the “second cycle” of neo-noir dur-
ing the 1980s.
Hence, although the American femme became the “model” for the
femme fatale in cinema, nearly “closing the doors” for other femmes who
did not represent the specificities of the American context, the other
femmes’ presence in noir and neo-noir films highlights many issues
beyond the American context because of their transnational character-
istics, such as male crises and social/personal disintegrations. Among
the transnational themes explored in film noir (which extended into
neo-noir) are “alienation, paranoia, betrayal, revenge and the desire for
death” (Spicer 9). Moreover, Spicer argues that film noir’s central preoc-
cupations are claustrophobia, despair, and nihilism. For Grossman, film
noir “reflects changes in sociocultural conditions, just as other texts sig-
nal what is happening in society and culture and the transformations in
attitudes toward gender from one historical period to the next” (14–15).
Such preoccupations in film noir are more often related to representations
of the femme fatale, which makes her a scapegoat for America’s social
problems. This is not, however, unique to the United States because the
same happens in other cultures in which this character is present, both
before and after noir filmmaking. This is evident in various periods in
which there is an “obsession” with depicting the femme fatale in artistic
representations. The pattern is that her presence increases during periods
of women’s struggle for their rights and equality with men—particularly
in terms of gender and sexuality—as well as during capitalist economic
crises, which are often understood as crises of masculinity. For instance,
from the late 1960s onward, new depictions of the femme fatale appeared,
either overtly or in more subtle guises, not only in American cinema but
also in other national cinemas.15
Bould observes that the femme fatale appears in new manifestations
in numerous neo-noirs but stands out mostly in the direct-to-video and
made-for-cable films, including the erotic thrillers that were shown on
cable before their theatrical releases. Hence, because of the erotic ele-
ments of such films, Bould argues that even if many actresses made
various neo-noirs, none of them became closely related to the genre.
International examples of the female fatale from the 1960s and beyond
include the violent/criminal female, the lesbian, the female castratrix in
rape-revenge films, and many other representations of the femme fatale in
other genres. This new femme fatale (not necessarily as “sexually attrac-
tive” and “beautiful” as her predecessors but as deadly and destructive as
ever), just like the previous femmes, exposed many anxieties, especially
regarding gender and sexual politics. Although in the films from earlier
in this period the femme fatale met a similar fate to that of her previous
Introduction    9

incarnations in film noir—that is, she was punished (mainly by death)—


the new femme fatale often gets away without punishment and survives.
It is the males who get involved with her who receive punishment, either
by being killed, framed for different crimes, including rape, losing their
jobs, positions of power and families, being arrested, or even going mad.
This is because, as Orr claims, the punishment of the woman “has lost its
mythical cachet” (qtd. in Wager 133). Indeed, in this new context, which
is moving toward the postfeminist era, there is a stronger sense of agency
of these women and there are laws to protect them against patriarchal
violence. As Oliver and Trigo point out, strong women “not only domi-
nate and kill men but also live to tell about it” (208). Thus, the fact that the
femme fatale gets away without punishment is a strong indication of her
agency as she is strong enough to avoid being tamed by patriarchal soci-
ety. In the neo-noir films, Žižek claims that the femme fatale triumphs
“in social reality itself,” and her partners are reduced to being “a sucker
condemned to death” (9).
Furthermore, the “resurrection” of the femme fatale in this period,
mainly in the 1970s and 1980s, recalls many features of her predecessor’s
portrayals that stemmed from late nineteenth-century social responses to
women’s demands. This is indicated, for example, in the representation of
the lesbian fatale, which was connected to and perhaps even derived from
patriarchal responses to the gay and lesbian movements of the 1960s,
1970s, and 1980s.16 Significantly, many of the femmes fatales from the
period mostly concerned in this book have been masculinized—a fea-
ture that opposes the “feminine qualities” on which traditional defini-
tions of her and indeed genre labels have insisted. Taking this further,
through such masculinization the films show that the figure poses differ-
ent threats to patriarchal society (e.g., violence and crime).17
As well as the lesbian fatale, male homosexuals are also fatal in social
imaginaries, a fact that is indicated by them being deemed the main source
of HIV in various 1980s films and television programs about the topic.18
Such a connection of gays to a virus that caused a dangerous disease, AIDS,
recalls the nineteenth-century view of the prostitute as a femme fatale
because of her being considered the main source of sexually transmitted
diseases (STDs henceforth), especially syphilis19; hence, both are blamed
for contaminating the patriarchal male who has sexual contact with them.
The new “femme” fatale, therefore, creates anxieties that are similar to
her representations in the past, but she has clearly “adapted” to the time
she inhabits. Thus, she resonates with social perceptions about women
(and gay people in the case of this book) who are deemed transgressive
because they challenge patriarchy’s hegemonic roles. Consequently, anxi-
ety has been a feature that is constantly connected to the representation
10    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

of the femme fatale in cinema, particularly in the genres to which she has
been mostly related (film noir and neo-noir).
Although some authors argue that the femme fatale never really is what
she appears to be, this is not the case in most of the neo-noir films in which
she is present. The neo-noir femme fatale is conscious of her “fatal” status
in the patriarchal imaginary and knows how to exploit this. For instance,
Oliver and Trigo claim that the female characters in many neo-noir films
exploit patriarchal sexist stereotypes for their own benefit, that is, to dupe
men. Still according to the authors, the manipulation of the males in the
films occurs because they “want to believe in their ideal of woman” so
“they cannot see the ways in which these femmes fatales use that ideal
to manipulate them” (193). She is narcissistic and likes ­“to-be-looked-at”
and venerated, which is also a way for her to exercise her power (either
sexual or financial). She acknowledges that she is a “bad” woman and is
not ashamed of being so, but this leaves men anxious.
Žižek contends that the threat the classic femme fatale (i.e., the film
noir one) represented to patriarchy’s male is false. For him, it is instead “a
fantasmatic support of patriarchal domination, the figure of the enemy
engendered by the patriarchal system itself” (10). The author argues that
the new femme fatale is a more effective threat to the patriarchal order as
she defeats the male by exploiting his own game of manipulation. Žižek
adds that the new femme fatale undermines and dominates the male by
realizing and enacting the male fantasy—which she is well aware of—in
“real life.” Referring to the American neo-noir film The Last Seduction
(1994), he claims that the enigma of the new femme fatale derives from
her being completely transparent, such as by “openly assuming the
role of a calculating bitch” (11). For example, Bridget Gregory (Linda
Fiorentino), the femme fatale in the film, admits that she is “a total fuck-
ing bitch!” while Rebecca Carlson (Madonna) in Body of Evidence (1993)
tells her lover/lawyer: “Don’t look so hurt, Alan! I fucked you, I fucked
Andrew, I fucked Frank. That’s what I do: I fuck! And it made me eight
million dollars!” Hence, as Žižek argues, the femme fatale deceives by
openly telling the truth. Playing with Freud’s Jewish joke, Žižek formu-
lates one about the neo-noir femme fatale as if it were a question that
the “sucker-partner” asks the new femme while approaching her: “Why
do you act as if you are just a cold manipulative bitch, when you really
are just a cold manipulative bitch?” (12). Moreover, Žižek argues that the
femme fatale remains a male fantasy that derives from his goal to find a
“perfect Subject” in the corrupted woman who is fully aware of what she
is doing. Indeed, the point the author makes suggests that the femme
fatale’s agency is evident in these new films; that is, she surely knows
what she is doing and she plays with the patriarchal system. Therefore,
Introduction    11

the neo-noir femme fatale is too real to be considered only a fantasy (psy-
choanalytically speaking).
However, the neo-noir genre is a reinvention and, as Dickos points out,
the meaning of female wickedness in them has to be reconsidered. For
Luhr neo-noir films have different agendas, which include their ideolo-
gies toward gender, race, and nation. These films break from the rigid
historicity that is connected to the noir femme fatale who was related to
the postwar context, as the neo-noir films portray the femme not only in
present time but also in the past and indeed in the future. Moreover, it is
important to consider how changes in issues such as race, class, and gen-
der identities impact on new representations of the femme fatale from the
second half of the twentieth century onward, which I aim to make evident
in the thematic chapters.

*  *  *

The theoretical framework used throughout this book is essentially inter-


disciplinary as this opens up more possibilities to understand the diverse
themes that emerge from the portrayal of the femme fatale in Brazilian
cinema. This interdisciplinary approach became necessary because of the
femme fatale being configured in different guises. Hence, a multidisci-
plinary model will provide different ways to look at this single subject of
enquiry to show that this cinematic figure represents a plurality of iden-
tities in Brazil. This also recalls the point McDonald makes about the
concept of brasilidade (“Brazilianness”). For the author, it is not “a one-
dimensional, singular construct”; instead, there are “many multi-faceted
understandings of the term that are influenced by a range of factors
specific to gender, class, ethnicity and religious beliefs” (18). Moreover,
although relating the analysis of the films to the context in which they
were made, this study provides various ways to read the femme fatale in
Brazilian cinema instead of singling her out as a unique type. Thus, the
femmes fatales discussed herein show some of the cultural variety that
exists in a multicultural society such as Brazil’s.20 Nevertheless, regard-
less of such a plurality of identities, this book also explores the femmes
fatales’ singularity, particularly their subjectivities, which touches on the
controversial issue of agency.

The Femme Fatale and the Question of Female Agency

Wager observes that most studies on film noir focus on male rather
than female identity. Concerning the femme fatale, this is indicated by
12    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

her “birth” in cinema mostly coinciding, as is claimed in various studies


about American film noir, to male anxiety in the post-Second World War
period. That is, her existence stems from a male crisis, which implies that
she would not exist otherwise. Hence, it is crucial to bear this in mind
when thinking about female subjectivities in various films, including the
ones analyzed in this book. It is already established in popular culture
that films belonging to certain genres are made to please male audiences
(especially pornography), while the female characters in them are seen
as nothing but sexual objects. Various researchers seem to have done the
same. In other words, there are few studies that assess the extent to which
certain representations of women deemed objects are instead subjects, as
their various challenges to patriarchal boundaries indicate, which argu-
ably indicates their agency rather than their objectification (as conten-
tious as this may be).
Nevertheless, female subjectivity is indicated in Kaplan’s study, for
example, where she points out that “the film noir world is one in which
women are central to the intrigue of the films” (qtd. in Wager 52), which
can be understood as a question of agency. Hence, reading “against the
grain” to recuperate the roles of these women—as various feminist film
theorists did in the 1970s, including Kaplan herself—can produce dif-
ferent interpretations against conventional readings that have failed to
see these representations beyond the objectification they are apparently
intended to signify at first. One example is the destruction of the femme
fatale that was normally the outcome in films noirs, which, although seen
as negative, arguably indicates her agency. It is because she has power,
which is manifested through her domination over men, that she has to
be contained. Hence, such destruction denotes that she is indeed a sub-
ject; otherwise, there would not be so much effort to contain her (evident
in the investigations, trials, and deaths, among other attempts to control
this figure in the films).
Moreover, her destruction by death is, in most cases, a strong indi-
cation that patriarchy has failed to tame her. That is, she dies but her
subjectivity as a powerful and fatale femme remains intact and her death
“immortalizes” her (like normally happens with heroes), as the real-life
case of the Dutch Mata Hari illustrates.21 The reason for her punishment
could well be, and indeed is mostly likely to be, because of censorship,
which is a matter of context and time. As Orr observes by referring to
feminist criticism of film noir, although a relaxation of the morality code
meant that adultery was allowed to be screened, this was not the case with
punishment. Thus, the femme fatale paid for her challenges to patriarchal
law. However, her agency has developed in neo-noir films, particularly
during the so-called postfeminist era, that is, from the 1980s onward.
Introduction    13

During this period, discussions about female subjectivity and agency have
taken different directions and been theorized from various perspectives.
This development, although being a move that has “split” the feminist
movement—particularly concerning views and debates about women’s
agency—has indeed provided new ways to understand and discuss female
agency and subjectivity.
Concerning postfeminism itself, it is important to establish from
the outset that despite the constant references to it in this book, it is not
the aim herein to engage in debates for or against it as is common in
other studies (see, for instance, Coppock, Deen, and Richter; Tasker and
Negra). Its use is mainly to situate the discussion in the era that comes
after the second-wave feminism. This research’s closest link with post-
feminist discourse(s) is in its attempt to move away from definitions
that treat women as eternal victims, particularly in pornography (e.g.,
Dworkin; Mackinnon), in a way that seeks to identify women’s agency
instead. Nevertheless, it is also important to highlight that references to
postfeminism do not mean that this study ignores the feminist debates
from the second wave or goes against them. Instead, it tries to discuss
gender identity beyond the second wave’s discourse(s). This is important
in this case because although many feminists have seen postfeminism as
“a betrayal of a history of feminist struggle, and a rejection of all it has
gained” (Gamble 43), this research argues that postfeminism offers an
alternative to examine women’s subjectivity without having to rely solely
on the victimization of women. Moreover, recalling Morrissey’s argu-
ment about the female criminal, what is possible through a postfemi-
nist perspective is to identify subjectivities that are not prominent in the
second-wave debate, which fails to see that there are indeed bad women,
and that these are not just a “backlash” from the media as Faludi claims.
As Morrissey points out, the denial of female agency in violent crimes
by the media and legal discourses ends up reinforcing the notion that
violence is something not connected to women. Indeed, in the same way
that there are bad men, there are bad women, and to deny this is to cor-
roborate with the patriarchal view of women as being always good and
maternal—a view that although various feminists seem to criticize, they
end up endorsing.
Hence, because many female identities and representations exist,
a discussion of unity (i.e., to see women as a single group) will always
yield contention as there are conflicting interests and different subjectivi-
ties. Consequently, to claim that postfeminism is not a contentious term
that encompasses many meanings and interpretations (the same is true
for feminism) would involve trying to apply a single term to all wom-
anhood, which is not conceivable (otherwise, there would not be black
14    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

feminism, lesbian feminism, and antipornography feminism, among


others). However, to claim that postfeminist discourse(s) mean(s) taking
women back to a stage before the second wave like Modleski does is to
refuse to accept that there are different women with different subjectivi-
ties. That is, they are not just examples of a male backlash or objectifica-
tion as has been claimed regarding female murderers, masochists, sadists,
castratrixes, and porno actresses, among other examples who are most
often defined as victims, as if they had no agency and were only fictional
characters that give pleasure to men. Nevertheless, this does not mean
that there is no backlash. On the contrary, when discussing representa-
tions of women it could be argued, particularly from a psychoanalytic
perspective, that a backlash indicates an attack on women not necessarily
because of their achievements but because such achievements cause anxi-
eties for patriarchy. Thus, as in many other circumstances, a backlash
arguably becomes (unconsciously) a defense mechanism. So, if there was
such a backlash, this occurred much earlier than the postfeminist period.
For instance, this was the case in film noir for the figure of the femme
fatale. In the dangerous noir woman’s case, it was worse than in the 1980s
because not only was she presented as bad but she was also destroyed,
which does not usually happen with the new femme fatale who usually
survives and causes the males to be destroyed.
It is important to highlight, however, that although the femme fatale
has power and control in the society in which she lives, she is not, as
Doane has claimed, a subject of feminism. Despite the fact that she repre-
sents women’s changing roles in society (particularly concerning gender
and sexuality), to read the films as if they had a feminist agenda is to read
them as something they are not, especially in film noir—and indeed the
films discussed in this book. Nevertheless, it is impossible to reject the
femme fatale’s agency, which is already indicated in her becoming central
to the narratives of the films. This shows that she is a subject who has
attracted attention because of her role in society—that of the bad woman
who challenges “the law of the father.” Thus, even if she is punished (which
mostly happens to the film-noir femme), this means that she is a concern.
The fact that patriarchy needs to contain her, even by death, demonstrates
that her identity and agency leave society uneasy because she is likely to
influence the “good girls/women” (and men) and encourage them to fol-
low the “bad paths” that she has trodden. Moreover, her agency is also
indicated in the problems she causes to males: she is doing something that
generates anxieties and causes chaos to patriarchal society.
A question that remains unanswered is if the transgressive woman
who is hypersexually active and into “unconventional” sex will continue
to be seen by some feminists as a commodification for male pleasures,
Introduction    15

as indicated in Hanson: “The explicit and active sexual scenarios that


are acted out in these films [neo-noir], . . . mark a complex address where
empowerment is synonymous with commodified sexuality” (224–25).
Perhaps their portrayal can function as a titillation device in such cases,
but their subjectivity—knowing what they want (i.e., sexual satisfac-
tion and pleasure)—should not be overshadowed by images that at first
seem intended to provide pleasure for the male audience. The femmes
fatales’ sexual power works as a threat and a way to castrate rather than a
means for sexual satisfaction, and it can also kill (as the scenes of S/M in
Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence clearly show). Hence, there is a need
to look beyond these views that see women, including the femme fatale,
as commodifications or objects for male pleasure. Instead of accepting
the film texts as such, a deeper analysis can highlight the power of these
women and show that whatever happens in the films (even their punish-
ment if this occurs) is arguably a result of their subjectivity and agency.
This would not be the case if they were, for example, passive subjects that
conformed to patriarchal society’s rules: the good girls and wives mostly
survive in the films, soap operas, and novels, for instance. Thus, it can
be argued that the femme fatale becomes a figure of so much attention
because of her agency. Her challenges to society disrupt the order. She is
remembered in any film in which she is present, whereas the good girls/
women who are often the commodified passive versions of women—they
do not have their own voices and merely reinforce patriarchal rule—are
largely forgotten.

*  *  *

The book is organized into six chapters. Chapter 1, “The Black Femme
Fatale in Xica da Silva,” engages with a black femme fatale, the eighteenth-
century slave Xica da Silva, who is not commonly identified as such a
figure. Even in the film genres in which the femme fatale is prominent,
such as film noir and neo-noir, there is a lack of non-Caucasian femmes
fatales. For instance, Rabinowitz argues that the 1940s films noirs por-
tray characters of “questionable race or ethnicity” that have some kind
of relationship with the femme fatale—such as Mexican, Spanish, Greek,
Jewish, and Italian—but not black. This also applies to the noir (and neo-
noir) femme fatale herself. She may be of different (questionable) origins,
but she is never black. Even the foreign femmes fatales are “remade” (i.e.,
whitened) in the American context to appear as if they were originally
Caucasian (e.g., Rita Hayworth). Hence, the chapter examines the rela-
tionship between the depiction of this black femme fatale and issues of
race, sexuality, and power within Brazil’s colonial society. It discusses the
16    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

role Xica’s blackness plays in the constitution of her identity as a femme


fatale within the racist colonial society and considers the extent to which
the depiction of this black femme fatale exposes racial anxieties. It also
analyzes how her sexuality is linked to her racial identity in the colo-
nial imaginary. The chapter therefore illustrates “the cultural volatility of
the classic [noir] femme fatale” (McCabe 646)—that is, she is not a fixed
character, despite usually being constructed as a Caucasian woman in
American cinema; rather, she develops according to the cultural specific-
ities of the context in which she is inserted, including racial issues. Thus,
cultural volatility not only associates Xica with traditional (and contem-
porary) femmes fatales, but it also shows her uniqueness. The chapter
approaches the mechanisms Xica uses to subvert the colonial social order
and become the most powerful woman in the colony. It examines the
ways in which Xica deals with the culture of the white dominant class
through “mimicry” and “cannibalism,” which are important for her per-
formatively constructed identity as a femme fatale. Hence, by focusing
on an uncommon type of femme fatale, this chapter seeks to deconstruct
the preexisting social and artistic imaginaries of the femme fatale being a
Caucasian woman that are ingrained in cinematic representations of her
and have caused femmes fatales such as Xica to be ignored.
Chapter 2, “The Femme Fatale’s ‘Troubled’ Gender in Madame Satã,”
focuses mainly on gender (but also sexuality), which is fundamental to
the construction of the femme fatale in cinema. It builds on Butler’s work
on gender performativity to read the black homosexual male protago-
nist of the film, João (known as Madame Satã), as a “femme” fatale to
argue that such a figure does not need to be a biologically born female
as has been traditionally understood in social thought and depicted in
cinema. In other words, it contends that the femme fatale is a construct
that causes anxieties because of her challenges to hegemonic gender
and sexual roles but that this can be done by both the (female) femme
fatale and the male homosexual through gender performativity. It also
discusses sexual practices that are considered to be and are constructed
as deviant in the patriarchal imaginary, which resemble those in other
portrayals of the femme fatale, especially the prostitute. In this case, it
discusses the issue of HIV/AIDS and unsafe sex among gay men, which
have contributed to the view of homosexuality as a kind of fatality. This
is particularly important because, since the film was made in 2002, the
issue is perhaps an inevitable part of the audience’s frame of reference.
In addition, it discusses Brazilian perceptions of homosexuality in the
period mostly concerned in this book to situate the homosexual male as a
“femme” fatale within the sociohistorical context and, by doing so, show
the atemporality of this figure. Therefore, by exploring the femme fatale
Introduction    17

as a performatively constituted construct, this chapter highlights the


ways João performs roles normally associated with the (female) femme
fatale, which also deconstruct the notion of biological gender as a defini-
tive feature of such representations. It argues that because the gay male,
like the (female) femme fatale, is also a performance that opposes hege-
monic gender and sexual roles, he is likely to cause crises of masculinity
and social anxieties.
Chapter 3, “Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy in Bonitinha
mas ordinária,” discusses the representation of the femme fatale in terms
of her social class.22 It examines the portrayal of a teenage girl who seems
innocent and naive but turns out to be a dangerous and manipulative
femme fatale, who plays with men and causes their downfall. This chap-
ter analyzes the portrayal of this “innocent” devilish type of femme fatale
to show how she challenges traditional gender and class relations within
patriarchal Brazilian society and the consequences her behavior has on
her family in terms of their capital. To do so, it considers what Hobsbawm
argues about the family in bourgeois society concerning how a nonvir-
gin girl can bring economically unsuitable members into her family.
Moreover, the chapter shows how the film establishes a dichotomous pair
of virgin/whore portrayals that recalls the film-noir pairing of good and
bad women: the marrying type/housewife and the femme fatale. In addi-
tion, it looks at the extent to which such a dichotomy can threaten the
structures of social class yet simultaneously reinforce it.
Chapter 4, “The ‘Dirt’ Fetish as ‘Social Pollution’: The Married Femme
Fatale in A dama do lotação,” explores the representation of the femme
fatale in relation to “dirt” as a fetish that not only provides pleasure but
also menaces an institution patriarchal society values and preserves: mar-
riage. It reads the married female protagonist as a femme fatale who poses
a threat to patriarchal society through her challenges to the hegemonic
gender and sexual roles that patriarchy assigns to women; for example,
by betraying her husband and having sex with various men she encoun-
ters on public transport. Although she is portrayed as sensual and attrac-
tive, the actual presentation of these attributes implies that she is “dirty”
and has “basic instincts” that give her pleasure but simultaneously attract
condemnation from society, especially because she engages in “uncom-
mon” and “radical” sexual practices. These, along with her sexual vorac-
ity and power of seduction, challenge society and ultimately destroy her
husband. Furthermore, this chapter shows that many features used in A
dama do lotação resemble those subsequently used in the American neo-
noir films (e.g., public sex), particularly the films portraying the femme
fatale from the 1990s onward such as Basic Instinct, Body of Evidence, and
The Last Seduction, among others. The argument in this chapter develops
18    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

mainly based on Douglas’s understanding of “social pollution” to assess


the extent to which the meaning of “dirt” in this film works as a metaphor
for the social understanding of female sexuality, which the femme fatale
represents.23
Chapter 5, “The ‘Abject’ Lesbian Fatale in As intimidades de Analu e
Fernanda,” engages with a type of femme fatale that became prominent
in neo-noirs: the lesbian fatale. The discussion is mainly about lesbianism
and female violence, which are traits in a woman’s identity that patriar-
chy rejects and condemns, and these are key features in various films.
It argues that the violent behavior the lesbian fatale adopts makes her a
dangerous threat to patriarchy’s social order, which conceives a woman
as a passive mother figure. The chapter contends that the film’s portrayal
of the lesbian fatale shows that she is a “social abject” for two reasons.
First, because she dismantles hegemonic gender and sexual roles (which
are enforced by binary biological sexuality), especially through her vio-
lent behavior. Second, because she poses a threat to the patriarchal family
model as she offers an alternative coupling to the heterosexual husband/
wife pair that patriarchy deems sacred. It builds on Kristeva’s definition
of “abjection,” which is “all those things which threaten society’s estab-
lished boundaries, disturbing order or identity” (qtd. in Jermyn 254).
The chapter further argues that although the lesbian fatale reenacts dif-
ferent transgressions, her sexuality stands out compared with her other
“deviations.”
Chapter 6, “‘Quoting’ the Film-Noir Femme Fatale in A dama do Cine
Shanghai,” explores the neo-noir Brazilian film of its title and its relation-
ship with Orson Welles’s noir film The Lady from Shanghai (1948). The
chapter analyzes the femme fatale in the Brazilian film to ascertain if it
is merely a “cut and paste” from the American film it appears to “quote”
or whether it still helps one to understand the femme fatale that exists
in Brazilian cinema with its own cultural specificities. It shows how the
male narrator’s voiceover is important for constructing the femme fatale,
which is mostly absent in neo-noir films. However, the chapter argues
that A dama do Cine Shanghai functions as a metacinematic film that
questions the reliability of the narrator while also inviting the audience
to assess critically what is delivered by him. The last section of the chapter
analyzes how the Brazilian film deals with gender and sexuality, and the
extent to which these compare with and contrast to Welles’s The Lady
from Shanghai and neo-noir films in their appropriation of film noir’s
features. In so doing, it aims to show transnational features that are evi-
dent in noir and neo-noir films in their depiction of the femme fatale.
The combination of these different chapters, therefore, aims to reveal
types of femmes fatales and certain features connected to this figure’s
Introduction    19

identity that have been taken for granted and consequently ignored not
only in Brazil but also in other countries. Moreover, I hope it will become
clear throughout this book that although it engages with the foreign
femme fatale and international film genres as a framework for the dis-
cussion, it does not take these as the models to be followed, nor does it
read the Brazilian femmes as intentional modified versions of the ones in
American cinema, as various studies about this figure in other national
cinemas have done. It instead tries to provide a reading that is multifac-
eted to show that although there are similarities between representations
of the Brazilian femmes with international ones, they cannot and should
not be read as modified copies of the latter, that is, they are not a “critical
transmission” (O’Rawe 128) of Hollywood.
1

The Black Femme Fatale in


Xica da Silva

T he sexual danger the femme fatale represents in American film


noir (which did not occur, however, only in this film genre) is “con-
structed through foreign, racialized, and exoticized others” (Fay and
Nieland 171). Nevertheless, although foreignness in film noir relates to
racial issues, this seems to be masked by the fact that the femme fatale
is played by light-skinned actresses, such as Rita Hayworth and Greta
Garbo. Indeed, the relationship of film noir with blackness, for instance,
is mostly figurative and is implied by the symbols the films use such as
“jazz music, the black-and-white cinematography, and even the dark-
ness of the femme fatale herself” (Fay and Nieland 274)—the black body
is absent from characters in leading roles, particularly those playing the
femme fatale. The “visual blackness” suggested through symbols such
as the ones above is, therefore, what stands out in the analysis of racial
issues in the films (e.g., Oliver and Trigo’s study). For Oliver and Trigo,
the femme fatale’s “darkness” and her “repressed racial blackness” are
indications of her questionable maternal origin as this is likely to be the
source of her evilness.
Thus, blackness in film noir is suggested through the cinematography
and the visual style, but the femme fatale herself remains a light-skinned
woman. Although this could be because of the context specificities, the
1940s, it seems to be related to the imaginary surrounding the femme
fatale as Caucasian. This is strongly indicated by the lack of black femmes
fatales in neo-noir films and in studies that fail to identify the femme
fatale beyond noir and neo-noir films. As Caputi argues (by referring to
Hannsberry), “Many theorists, through differing strategies, neglect to
critique representations of dangerous, monstrous, and violent women
of color and focus only on sexy white femmes fatales” (51). Moreover, as
Caputi points out, all the negative features that make a woman “bad” or
22    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

“noir” are those related to women of color and are rooted in colonialist
and racist views: “primitive emotions and lusts, violence, sexual aggres-
sion, masculinity, lesbian tendencies, promiscuity, duplicity, treachery,
contaminating corruption, sovereignty, and so on” (52). Yet, these are
“transmitted” onto the Caucasian femme fatale and the black one is
consequently ignored in cinema. As Fay and Nieland point out, “Film
noir’s misogyny is perhaps a more culturally acceptable alibi for its rac-
ism” (164–65). But as Caputi further observes (by referring to Lalvani),
although the femme fatale is essentially characterized as a white woman,
her background is a colonialist one.
Wager emphasizes noir’s minimum focus on racial issues. Even more
significant, as the author rightly points out by quoting Orr, is that remakes
of film noir have done the same thing. Wager argues that the most these
films show is somebody “passing” as white and that the “racial threat”
for these “white” characters concerns their true racial origin being dis-
covered, as happens in Devil in a Blue Dress (1995) where “the femme is
trapped by her ambiguous racial status” (125). The author, nevertheless,
contends that because this film concentrates on race it loses its impact on
gender; indeed, race motivates most evil in the film.
The issues these authors raise regarding race is evident in Brazilian
cinema where black people have mostly played minimal roles, such as ser-
vants and criminals, in films (see Stam, Cross-Cultural). Only on very few
occasions have they been the main characters of a Brazilian film, let alone
a femme fatale. Xica da Silva is an exception to this. Hence, by engag-
ing with this filmic representation of the black Brazilian femme fatale,
this chapter aims to subvert the existing conception of such a figure as
a Caucasian woman and to show that such a character is performatively
constituted. This is crucial for an up-to-date understanding of the figure
and to “decolonize” the Euro-American imaginary surrounding it.
Carlos Diegues’s Xica da Silva is based on the life of the eponymous
protagonist—a slave who lived in the hamlet of Tijuco (now Diamantina)
in the province of Minas Gerais, which is a region where the Portuguese
mined diamonds and other precious stones, during the eighteenth cen-
tury.1 In the film, Xica da Silva (Zezé Motta) becomes renowned for pos-
sessing a phenomenal sexual drive and much cunning. She performs
different sexual tricks—“some things that only she knows how to do”—
that cause men to howl not only with pleasure but also with pain. She
captures the attention of the newly arrived Portuguese contractor João
Fernandes (Walmor Chagas), sent by the Portuguese Crown to Tijuco to
mine for diamonds. But once there, he falls in love with Xica and, as a
result, provides her with whatever extravagance she demands; he even
presents the slave with her enfranchisement letter. Consequently, Portugal
The Black Femme Fatale    23

sends a revenue agent—the Count of Valadares (José Wilker)—to check


João Fernandes’s excessive expenditure and this ends the lavish lifestyle
he provided for Xica. Furthermore, because of his relationship with the
black slave, João Fernandes loses his position as a contractor and is sent
back to Portugal.
Since its release, the film has been reviewed by film critics and schol-
ars from different subject areas, and they show much disagreement
about its “quality” and the approach the filmmaker chose to portray the
historical character. For instance, one reviewer says that the film “rec-
reates the past without creating a postcard”2 (F. Ferreira n. pag.), while
another criticizes the relationship of the filmmaker to the plot by saying
that “there is hardly any identification of the author with the slaves but
with the masters” (Nascimento n. pag.). Some critics even call it a “dis-
guised pornochanchada,”3 whereas others see Xica da Silva as a film that
“stands out in the mediocre context of Brazilian cinema production, as
it is one of the few to attract the public without the bad taste of porno-
chanchadas” (J. Ferreira n. pag.). Regardless of the various critics’ views,
the film achieved box-office success. On its release in Rio de Janeiro on
September 4, 1976, it made a profit of about Cr$ 1.200.000.00 (Nas telas).
Over eight million viewers watched it in the first two and a half months
it was shown (Johnson, Carnivalesque). Its reception at film festivals also
demonstrated its success. For example, during the Brasília Film Festival,
it was described as an “exuberant film, lively, contagious—in sum, a film
with enormous public sympathy” (Vartuck n. pag.).
Despite the film addressing various important issues for understand-
ing the Brazilian society of its time—mostly in a metaphorical way—as
cinema-novo films (the film critics’ “thermometer” of Brazilian film
quality) did in the previous decade, it clearly was not understood at the
time. For example, the difference between Xica da Silva and the cinema-
novo films mostly concerns aesthetics. Xica da Silva brought different
aesthetics to the screen than the Brazilian audience of cinema novo of
that time—composed mainly of members from the country’s intellectual
elite—was used to seeing. As Soares observes, what differentiates “the
avacalhação [sloppiness] in Xica da Silva from that in the films of Glauber
Rocha and Rogério Sganzerla is that Xica is popular not because it talks
about the ‘people’ or on behalf of the ‘people,’ as preach the cinema-novo
filmmakers, but because it speaks the language of the ‘people’” (60). Xica
da Silva tackles different issues such as race, gender, and sexuality that
are as important as the ones the cinema-novo films focus on, such as hun-
ger4 and drought in the sertão (“backlands”). The “misunderstandings”
of the film are seemingly a result of the allegorical way it addresses these
issues.
24    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

The film’s allegorical approach also leaves room for different inter-
pretations and helps to question if there is a true and definite historical
version of this character. Xica da Silva develops in a way that deconstructs
the notion of historical truth, which earns the film an accusation of show-
ing “disrespect to Brazilian History” (Nascimento n. pag.). Diegues’s
portrayal of the historical character challenges the conventional way of
understanding history and the traditional way the character is conceived
in sociohistorical imaginaries. That is, the film does not reduce history to
“the ‘what really happened’ of past events” (Hill 3); instead, it works with
a notion of history that includes the totality of processes whereby individ-
uals experience, interpret, and create changes within social orders, and
both individuals and groups change over time as they actively participate
in changing objective conditions (Hill).
Thus, Xica could be a “historical truth,” a “myth,” or even neither of
these if the conventional binary way of seeing history is deconstructed
and the structuralist way of understanding both myth and historical
truth is challenged, as Hill proposes. Hill deconstructs this dichotomy
within history by arguing that such an approach is based on an uncriti-
cal distinction that sees myth as atemporal, whereas history is based on
a sequence of chronological events. In his view, the structuralist disen-
tanglement of mythic “structure” from historical “event” has resulted in
a view of myth as fiction “as opposed to history as fact, a dichotomy that
disappears as soon as it is recognized that neither myth nor history is
reducible to a text, thing, fact, or event” (5).
Concerning myth and the femme fatale, Place sees this as a mecha-
nism used to apply an ideological operation—to control the strong,
sexual woman. According to Place, besides expressing dominant ide-
ologies, myth is “responsive to the repressed needs of the culture” (36).
It gives voice to the unacceptable archetypes as well: “The myth of the
sexually aggressive woman (or criminal man) first allows sensuous
expression of that idea and then destroys it” (36). Indeed, with its rep-
resentation of a black femme fatale from the colonial period, Xica da
Silva arguably responds to and criticizes the country’s political situa-
tion at the time it was made, and the “unacceptable archetype” of the
femme fatale works as a smokescreen to slip through censorship while
it addresses these issues. The criticism is done in a carnivalesque and
allegorical way, and the way it brings “history” to the screen works as an
escape valve for the weak to occupy the position of power and change
places with the dominant class. Thus, Xica causes social inversion in
the colonial setting. As a consequence, the black femme fatale simulta-
neously represents the glamour and the horror of “otherness” once she
becomes both a source of pleasure and a threat to the colonial society
The Black Femme Fatale    25

via the control she exercises over the European male colonizer through
her “fatal” sexuality.

The Slave Femme Fatale and the Colonial Setting

Xica first appears in the film in the courtyard of her master’s house. The
clothes she wears identify her as a slave; therefore, unlike many tradi-
tional Caucasian femmes fatales who have power from the beginning of
the films and control nearly everyone and everything around them, the
black femme fatale needs empowerment to exercise such control over the
colonial society, especially its men. Such empowerment moreover sup-
ports the view that the femme fatale is not born as such but is an identity
that is performatively constructed through the character’s acts. This is
indicated through Xica’s acts from her first appearance in the film, which
shows that she depends on no one but herself to achieve liberation. That
is, like the femme fatale in neo-noir, she does this by playing with the
very fantasy that patriarchal males have about female sexuality: she freely
talks about her sexual acts and uses these to dominate males. Although
she is not an example of the conventional model of beauty that is dissemi-
nated through depictions of traditional femmes fatales, she is as sensual
and seductive as they are. She knows the power her body has and she uses
it to cause social inversion.
Xica immediately puts every new idea she has into action, and she
achieves her goal of occupying a prestigious place in colonial society. But
her acts disrupt the colonial society’s social and sexual order. In contrast
to other slave women in colonial contexts whose bodies were “readily
available” to the colonial white males, Xica “is portrayed in the film as
mostly in control of hers” (Dennison and Shaw 172). Unlike what some
film critics have stated (e.g., Stam, Tropical), men do not possess Xica.
As Araújo rightly observes, “Contrary to the traditional interpretation
of the film, Xica is not used sexually. She enjoys the pleasure sex pro-
vides” (42). The black femme fatale possesses the men and they have to
do exactly what she wants. Xica’s power over men is not only a subver-
sion of hegemonic gender and sexual roles, as is mostly the case with the
new femme fatale, but also an inversion of the master/slave dichotomy
within the colonial context, and it shows the ways in which she exploits
these for her own benefit. The colonial males are unable to resist Xica’s
sadistic treatment and this indicates the masochistic pleasure they find
in it, which additionally confirms the black femme fatale’s control over
them. Through her performance as a femme fatale, Xica becomes a threat
to the colonial society once it loses control over her, and she manages to
26    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

occupy a position of power (as João Fernandes’s quasi-wife) from which


she controls everyone around her.
Besides dominating the males through her sexual power, Xica causes
anxiety for the colonial elite by getting involved with men who are against
colonial rule, such as her owner’s son José (Stepan Nercessian) and
Teodoro (Marcus Vinícius). José is involved with the anticolonial move-
ment known as Inconfidência Mineira,5 while Teodoro explores the dia-
mond mines without permission from the ruling authorities and refuses
to pay the high taxes he owes the Portuguese Crown. However, despite the
black femme fatale representing numerous threats, the white European
“hero,” João Fernandes, cannot avoid getting involved with her, and he
provides her with whatever she demands.
João Fernandes’s relationship with Xica paradoxically becomes neces-
sary for him as it reaffirms his colonizer position in relation to the “other,”
that is, the colonized black femme fatale—similar to other colonial con-
texts. For example, Yee points out that according to imperialist exoticism,
the successful protagonist (the European hero) “should emerge suffi-
ciently cleansed and strengthened from his encounter with the revalo-
rised colonial subject to be able to assert his own status as hero faced with
the more pernicious exoticism of the femme fatale” (478). In Xica da Silva,
João Fernandes gets involved with a femme fatale who possesses an unre-
strained sexual drive that is a test for his status as a hero and a patriarchal
male. However, he fails the test and his involvement with the “devalued,”
exotic, and colonized black femme fatale costs him his position of power
as he loses his post as a contractor because of this. Hence, unlike what Yee
states about European heroes in her study, João Fernandes does not leave
the colony as a strengthened hero.
The sense of “otherness” in Xica da Silva additionally recalls the per-
ception of other colonized countries that different European colonizers’
discourses have portrayed over centuries. The image of inhabitants of
such countries has been propagated as essentially sexual, which provides
possibilities for the colonizer to not only fulfill his prohibited sexual
desires but also reassure his masculinity. McClintock argues that during
the Renaissance European travelers had “an eager and lascivious audi-
ence for their spicy tales” (22). The author further contends that Africa
and the Americas became the “porno-tropics for the European imagi-
nation” and “a fantastic magic lantern of the mind onto which Europe
projected its forbidden sexual desires and fears” (22). However, their
sexual contact with nonwhite women in the colonial setting brought
risks because “through sexual contact with women of colour European
men ‘contracted’ not only disease but debased sentiments, immoral pro-
clivities and extreme susceptibility to decivilised states” (Stoler, qtd. in
The Black Femme Fatale    27

McClintock 48). This projection of prohibited desires McClintock points


out is presented in Xica da Silva through the construction of the black
femme fatale as the sexually insatiable “other” with whom the European
male colonizer releases his sexual desires. She reduces him to her passive
and masochistic sexual plaything.
Xica’s sexual behavior mirrors Doane’s claim that unrestrained female
sexuality presents a danger to the male and to the system of signification
itself. An example of this is how Xica, similar to other neo-noir femmes
fatales, makes her male counterparts, including João Fernandes, violate
society’s customs and laws by tempting them to have sex with her in pub-
lic spaces. Xica has sex with her counterparts in different public places—
for example, with João Fernandes on the veranda of their house, with
José in the tower of the Convent of the Blacks, and with the Portuguese
count in her palace—being watched by other people in most cases. Her
sexual behavior is a stark contrast to that of the “good” white woman who
represents patriarchy’s female role model and opposes the “shameless”
black femme fatale.6 Hence, Xica’s hypersexuality is “a racialised sexuality
linked in this perversity to other women of colour in representations such
as the African American mammy/Jezebel, the Native American squaw/
princess, and the Chicana/Latina virgin/whore” (Shimizu 65).
Additionally, the black femme fatale is constructed as the colonized
sexual degenerate and the “cannibalistic other”—the latter implied by the
fact that she bites people. For example, during a banquet João Fernandes
and she host for some members of the colonial elite, Xica bites the fingers
of the superintendent (played by Altair Lima) when she asks him if he
was still interested in her “teeth” as he had previously said. The scene
is significantly phallic and can be associated with the shouts the audi-
ence hears from her counterparts during sexual intercourse with her. At
certain moments, they are heard howling “Not that, Xica!” about an act
they fear yet are unable to resist. Xica subordinates men and exercises her
sexual control over them, and this threatens their hegemonic masculin-
ity and power as colonial males. Moreover, from a psychoanalytic point
of view, the males’ screams reveal much: the female genitalia, the vagina
dentata, can “castrate” men, so the black femme fatale represents a threat
to patriarchal colonial power because of her dangerous sexuality.
Xica’s relationship with the males she has sex with recalls what
Madureira argues about the Brazilian film Como era gostoso o meu francês
(How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman, 1971), which, for the author, evokes
the myth of the vagina dentata. Madureira goes on to say that it “remits us
to the original colonial encounter, to the voracious native woman whose
exuberant, overpowering sexuality Vespucci finds at once menacing and
fascinating” (124). Hence, Xica’s sexual behavior can be linked to the idea
28    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

of cannibalism that was related to the black colonial women and their
sexual danger to the European colonizers. But Xica’s threat of castration
is more symbolic and indicates her male counterparts’ masochism rather
than her being “a terrifying symbol of woman as the ‘devil’s gateway’”
(Creed 106).
Creed argues that the male fantasy of women as castrators is linked
to fetish and that fetish in this case relates to the vagina dentata, the very
organ males want to disavow. But women are also constructed as cas-
trated according to the author. Because of this, they are represented as
tamed, domesticated, and passive, whereas the castrator is constructed
as savage, destructive, and aggressive. But Creed contends that there is
another type of woman that denies the existence of this pair: the phallic
woman. For her, the phallic woman is the “fetishized woman.” She claims
that there is confusion about what the phallic woman and the castrat-
ing woman are. The author argues that the two concepts are “collapsed
together” (106). Referring to Laplanche and Pontalis, Creed states that the
term “phallic woman” refers to a woman who has masculine character
traits. An example of this, Creed claims, is the film-noir femme fatale
who carries a gun in her handbag.
Considering the types of women Creed discusses, Xica is therefore a
castrator, which is particularly indicated through her aggressive sexual-
ity. But the black femme fatale’s castration is more related to male sexual
fantasies and her domination over them, which she uses to make men give
her pleasure rather than to ensnare her victims (as Creed puts it regarding
the castrator). The castration threat she represents concerns the males’
loss of their power and their own identity as a consequence of their sexual
contact with her. Hence, her vagina dentata constitutes a symbolic repre-
sentation of her domination of the colonial males.
Indeed, it is through the castrating power Xica has over men that she
changes positions from a slave to the contractor’s controlling quasi-wife.
In subverting the social order, she becomes a “blend” of the well-known
saying in Brazil: “A white woman to marry, a mulatto woman to fornicate,
a black woman to cook” (Freyre 10). She metaphorically performs each
role in different parts of the film; thus, she deconstructs the idealized
racial type prescribed for each role in the Brazilian saying. Her (meta-
phorical) performance of the white, mulatto, and black women’s different
roles in the saying also shows the ease with which she moves into differ-
ent social, gender, and sexual arenas, pushing the boundaries dictated by
the patriarchal colonial society. Although she performs the “white-mar-
ried-woman role,” she refuses to accept the subordinate role assigned to
colonial wives. She will not allow a man to control her even as a married
woman; she uses her quasi-married-woman position for social ascension
The Black Femme Fatale    29

and to subvert colonial power. In addition, this black femme fatale shows
no interest in raising a family or maintaining the family values patriarchy
dictates: besides avoiding becoming the passive dutiful wife, she does not
become a mother.7 Because of this, she is a thoroughly modern femme
fatale with certain similarities to other femmes fatales, especially those in
neo-noir films. In other words, Xica shows that she is interested not only
in money or power as the traditional femme fatale was but also in fulfill-
ing her hypersexual appetite as the neo-noir femme fatale is. She gets as
much money as she wants and satisfies her sexual desires whenever and
with whomever she chooses. As DaMatta (A hierarquia) points out, Xica
is “the only instrument that truly knows and effectively controls and pos-
sesses her own body” (n. pag.). By exploiting the power that “emanates
from her body: sensual, firm, healthy” (n. pag.), as DaMatta describes it,
Xica manages to insert herself into the social sphere of the dominant and
powerful members of the colonial society.
This black femme fatale remains in power (as the contractor’s quasi-
wife) long enough to be subject to society’s punishment. Like many other
traditional femmes fatales, she holds a temporary position of power over
patriarchal society (indicated by her control over men), which confirms
that her power and performance of it are carnivalesque. In other words,
her transgressions are allowed by the males who control colonial society
and this recalls the carnivalesque power inversion proposed by Bakhtin:
her acts disrupt colonial social order but patriarchal rule is reestablished
by the end of the film, as it was in film noir, and the black femme fatale is
punished for her transgression.
Bakhtin (Rabelais) develops his theory about the carnivalesque in his
study of carnival festivities in the work of the French Renaissance writer
François Rabelais. In it, he proposes that there is a power inversion in car-
nival. That is, according to the author, in carnival time there was a sense
of freedom and equality. It was an “escape from the usual official way of
life” (Bakhtin, Rabelais, in Morries 198). Moreover, the author adds that
everybody was considered equal during carnival.
In his approach to Bakhtin’s discussion of the carnivalesque, Stam
(Subversive) argues that to avoid confusing the carnivalesque with other
categories considered less subversive such as comedy and play, it is imper-
ative that the carnivalesque is seen within a larger translinguistic context.
Stam enumerates 13 different concepts that the carnivalesque evokes.
Among these, three are worth mentioning as they relate to the represen-
tation of the femme fatale discussed in this book, including Xica da Silva:
(1) the notion that there is a “liberation” from hegemonic sexual roles
through bisexuality and transvestism; (2) a valorization of the obscene
through language; and (3) “a rejection of social decorum entailing a release
30    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

from oppressive etiquette, politeness, and good manners” (93–94). Stam


contends that Bakhtin is more interested in “the symbolic overturning
of social hierarchies within a kind of orgiastic egalitarianism” (89–90).
According to him, this is reflected in the two main Middle Ages insti-
tutions that Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque mocked: the Church
and the Monarchy. This is well illustrated in Xica da Silva, particularly
when the black femme fatale tells her Portuguese lover João Fernandes to
tell the Portuguese king to “fuck off” and when she threatens to paint the
church black because she is refused entry to it for being black.
The key element of the carnivalesque theory for this book concerns
the temporality of power it allows. This is mostly evident in Xica da Silva
which “abolishes hierarchies, levels social classes, and creates another
life free from conventional rules and restrictions” (Stam, Subversive 86).
Moreover, some of the concepts related to the carnivalesque that Stam dis-
cusses are evident in the femmes fatales’ acts that transgress social norms.
These include Xica spitting on the food before it is served to guests she
does not like; Solange spitting at her father-in-law’s face in A dama do
lotação (discussed in chapter 4)—an indication of her power in their sex-
ual relationship; and copulation, which occurs with all the femmes fatales
in the films discussed herein and is a key act that is related to the physical
body. Sex is indeed a very strong element in femme-fatale films and occu-
pies the center of their narratives, particularly in neo-noir films.
As with the carnivalesque, Stam argues that everything that is mar-
ginalized and excluded “takes over the center in a liberating explosion of
otherness” (Subversive 86). However, such an inversion of power is tem-
porary, and its suspension has an effect for a while but all is reestablished,
or at least there is an attempt to do so, at some stage. This is particularly
the case with the film-noir femme fatale: she is given power, challenges
patriarchal norms and morality, but she is then controlled and patriar-
chal society’s power is reestablished, especially by destroying her—often
through her killing. Nevertheless, as will be seen in this book, this does
not happen frequently to the new femme fatale as she often manages to
stay in power despite challenging patriarchal power and performing acts
that the society in which she lives considers lewd. In the films with the
new femme fatale, bodies and sexualities are central, but these, in most
cases, challenge moral codes. This happens particularly in films con-
sidered noncanonical, such as B films and sexploitation films. However,
resorting to such film genres seems to be a way to “allow” transgression
to take place, as happens with the carnivalesque.
Nevertheless, in Xica da Silva, the femme fatale is chastised for her
acts. The white colonial society, from children to the elderly, wants her
punished severely for transgressing gender roles but in particular for
The Black Femme Fatale    31

breaking class and racial boundaries. Because she rebels against social
order, she has to be castigated so that society reestablishes the norms it
dictates. The reactions of the colonial society toward her near the end
of the film confirm that her power through her sensuality and body
was a temporary construction that indeed depended on the male, João
Fernandes, to have its effect, and once this male matrix of power was
annulled she was destroyed. The black femme fatale loses the power she
needs to continue occupying the same social sphere as the colonial elite,
even if she is no longer a slave. But the film shows that the colonial society
has failed to control her “degenerate” sexuality, as illustrated in its last
sequence wherein she satisfies her sexual desires by having sex with José
in the tower of the Convent of the Blacks—confirmed by his masoch-
istic howls and the lines he cries out offscreen. Thus, Xica’s subjectiv-
ity and sexual agency escape patriarchal colonial society’s control. The
fatale power that derives from her body is something the white ruling
elite cannot take away from her; even if she were killed as the traditional
femmes fatales were, the whites would destroy her material body, but they
would not destroy her subversive identity as a black femme fatale: this will
always be out of their reach.

The Slave Body: From Striptease to Colonial Power Subversion

Foucault argues that power asserts itself “in the pleasure of showing off,
scandalizing, or resisting” (An Introduction 45). The way Xica achieves
her position of power resonates with Foucault’s assertion. That is, this
black femme fatale asserts power through her resistance to being domes-
ticated or turned into a passive dutiful wife by patriarchy. Her perfor-
mance of power challenges the status quo, resists the colonial order, and
causes social inversion through her “scandalous” sexual behavior, which
echoes Shimizu’s point that because the femme fatale “cannot be imag-
ined outside of sex . . . , her resistance is also found in sex” (99). As Soares
argues, Diegues’s Xica “exchanges the power of diamonds for the power
of sensuality” (61). Still according to Soares, sex and slavery in Xica da
Silva are “pretexts to talk about power relations: submission and subver-
sion of the order” (64).
The black femme fatale’s “showing off” is illustrated in a “striptease”
she performs for João Fernandes (watched by the most important people of
Tijuco Hamlet), during which power relations are evident and her subver-
sion of these takes place. Xica’s striptease functions as the starting point
of her inversion of the social and sexual order, which again shows that her
role as a femme fatale is performatively constituted. It demonstrates how
32    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

she is able to move in different social spheres and is comfortable in all of


them. In addition, the striptease shows how Xica, who is still a slave at this
point, is capable of stopping a business meeting among the most power-
ful men in the locale: the newly arrived contractor João Fernandes, the
master sergeant (played by Rodolfo Arena)—who is Xica’s owner—and
the superintendent.
The striptease sequence opens with a long shot showing the superin-
tendent’s wife Hortência (Elke Maravilha) entering the house where the
men are having the meeting. The first shots of the sequence imply that the
fight for João Fernandes’s attention has already begun, not only between
Xica and Hortência (who despite being married to the superintendent
shows much interest in the Portuguese contractor) but also between the
two local men present in the meeting. At a crucial point of the meeting,
a commotion interrupts the three men’s conversation as Xica enters the
room. Straight away she catches their attention and the curious local elite
use the opportunity to follow her into the room. In this sequence, the
rivalry between the slave and the white woman, Hortência, is amplified
and the dichotomous pair—the black femme fatale as the sexually degen-
erate sinner and the white married woman as the “prudish” conformer—
is established.
Xica goes to the house using the excuse that she has to tell her owner
that his son José had repeatedly beaten her and would not “leave her
alone.” She also reminds her master (and informs colonial society) of “all
the things” she usually does to him, including massages and things only
she “knows how to do.” But while she is talking to her master her eyes
are fixed on the contractor. Her gaze is assertive and conveys domina-
tion, whereas João Fernandes’s is rather passive and he seems uncom-
fortable with the way Xica stares at him: he becomes the object of her
gaze—a “male gaze” (Mulvey, Visual) in reverse. As an attempt to defend
the white colonial society’s morality, Cabeça (Adalberto Silva)—João
Fernandes’s bodyguard slave—attempts to remove Xica from the room
against her will, but João Fernandes stops him. Staying in the space occu-
pied by the colonial elite is all the black femme fatale needs to engage in
her “planned” striptease for the Portuguese contractor.
Xica keeps using the excuse of having suffered violence at the hands of
José to remain in the room while staring continually at João Fernandes.
She exposes her body as if she were doing an aggressive striptease, during
which she tears off her clothes while a shot/reverse shot sequence of her
and the contractor is shown until she is completely naked (see figures 1.1
and 1.2). Xica’s naked body stays on screen long enough for the male
characters and the audience to “explore” her whole body. This recalls
the point Place makes about the visual presentation of the femme fatale,
The Black Femme Fatale    33

Figure 1.1 

Figure 1.2 

which, according to the author, is for the pleasure of not only the hero but
also the audience. As Doane puts it, “In the structures of seeing which
the cinema develops in order to position its spectator, to ensure its own
readability, an image of woman is fixed and held—held for the pleasure
and reassurance of the male spectator” (101). The femme fatale’s body on
34    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

screen, thus, provides pleasure for the heterosexual male viewer and reas-
sures his belief that he holds the gaze. This is indicated in the way Xica
tears off her clothes to enact the sadomasochistic fantasies of both male
characters—especially those of the European “hero”—and the heterosex-
ual male spectators’ gazes. Her striptease performance combines sensual-
ity and violence as she strips to illustrate the supposedly violent way José
treated her and to imply that he raped her.8 But later on in the film, the
audience learns that José did not beat or rape her. Xica invented the story
to gain initial proximity to João Fernandes as her master had previously
refused her demand for him to take her to meet the European man.
The iconography of the image in this striptease sequence is extremely
important for the construction of Xica’s sexual power on screen and to
show how the features in Xica da Silva contrast with those of other films
portraying the femme fatale. For example, whereas the Caucasian femme
fatale’s hair is often exploited as part of her sexual performance and
seduction, in Diegues’s film this is replaced by a femme who has a short
“haircut and make-up with a ‘black is beautiful’ visual that predates the
‘black beauty’ of the 1980s” (Soares 62). Xica’s look is explored during the
striptease and shows that “beauty is performative” (Tate, Black Beauty
Meets).9 As such, her black beauty “can be performed differently and dis-
rupt the beauty normalizations, the taken for granted ideas of our beauty
ideals” (Tate, Black Beauty 7). The femme fatale’s “performance of black
beauty” mirrors the point Tate makes; that black beauty like any other
beauty “is a matter of doing and its effects are not therefore an inherent
attribute which awaits apprehension and judgement through a neutral
process of reflection” (Black Beauty 7). Xica’s facial expression exhibits
pride in her black body and the colonial social disruption her black-power
look can cause. Her acts and facial expressions in this sequence show a
total lack of submission to the white colonial society’s domination. Thus,
instead of putting on clothes and accessories to enhance her power as
other femmes fatales do, Xica shows that her power relies on the beauty
and sensuality of her black body. Her striptease suggests that beauty is
“not something that simply is but it is rather done and translated for its
cultural intelligibility. As culturally intelligible beauty is an effect of dis-
courses” (Tate, Black Beauty 9). By exploring the power of her body, the
black femme fatale subverts the colonial discourse and traditional con-
ceptions of beauty. She puts all her sensuality “at the service of seduction
of the men she desires: she does not have children, nor resist men, and she
is—for both the men with whom she lives and the audience that watches
her—frighteningly attractive and beautiful” (Soares 62).
The ways Xica’s body is displayed in the sequence, in terms of the
visual style, also contribute to the construction of this black femme fatale’s
The Black Femme Fatale    35

power through her sexuality. She “dominates” the camera and the gaze:
she is “looked-at” but she also returns and controls the gaze and the pace
of the scenes during the sequence. Most of her striptease performance is
presented through shot/reverse shot—a common editing pattern used in
many films depicting femmes fatales, especially when they seduce their
counterparts. The shots show that Xica has already caught João Fernandes’s
attention. She dominates the entire sequence from the background to the
foreground while other people, including Hortência, are squashed into
the left side of the frame. The space allocated to the characters in this
sequence mirrors the point Stam (Brazilian Cinema) makes. According to
him, space in the visual arts “has traditionally been deployed to express
the dynamics of authority and prestige. The cinema translates such cor-
relations of social power into registers of foreground and background,
on-screen and off-screen, silence and speech” (206). Although Xica is in
a disadvantaged social position, this is subverted in the sequence by her
moving freely around the frame, while a small percentage of it is left to
the static dominant class. This foreshadows the sexual and social subver-
sions she is to cause from her initial subaltern position within the colo-
nial society to a quasi-queen. Similar to the visual elements, the language
Xica uses in the striptease sequence is equally important. It also hints at
S/M—a feature that became prominent in depictions of the femme fatale
in neo-noir films—and recalls the valorization of the obscene through
language in Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque. The best example
of this is when she reports the supposedly violent way José often treats
her: “He beats me, steps on me, bites me; my whole body burns!” The
words she uses and her aggressive facial expressions (see figure 1.1 for an
example) imply that she planned what she intends to achieve with this
account of violence: to arouse sadistic and masochistic sexual pleasure in
the males. The black femme fatale’s use of language is indeed an impor-
tant device she deploys in this sequence and indeed throughout the film.
This is evident when she (and the colonial society) repeatedly refers to the
things that “only Xica knows how to do.” She exploits language to seduce
her sexual counterparts and promote herself as someone capable of doing
unique things. She is conscious of the effect the language she uses will
have on her male “victims”—it arouses excitement and curiosity in them,
as it does in the audience,10 because they want to discover what this thing
that only she knows how to do is.11
Stam (Tropical) argues that Xica’s role assumes two levels. One is
directed toward society’s hypocrisy, which enslaved black people and
exploited black women. Regarding the other, he claims that Xica embod-
ies the fantasy of the sexually available slave because she is used by a vari-
ety of white men for sex—“all of whom at one point ‘own’ her” (293–94).
36    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Stam goes on to say that the zoeira (“dizziness”) she often feels when she
is sexually excited is “symptomatic of her political incapacity” (294). But
if the femme fatale’s use of language is considered, each time Xica says
she feels “dizzy” the word zoeira is a “signpost” to men that she is actu-
ally on the verge of “devouring” them rather than it showing weakness
on her part. The males know, as the audience does, what she is up to
when she feels “dizzy.” As soon as Xica says she feels dizzy, the men she
approaches react in a defensive way and try to stop her sexual advances.
José’s response to her advances at the Convent of the Blacks in the final
sequence of the film illustrates this. When Xica starts feeling “dizzy,” he
tries to protect himself by saying that they are in a sacred place and if they
had sex there they would be committing a sin. Despite this, he fails to
control his masochistic desire, so he surrenders to the black femme fatale
who once again manages to satiate her “dizziness.”
Returning to the striptease sequence, it ends with a long shot showing
Xica completely naked, from the back, and occupying the center of the
frame, which is followed by a shot from the front. The camera then pans
out, showing the people in the room staring at the femme fatale in dismay
and shock. Hortência plays her role of the “good woman” who opposes
the femme fatale’s “shameless” behavior to try to restore colonial society’s
morality. She screams and pretends to faint, and later on she demands
that Xica be flogged for her “immoral acts.” However, Hortência’s reac-
tions are rather hypocritical as she is also interested in João Fernandes, as
the audience already knows. But the white woman and the colonial elite
fail to have the black femme fatale punished as Xica’s performance has the
effect she intended on João Fernandes. The Portuguese contractor buys
Xica from her owner despite the latter’s protests and unwillingness to sell
his slave. Hence, from this striptease sequence on, the audience sees that
the black femme fatale “discovers her place in the social order of Tijuco,
actualizing a corporeal practice . . . A practice made up of scandal . . . , the
power to bless and curse, the power to laugh and have pleasure” (DaMatta,
A hierarquia n. pag.).
Xica soon becomes the talk of the colony and so does Fernandes for
his passivity toward her, “bewitched” as he is by her fatal sexuality and
power. For example, later on in the film, a sequence showing two men
talking in an open market reveals the local people’s opinion about Xica.
When one of two characters asks a question—“And his wife [Xica] who
was a slave?”—he is reprimanded by the other who states: “Don’t say that!
He is the slave now! Xica can do some things that only she knows how to
do. But there are many people who do not like her; they really don’t.”
These lines denote the femme fatale’s domination over her European male
counterpart and show that she has actualized her desired change in social
The Black Femme Fatale    37

class. However, as DaMatta observes, in a hierarchized and paternalistic


society, “the point does not really concern the strong or the weak, but the
inversion of the position of the strong by the weak. This is the danger-
ous moment, which indicates that it is time to moralize” (A hierarquia n.
pag.). So the paternalistic colonial society finds a way to reinstate social
order by destroying the femme fatale. Xica is removed from the position
of power she occupies not only because of her (dirty) sexual behavior but
also, if not mainly, because of her skin color as blackness is mostly associ-
ated with degeneration in colonial discourse.

Blackness and the Femme Fatale

As already pointed out, imaginaries concerning the traditional femme


fatale are associated with whiteness. As a result, most depictions of this
figure in cinema and other arts have assumed that she is Caucasian and
therefore focused mainly on one aspect: gender. The focus on gender over
race indicates that such an approach is because she is mainly a male cre-
ation as most of these films are made by men. The femme fatale becomes
a vehicle to express male concerns about female domination rather than
other conflicts.
Similar to what happens in cinematic representations of this figure,
the femme fatale’s racial identity has also been neglected in many schol-
arly studies of her12—they hardly mention non-Caucasian women as
femmes fatales.13 Such neglect resonates with the concerns of American
feminists of color, who argue that “a primary focus on gender erases other
aspects of women’s identities and experiences, including race, sexuality,
and class” (Caldwell 19). These concerns are extremely important for
reading Xica’s performance as a femme fatale. The ways the black femme
fatale challenges colonial society’s hegemonic gender roles are essential
for her subjectivity as a woman, but this aspect of her identity cannot and
should not be separated from her race, sexuality, and social class because
all these are integrated in the constitution of her subjectivity.
Indeed, as McClintock argues, race, gender, and social class “are
not distinct realms of experience that exist in complete isolation from
each other” (5). But she also contends that they cannot be “simply yoked
together retrospectively like armatures of Lego” (5). For McClintock,
they exist in and through their relation to each other; hence, she sug-
gests that gender, race, and class should be considered “articulated cat-
egories” (5). The author explores these three realms by triangulating
them into the intimate relations between imperial power and resistance,
money and sexuality, and race and gender. In Xica da Silva, the way the
38    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

femme fatale behaves challenges these three aspects. The femme fatale
destabilizes hegemonic racial, gender, sexual, and class relations as she
simultaneously subverts various conventional dichotomous pairs such
as black/white, male/female, passive/active, and slave/dominant colonial
elite. Her “deviances” from patriarchy’s norms are, therefore, too much
for the colonial society to accept since dominant culture “can only toler-
ate the destabilisation of one binary [i.e., gender or black/white relations]
at a time” (Kaplan, Women in Film x). Consequently, the dominant class
seeks to control the deviant black femme fatale and it exploits her “devi-
ances” as its justification for annihilating her power. The whites’ response
to Xica’s behavior also reveals “the white culture’s fears of what might
happen if gender and racial boundaries were not managed and kept in
place” (Kaplan, Women in Film x).
Such fears of the black femme fatale stem from the colonial imaginary
that she embodies “the glamour and the horror of otherness” (Kaplan,
Women in Film x). Glamour evokes her sexuality—her “exotic” appear-
ance, and her strength and domination over the male colonizer. The black
femme fatale also embodies the characteristics that the colonial society
rejects: she is a colonized black subject who possesses a threatening sexu-
ality. The very blackness of this Brazilian femme fatale is a feature of her
identity that shows her ambivalence: she is a slave and as such she should
be available for the white colonizer, but she is strong enough to subvert
her subaltern condition and dominate the European “hero.” She, there-
fore, contradicts the roles imposed on her because she is a black slave
woman. Her acts show that her blackness does not prevent her from being
a femme fatale and it indeed challenges the established construction of
the femme fatale being exclusively a Caucasian woman. The black femme
fatale arguably becomes more problematic than the Caucasian Euro-
American ones because she is marked not only by her gender and sexual-
ity (which are the main features of the others) but also by her race and
social class.
The black femme fatale represents “the white male’s projection and
displacement of desire upon the black body” (McCabe 640). Xica’s black-
ness attracts João Fernandes as it clearly contrasts his Portuguese wife’s14
(unattractive) skin color, which he says is “as white as curdled milk.”
Despite the risk of “contamination” by Xica’s “otherness” and “exoticism,”
the European male colonizer cannot avoid getting involved with the black
femme fatale. This means that Xica can use the Portuguese contractor
to achieve what she wants: power. However, this becomes a problem for
the colonial sexual order as Xica acts as a “dominatrix” who controls the
colonial males and turns them into her sexual playthings. As she has sex-
ual contact with the most powerful white men in the colony, including the
The Black Femme Fatale    39

European contractor, her domineering and sensual black body functions


as “a vehicle for mediating the sexual transgression of the white charac-
ters” (McCabe 647).
The way the film addresses race works as an expression of colonial
racial anxiety and as a way of forging links with sexuality and gender. The
connection between these is illustrated in the ambivalence Xica’s black
body represents within the colonial context. That is, on the one hand, her
body provides pleasure, but, on the other, it generates colonial anxieties
as she is presented as a threat that is not easy to control. The black femme
fatale’s body, therefore, arouses phobia among the colonial white people
who see her color as the cause of her “degenerate” sexual behavior. For
example, in a sequence in which members of the colonial elite are hav-
ing dinner at João Fernandes’s house, Xica says that a newly arrived slave
who is serving Fernandes is too beautiful to do the job and that she wants
the girl as her slave so that she can keep an eye on her. Hortência uses the
opportunity to attack her rival by saying that Xica “knows her race,” by
which she means that blacks are all sexual degenerates.
The whites see Xica’s skin color as something that makes her intrinsi-
cally inferior so they exploit this to diminish her in an attempt to desta-
bilize her newly acquired colonial identity as a powerful woman. For
example, Hortência and the Portuguese count repeatedly refer to the
black femme fatale in racist ways. But Hortência’s racism is not a surprise
because it is a clear reaction to the threat Xica’s sensual black body is
to her: unlike her whiteness, it attracts João Fernandes. She repeatedly
tries to get the Portuguese contractor’s attention but does not succeed.
As Johnson observes, Hortência is perhaps “the most petty incarnation
of racism in the film . . . ; she feels threatened by Xica’s ascent and by her
attractiveness to men” (Xica da Silva n. pag.). But racism was not confined
to the film’s characters. The racist reactions toward Xica are prominent
in different reviews of the film at the time of its release. For example,
one says:

At the end of the day, who is Xica da Silva? A black with a soul as white and
perverted as any Du Barry of the best ballrooms. A black who liked laying
down the law . . . ; a black who, above all, liked loads of luxury and wealth,
and, on top of that, she had a secret sensual “trick” that made men howl
strange screams of pain. A brazen prostitute who took maximum advan-
tage of her condition of object—this is the “greatness” of Xica. (Frederico
n. pag., emphases added)

The way Xica da Silva deals with race challenges and criticizes notions
of racial identity that have developed in Brazil. Some film reviewers have,
40    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

however, accused the film of creating a stereotype of black people. But


the film’s depiction of racial relations actually mocks the dominant racist
whites who are “caricatured even more than the blacks” (Stam, Tropical
294). In comparing Hortência and Xica, for example, the white woman is
much more caricatured than Xica—the slave functions as a “screen” onto
which the criticism of her rival is projected. The film, in the same fashion
of satirical or parodic films, as proposed by Spence and Stam, seems “less
concerned with constructing positive images than with challenging the
stereotypical expectations an audience may bring to a film” (12).
For instance, the racial conflict in the film indicates not only that
Gilberto Freyre’s conceptualization of Brazil as a “racial democracy” does
not hold, but also that the whitening of the Brazilian population, mani-
fested for instance through “mulatto essentialism” (Caldwell), is also a
failure. As Nunes observes, the mulatto woman, not the black one, was
considered to play an important role in Brazil’s racial project and “in the
linking of race and nation” because it was through her body that embran-
queamento (whitening) took place. This confirms that black women have
always been on the margins of Brazilian society, both during the colonial
period and after independence. Moreover, the film criticizes rather than
conforms to the belief that blacks want to be white. This is evident in the
black femme fatale’s “mimicry” of the whites’ culture, which works as a
mockery of the colonial elite and as a “cannibalistic” way of appropriat-
ing their culture and criticizing the racist imaginary they create of black
people.

Mimicry

Bhabha contends that “mimicry” is ambivalent—or in his words, involves


something that is “almost the same, but not quite” (123)—and has a pro-
found and disturbing effect on the authority of colonial discourse because
it “repeats rather than re-presents” (125). For example, in Xica da Silva, the
black femme fatale uses mimicry to consolidate and maintain her power.
But her mimicry of the colonial whites is rather disturbing for them as it
is not intended to represent the colonial elite’s values but to criticize them.
It does not simply consist of repeating the colonial authority, as Bhabha
puts it, but is instead a tool she appropriates in a conscious way to trouble
colonial authority.
Xica’s “repetition” of the whites’ culture implies a cannibalistic criti-
cism of it as she appropriates the things and beliefs white people con-
sider to be of value, such as clothes and consumerism, and she usurps
power from them to advance her cause. But, despite seemingly accept-
ing the colonial cultural matrix, she actually transforms it to a more
The Black Femme Fatale    41

genuine model that matches her identity and makes her stronger than
the ruling class. For instance, although Xica receives various goods and
expensive clothes from all over the world, she modifies them in her own
way—transforming them into “carnivalesque costumes”—before wear-
ing them. She ignores her limitations and demonstrates that she is “shifty,
irreverent, willful, expansive and fully in charge of herself; she is capable
of transforming the white elite’s fashion into fancy dress and their cus-
toms into a mockery” (F. Ferreira n. pag.). The black femme fatale’s canni-
balistic mimicry of the whites’ culture helps her to become stronger than
the colonial elite: it is through her mimicry that Xica finds a way to insert
herself into the dominant class’s arena.
The way Xica behaves echoes Bhabha’s statement that the unintended
effect of colonial discourse is “the production of a subject whose mimicry
mocks and defamiliarises the model, casting doubt on its integrity and
solidity” (x). In most of the film, the black femme fatale’s mimicry is used
to mock the colonial elite members’ behavior, particularly Hortência’s and
the Portuguese count’s racism. It also challenges their “integrity” and their
“solidity.” For example, besides destabilizing her main rival Hortência
throughout the film, Xica’s acts expose the white woman because it shows
that Hortência is not as good a role model of the colonial patriarchal wife
as she tries to advertise to society. From the moment Xica manages to get
the Portuguese contractor’s attention through her striptease, Hortência
can no longer hide her interest in the Portuguese man as from this point
onward she perceives the black femme fatale to be an impediment to her
goal of seducing João Fernandes. She is so disturbed by Xica’s power over
the European “hero” that by the end of the film she behaves hysterically
in public, shouting and calling Xica names and blaming the latter for João
Fernandes’s enforced return to Portugal.
Hence, Xica’s cannibalistic mimicry—enacted through her wearing
clothes and accessories usually worn by the ruling class and her mock-
ing “copy” of their behavior—works to equalize her power to the white
elite. For example, early on in the film when José asks her what she would
like him to give her as a present, she says she wants “clothes for human
beings: white shoes and a white dress.” Her yearning for white clothes and
shoes implies that she sees white as synonymous with social ascension
and a possible means for her to “disguise” what the whites see as her sign
of inferiority: her skin color. Indeed, after actualizing her social inver-
sion through her striptease, she wears white and light-colored clothes
repeatedly and uses these to show society the change in her social sta-
tus. By making use of her new clothes and accessories, the black femme
fatale seems to “operate a performance of femininity, a masquerade, by
means of an accumulation of accessories—jewelry, hats, feathers, etc.—all
42    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

designed to mask [her] lack” (Doane 172). In other words, Xica deploys all
these accessories and clothes to “mask” her lack of racial equality to the
colonial white elite and even her lack of a phallus—taking into account
the psychoanalytical understanding of “lack” (Mulvey, Visual)—as she is
not just black but above all a female black slave, which represents at least
three subaltern positions in the colonial context.
Although she acquires all the accessories and expensive clothes to
which no other woman in the colony has access and gets everything she
demands from João Fernandes, her blackness is a trait she cannot expel
from her identity. She “performs whiteness” through her money and class
ascension, but her blackness continues to serve the white elite’s goal of
pushing her into a subaltern position within the colonial society. For
example, even after receiving her enfranchisement letter and becom-
ing “dona Francisca da Silva”15—as she proudly boasts to the priest—
she is not accepted into the local church because of her skin color. In
other moments of the film, she is accused of having a pact with the devil,
which is also because of her black skin. But despite her “lack(s),” the black
femme fatale destroys the boundaries between her and the colonial soci-
ety through mimicry. Her cannibalistic appropriation of the whites’ cul-
ture makes her stronger than the colonial ruling class, even if this is in a
carnivalesque way only.

Cannibalism

The black femme fatale’s cannibalism16 concerns how she appropriates


what belongs to the dominant class to “usurp” the power it signifies and
empower herself. Besides this, her cannibalism can be linked to the con-
cept of mimicry proposed by Bhabha to show that this black femme fatale’s
acts are not just a mimicry of the white people—a criticism the film has
received (i.e., that Xica is “a black woman with a white soul”)—but that
her mimicry is a cannibalistic act that she deploys for her own benefit to
acquire the position of power she desires. Her cannibalism is suggested
not only in the goods she appropriates but also, and mainly, through her
sexual acts—just like many of the other femmes fatales, especially the
ones in neo-noirs.
Regarding sex and cannibalism, this is even more strongly indicated
by the verb “comer” (eat) in Portuguese to refer to the male active role in
copulation. Xica, for instance, “eats” the men with whom she has sex. She
subverts the logic of comer as a male act. Her sexual power is so strong that
it causes anxieties at the same time it makes her, and the other femmes
fatales, a feared representation of women. This is evident, for example,
in the term used for the femme fatale in Mexican cinema: la devoradora
The Black Femme Fatale    43

(“the devouring one”). Such a term indicates a strong connection with


cannibalism and with the question of agency. That is, the femme fatale’s
“cannibalism” indicates power rather than objectification: she is feared
by patriarchal society.
Stam (Subversive) argues that cannibalism represents “otherness”
within Western traditions and is “the ultimate marker of difference in a
coded opposition of light and dark, rational and irrational, civilized and
savage” (Stam, Tropical 238). Because of her race, Xica’s behavior is per-
ceived by the colonial elite as a sign of her savagery, shamelessness, and
irrationality. However, she retaliates by mocking the racist behavior of
the white elite. The black femme fatale challenges white people’s assump-
tions that only they are clever and allowed to give orders, have luxuries,
and live a lavish lifestyle. She shows that she is ready to subvert the racial
and social organization that dictates these boundaries, but this does not
please the ruling class.
An illustration of Xica’s stark criticism of the whites occurs in the
sequence in which João Fernandes and she host a dinner for the Portuguese
count. During the dinner, she appears with her face painted in white and
wearing a blond wig (see figures 1.3 and 1.4),17 bringing to mind Frantz
Fanon’s well-known book title Black Skin, White Masks.18 During the
dinner, she repeatedly mocks the racist count, who previously addressed
her only as the preta (“black woman”). When the man decides to try some
chicken, she tells him not to do so as it was prepared with molho pardo19

Figure 1.3 
44    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Figure 1.4 

(“brown gravy”), which is clearly a criticism of his rampant racism as


the word pardo designates mixed-race people—the mixture of black and
white (i.e., mulatto). Thus, the femme fatale’s behavior criticizes “white
superiority” and recalls the white elite’s “ideology of whitening” (Stam,
Cross-cultural 244)  that pervaded Brazil’s social imaginary during the
first decades of the twentieth century.
Hence, the black femme fatale performs “cannibalism” in two ways:
by consuming goods and by sexually “devouring” her counterparts. Her
behavior recalls Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s view of cannibalism. For
Andrade, those who can, “eat” others “through their consumption of
products, or even more directly in their sexual relationships. Cannibalism
has merely institutionalized itself, cleverly disguising itself. The new
heroes . . . try to devour those who devour us” (83). Xica voraciously
devours the European “hero” sexually and this serves as a metaphor for
the nation devouring its own people—that is, the ruling class exploiting
the lower classes. The black femme fatale’s “cannibalistic” sexual behav-
ior, signaled by her sexual counterparts’ screams during their intercourse
(as if they were being eaten alive), turns her into a symbol of otherness in
the colonial society’s eyes.
Xica’s “cannibalistic” consumerism implies a criticism of the colonial
society’s behavior. Many goods João Fernandes buys for her or that she
purchases are entirely superfluous to her needs. She says that she needs
to organize processions and parties to wear all the “beautiful things” she
has received—clearly to exhibit her new status to the colonial society. She
The Black Femme Fatale    45

consumes for the sake of it, as the ruling class does. This behavior of hers
denotes that she has assimilated and is exploiting the colonizer’s values and
those of the white colonial elite. Her exaggerated consumerism, however,
turns the ruling class not only against her but also against João Fernandes.
As a representative of the European colonizer, João Fernandes should
be “civilizing” the “other,” but he becomes more and more influenced by
the black femme fatale’s behavior and power. He seemingly comes close to
becoming the colonized “other” himself. The way he deals with his iden-
tity and virility contradicts what the patriarchal society of the European
colonial metropolis would normally expect from a European male colo-
nizer. That is, his identity and virility are “not autonomous or secure.” On
the contrary, they are “constructed in relation to that of the gendered eth-
nicised other” (Woodhull 120). But both are destabilized because of his
relationship with the colonized black femme fatale. So instead of ensur-
ing his virility and fulfilling the white male colonizer’s hegemonic roles,
he succumbs to Xica’s performance as a femme fatale, which overpowers
him and turns him into an object she manipulates to achieve her goal of
occupying a distinctive position of power within the colonial society.
Therefore, the black femme fatale challenges male domination in a
colonial context and subverts the behavior that white patriarchal society
dictates as the norm to a black slave woman within this environment.
Through her power as a femme fatale, this black slave overturns the colo-
nial positions of power and inserts herself into the elite territory while
mocking the same elite through mimicry and the “cannibalization” of
the whites’ cultural values. Xica’s control over João Fernandes shows that
“the slave (the colonized, the black, the woman) knows the mind of the
master better than the master knows the mind of the slave” (Spence and
Stam 15–16). He becomes an example of patriarchy’s “fallen-masculinity”
as he fails to resist the black femme fatale and allows her to “rule the
colony” so the white colonial elite revolts and finds a way to annihilate
Xica’s power and “destroy” her. However, Xica does not allow herself to
be converted and changed into patriarchy’s “good woman,” even if her
obstinacy results in her downfall. She remains faithful to her sexual and
gender identities, and even after she is “destroyed” she manages to sati-
ate her sexual appetite. Thus, this black femme fatale’s sexuality is a very
important aspect of her identity and is related not only to her race but
also to her very condition as a woman, which is also the case for other
femmes fatales. Moreover, the ways she uses her body and her sexuality,
besides challenging hegemonic sexual and gender roles, show how impor-
tant gender identity is for the femme fatale’s subjectivity and how such an
identity is performatively constituted.
2

The Femme Fatale’s


“Troubled” Gender in
Madame Satã*

T he connection between gays and the femme fatale in cinema in terms


of their challenge to patriarchal society goes back to film noir. In this
film genre, according to Dyer, “Gays function as both villains and frus-
trations of the heterosexual development, as do the femmes fatales” (64).
Both are dependent on the male hero for their sexual satisfaction, and
“their sexual independence from the hero is undercut by the principle
that no sexual satisfaction is possible away from the hero” (Dyer 66).
Hence, Dyer argues that the male has the power to refuse “the offer”
from either of them, but his refusal could mean that his sexual adequacy
is not tested. The femme fatale and the male homosexual consequently
become a source of anxiety as they put the patriarchal male’s sexual-
ity under scrutiny, regardless of the two characters’ biological sex. For
instance, in Madame Satã, João/Madame Satã’s1 gender performativity2
poses a threat to patriarchy as he occupies a position similar to that of the
femme fatale: both turn the males into their “victim,” and they threaten
procreation and marriage, to cite a few of the challenges they represent.
As both need the male “hero” for their sexual satisfaction, as Dyer claims
regarding film noir, they are therefore intent on seducing the male.
Madame Satã is Karïm Ainouz’s first feature film. It is set in Lapa in
the 1930s—then a red-light district in Rio de Janeiro. The way the place
is portrayed recalls the dark and shadowy settings of the films noirs
that depicted the traditional femme fatale, although in this case it is in
color, like the neo-noir films. Madame Satã has won a few prizes includ-
ing best director at the Festival of Biarritz (2002) and the Gold Hugo at
the Chicago International Film Festival (2002). The film is based on the
story of the real-life João Francisco dos Santos (1900–76), but it “rejects a
48    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

linear narrative in favour of a series of imaginary vignettes based on the


protagonist’s life” (L. Shaw 87). João was born to descendants of slaves
in the northeast of Brazil. When he was eight, his mother sold him to a
horse seller but he fled to Rio de Janeiro with a woman who promised
him work in a boarding house. Later, in Rio, when he was about 13, he
left the house to live on the streets and he started doing small jobs in the
Lapa neighborhood to survive. On turning 18, he went to live in a brothel
where he worked as a waiter/maid and “served” customers according to
their preferences (Green, O Pasquim).
The film, however, omits his childhood experiences and concentrates
on the adult João/Madame Satã (Lázaro Ramos) who is involved in crime,
works in low-paid jobs (when he manages to get paid), and dreams of
becoming a famous performer. The failure to achieve this dream exacer-
bates his rage toward everything and everyone. João’s commune comprises
the prostitute Laurita (Marcelia Cartaxo) and her young daughter Vitória,
to whom João acts as a quasi-father (if not “mother”), and Tabu3 (Flávio
Bauraqui)—a transvestite who takes the role of the maid in the house and
for whom João acts as a pimp. The house is also frequented by Renatinho
(Felipe Marques), a petty thief who becomes João’s quasi-boyfriend.
João/Madame Satã was a complex person who became known for chal-
lenging roles associated with someone like him: black, poor, illiterate,
malandro, and homosexual, which are all portrayed in the film. João’s
gender is a performative construct that is “staged” and shifts according
to his needs, so it challenges the hegemonic construction of gender roles.
His gender performativity deconstructs the notions of categories and
subjectivities that are ingrained in the patriarchal imaginary. He refuses
to be labeled and plays with different identities that are originally linked
to gender and sexual hegemonic binaries. João/Madame Satã challenges
these categories by performing gender identities that are not connected to
his biological body. That is, he acts as a father, mother, husband, avenger,
pimp, and drag queen, among other roles. The ways he performs his gen-
der and sexual identities trouble and deconstruct patriarchal Brazilian
perceptions of these. For instance, his performativity challenges imag-
inaries surrounding the figure of the malandro (an example of hyper-
masculinity) and the figure of the bicha (the passive effeminate male
homosexual), as I discuss in the following section.

Deconstructing Hegemonic Gender and Sexual Roles:


Bicha versus Malandro

Green (O Pasquim) argues that the homosexuality of the real-life João


made him an intriguing figure (as the film also portrays) because it
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    49

challenged stereotypes that were (and still are) associated with homo-
sexuals in patriarchal Brazilian society’s imaginary. João’s behavior,
according to Green, also caused anxiety—primarily among the men
who would fight with him and the police. Among the stereotypes João’s
acts challenge is the patriarchal perception that every homosexual is a
bicha and should behave as such, and that they cannot transcend this
imposed identity. According to Parker, a “bicha (literally, a ‘worm’ or an
‘intestinal parasite,’ . . . probably best translated into English as ‘faggot’ or
‘queer’)” is a term “applied principally to individuals who are thought
to take the passive (and thus, symbolically, feminine) role of being pen-
etrated” (51). The bicha is constructed in opposition to the highly mascu-
line figure, the ­so-called machão (macho) or bofe4 (the “straight-acting”
man). The machão is the type of man who in the Brazilian social imagi-
nary “embodies the values traditionally associated with the male role in
Brazilian culture—force and power, violence and aggression, virility and
sexual potency” (Parker 49). Because of this, a bicha symbolically “serves”
as a woman through the passive role he is always believed to perform
while having sex with the machão/bofe. Consequently, as Parker goes on
to argue, relations between men “are structured along the same lines as
those between men and women, that is, in terms of sex and power” (53).
These dichotomous perceptions of gender and sexual roles—the
bicha/bofe and active/passive—that influence the constitution of male
identities in Brazil’s social imaginary nevertheless need challenging, which
João does in real life, and this is repeated in the film. João’s behavior—
or better phrased, his performativity of gender and sex ­roles—troubles
Brazil’s social imaginary in terms of hegemonic roles assigned to a bicha
and a malandro, as I discuss later in this section. The film constantly plays
with such dichotomies and challenges these. An example of this occurs
when João shares his view on China. He says: “China is a wonderful place.
It is at the other end of the world. There, everyone is inverted. A black
here is white there; when it is daylight here, it is night there. In China,
people sleep with open eyes and wake up with closed eyes.”
Green (O Pasquim) contends, as have other scholars who have stud-
ied Brazilians’ sexuality (e.g., Kulick; Parker; Perlongher), that the sexual
roles performed by homosexuals define their position in society. The
machão/bofe is believed to perform the active male role in sex and is not
usually seen as homosexual while the one who adopts the passive role
and represents the assumed role of a “woman” is, so the latter is seen as a
bicha. These essentialist constructs clearly derive from social perceptions
of sex that are based on the biological male and female heterosexual cou-
pling; that is, if there is no penetration, there is no sex. This is well illus-
trated in films with lesbian characters during the 1970s and the 1980s in
50    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

particular. The films often attempted to find a phallic object to be used by


the lesbians who were believed to play the “male” role.5 Thus, penetration
defines one’s gender and sexual identities in such social and cinematic
perceptions.
In Madame Satã, the social perception of João as sexually passive (i.e.,
a bicha) is already emphasized in the film’s opening sequence, which takes
place at a police station. In it, a male voiceover reads a police bulletin that
explains João’s charges and describes him: “He is a passive pederast who
shaves his eyebrows and adopts feminine behavior, and even alters his
own voice.” The description of him as sexually passive resembles a decla-
ration the real-life João made in an interview to O Pasquim6 in the 1970s:
he took the passive role in sexual intercourse because he felt more plea-
sure from this (Green, O Pasquim). But the film shows this as the other
way round as João takes the active role in all his sexual encounters. João’s
active role is nevertheless kept inside the bedroom. Outside it, his social
status as a bicha protects the supposed machão and keeps the latter’s mas-
culinity intact in society’s view because outside the private space the men
João has sex with, Renatinho and the married man Álvaro (Guilherme
Piva), would be considered bofes—especially Álvaro because he has
“acquired” his social status as a “heterosexual” man by being married,
which protects his hegemonic masculinity in the eyes of patriarchy. But,
as the film shows, the two men who “act straight” in public do not comply
with the active and dominant roles that are a precondition for reaffirm-
ing their hegemonic masculinity. Instead of taking the active role, the two
men submit themselves to João’s sexual domination. In the private space,
they liberate themselves from hegemonic sexual roles, which suggest that
the separation of “the public and the private is a fundamental premise of
sexual liberalism” (Jeffreys 112) in such a society.
This dichotomy (public/private) is one that films depicting the new
femme fatale have challenged. The boundaries between them are not as
fixed as they used to be. The new femme fatale tends to perform in public
what was previously kept in the private space, as I discuss in chapter 4.
The “straight-acting” men in Madame Satã are able to liberate their sex-
ual pleasure and take the passive role only because the sexual intercourse
takes place in the private realm, which keeps their masculinity intact and
indicates, to an extent, that the film conforms to rather than challenges
patriarchal law—as do the films with the new femme fatale. In the public
domain, the males who have sex with João maintain society’s perception
of them as bofes who only perform the active role because as long as they
maintain “the sexual role attributed to a ‘real’ man, [they] may engage in
sex with other men without losing social status” (Green, More Love 95).
So, if their sexual behavior in the private space is revealed, these men
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    51

risk their culturally constructed masculinity and make themselves sus-


ceptible to punishment under patriarchal law.
João further challenges and confuses socially constructed gender
roles by being a malandro—a striking opposition to the bicha. The word
malandro has no direct English equivalent. The malandro is an arche-
typal figure that was not simply a criminal but a masterful con artist.
In Brazilian society’s imaginary, he is of African descent and dwells in
the underworld. The real-life João defines a malandro as someone who
“joined in the singing, frequented the bars and cabarets, did not run
away from a fight, even when it is with the police, did not turn anyone in,
respected others, and used a knife” (qtd. in Green, Beyond Carnival 87).
In Moreira da Silva’s words, a malandro is a “cat who eats fish without
having to go to the beach to catch them” (qtd. in Beyond Carnival 87).
The malandro seems a “match” for the femme fatale (i.e., homme fatal)
who, like the femme, evolves over time and adapts to the context in which
he is living. By doing so, he embodies anxieties that represent a threat to
patriarchal society.
The fact that the malandro is of Afro descent7 is very significant regard-
ing the way João’s performativity of the bicha/malandro deconstructs the
roles associated with both. In particular, João’s performativity subverts the
relationship between blackness and (tough) masculinity that the malandro
represents. He transgresses the conceptions of gender, sexuality, and race
that populated the Brazilian social imaginary at that time: he is a malandro,
but he openly acknowledges his identity as a bicha. He is a bicha, but he
does not accept being treated as one, that is, being beaten by those who
think bichas should be treated like this, including the police, as he states
in the already mentioned interview for O Pasquim. His performativity of
these roles in inverted ways is considerably important as it shows that the
connection between gender roles and sexual acts in Brazil’s social imagi-
nary is rather problematic. That is, the bicha and the machão are defined
by their performativity of genders in public rather than the actual sexual
roles they assume, as society does not see what really takes place during
sexual intercourse in the private space. The ways sexual and gender identi-
ties are defined clearly have much more to do with social perceptions of
the subjects’ public performativity of gender rather than the sexual acts,
which seem a secondary aspect of such gender constructs. For instance,
“straight-acting” men, such as Renatinho and Álvaro in the film, would
perhaps be called “guei” (gay) if society found out they had sex with men
but certainly not a bicha. This implies that the Brazilian social imaginary
concerning the bicha is more to do with feminine behavior than sexual
passivity—the effeminate man as a synonym for sexual passivity does not
hold true in many cases, as illustrated in Madame Satã.
52    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Hence, João/Madame Satã is mostly an androgynous character as his


performativity blends roles that patriarchal society tries to keep separate
and as definitive within its gender and sexual constructs. He behaves in
a feminine way when it suits him but he adopts heteronormative male
behavior that helps him reject the abuses society directs toward bichas.
João not only appropriates the hegemonic male construct that is propa-
gated within heteronormativity to fight patriarchal power, but he also
reinforces it as, at times, he behaves like the stereotypical patriarchal
male figure in charge of the household in which violence is part of daily
life. One example of his violent behavior occurs in a sequence early in the
film when Tabu is doing the washing. João beats Tabu for her perceived
impudence in answering his questions, mirroring active (the violent hus-
band) and passive (the “fragile” woman) hegemonic gender roles. This
dichotomous construct is further suggested by the presence of Laurita in
the house. Although Laurita and Tabu do not seemingly have any sexual
contact with João, the relationship still suggests bigamy. For instance,
Tabu repeatedly refers to João as “my husband.” In this “bigamous” rela-
tionship, João occupies the role of a heterosexual patriarchal husband
whose acts are violent and authoritative while the other two play the role
of the passive and subservient “wives.”
João’s performativity thus demonstrates that if people are to believe
the gender and sexual roles that are defined according to patriarchal per-
ceptions of homosexuality, then they will echo the discourse that ostra-
cizes gays and presents their identity as one with no possible variation,
as many Brazilian films (see Moreno) and soap operas have done. This
was the case in films of the time mostly concerned in this book and still
is, to some extent, in present-day Brazil. The homosexual identity that is
reinforced in Brazil’s popular culture is nearly always that of the bicha.
It is as if a gay identity has one type of representation only—a perception
Ainouz’s film challenges. Only recently have other types of homosexual
identities started appearing in Brazilian films and soap operas. The
interesting yet problematic thing about these new characters is the fact
that the bicha still belongs mostly to the popular classes, as is the case in
Madame Satã, whereas the “nice” gays who are gym lovers, intellectual,
good looking, have “perfect bodies” and good jobs, and play footvolley on
the beach, among other similar characteristics, usually belong (at least)
to the middle class. This is the case with the two homosexual “straight-
acting” brothers who have an incestuous relationship in Do começo ao
fim (From Beginning to End, 2009), the lesbian English literature univer-
sity professor in Como esquecer (How to Forget, 2010), and Julinho, Tales,
and Osmar in TV Globo’s soap opera Ti-ti-ti (“Gossip,” 2010–2011), to
cite a few.
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    53

Gender as a Performative Construct

As discussed in the previous section, João’s behavior in Madame Satã plays


with and challenges the hegemonic constructions of gender and sexuality
that are prescribed to the traditional patriarchal male/female pair, and
these are manifested in the figures of the bicha and the malandro. The
film “troubles” these roles by portraying males and females as performa-
tively constituted constructs rather than accepting the “biology-is-destiny
gender formulation” (Butler, Gender Trouble 11) through which gender is
traditionally understood within patriarchy. In the film, the performativ-
ity of two opposing genders is conflated in one biological body, which
dismantles and blurs the hegemonic male/female gender and sexual roles
that are propagated within Brazilian society. João’s gender becomes a
“free-floating artifice” as it is constituted “radically independent of [his]
sex” (Gender Trouble 9). His performativity of genders implies that “man
and masculine might just as easily signify a female body as a male one,
and woman and feminine a male body as easily as a female one” (Gender
Trouble 9).
In questioning whether gender is an act, Butler (Performative Acts)
defines performativity as something that is repeated—a repetition of
something already socially established. Nevertheless, Butler (Bodies)
argues that performativity “must be understood not as a singular or
deliberate ‘act,’ but, rather, as the reiterative and citational practice
by which discourse produces the effects that it names” (2). The author
relates such repetition to the constitution of gender and argues that some
bodies enact the social performance so that their signification becomes
“stylized into gendered modes.” As a result, “This act performed by gen-
der . . . becomes public” (Performative Acts 160). Once performativity
becomes public, and because the public usually understands gender as the
­biology-is-destiny male/female pair, there are consequences for gender
representation because it “is affected with the strategic aim of maintain-
ing gender within its binary frame” (Performative Acts 160). But as Butler
notes, “The body is not passively scripted with cultural codes, as if it were
a lifeless recipient of wholly pre-given cultural relations” (Performative
Acts 160). João’s gender performativity, for instance, challenges cultural
inscriptions as he performs different genders and ignores the established
biological male/female gender roles patriarchy dictates. The ways his gen-
der is constructed echo the discontinuity between gender identity and
biological sex that Butler proposes. For the author,

if gender is the cultural meanings that the sexed body assumes, then a gen-
der cannot be said to follow from a sex in any one way. Taken to its logical
54    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

limit, the sex/gender distinction suggests a radical discontinuity between


sexed bodies and culturally constructed genders. (Gender Trouble 9)

Butler (Performative Acts) also places gender performativity within


theatrical and nontheatrical domains. She argues that in the nonthe-
atrical context such performativity is governed in a more punitive and
regulatory way. For instance, João’s gender performativity on stage as a
“drag queen” is seen as pleasurable and entertaining, whereas off it, in
the “real world” (the nontheatrical context), it is not accepted, despite it
being performed on the same biological body; it generates phobia within
the patriarchal society. This is also the case in other films portraying drag
queens such as the Mexican El lugar sin límites (The Place without Limits,
1978) and the Australian The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert
(1994), which are also set in macho-orientated cultures.
Phobia toward drag queens, as illustrated in Madame Satã, resembles
the point Butler (Performative Acts) makes regarding transvestites on
stage. According to her, “The sight of a transvestite on stage can compel
pleasure and applause, while the sight of the same transvestite on the seat
next to us on the bus can compel fear, rage, even violence” (161). However,
Butler seems to misuse the word transvestite in this case. Her discussion
points to drag rather than transvestism, but she seems to use both inter-
changeably, although there are differences between the two. Woodhouse
explains the difference between cross-dressing, which includes drag, and
transvestism. According to her,

The term “cross-dressing” covers a wide variety of activities such as theat-


rical burlesque, drag and camp, but perhaps the primary issue separating
these forms of dressing-up from transvestism is the element of masquer-
ade. For instance, the drag artist, while creating a semblance of feminin-
ity, will never allow his audience to forget his true sexual identity, thus
we know that such performers are men, enacting in one way or another a
parody of femininity. In contrast to this, the transvestite makes no attempt
at satire; his ideal is to “pass,” or be seen as a woman, often deriving sexual
satisfaction from wearing feminine attire. (18–19)

Indeed, this applies to João in Madame Satã. His acts are related
to drag instead of transvestism, which is evident in his artistic perfor-
mances. Despite the fact that some scholars have viewed João in the film
as a transvestite (e.g., Bussinger; Subero) his cross-dressing could be best
described as a “partial” drag queen for the reasons already noted (i.e., the
differences between drag and transvestism). Although his performance
has aspects that are associated with drag, the way he dresses even con-
founds perceptions about such a representation as only half of his body is
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    55

the “female” persona, whereas the other half reveals his bare male body.
Both hegemonic genders are well marked and represented on his body.
Because of this, he “fails to pass” as a woman because he keeps reminding
the audience, as happens off stage, that he has a male body and identity.
Still regarding Butler’s discussion, she argues that the different reac-
tions to the view of the transvestite on and off stage happen because of
the protection the spectator has in the theatrical realm where s/he can say
“this is just an act” (Performative Acts 161). However, on the street, Butler
further elucidates, this same act can be quite dangerous as the theatri-
cal conventions that delimit the “imaginary character” of the act cease
to exist, which differentiates and makes the act on stage distinct from
what is understood as “real.” This point Butler makes recalls Bakhtin’s
(Rabelais) discussion about the carnivalesque inversion.8 In other words,
like the carnivalesque inversion, social conventions allow some identities
and inversions of the social norms to take place in a specific context, but
these same conventions impose the extent to which these transgressions
of hegemonic norms are acceptable and ultimately reinforce and reinstate
the patriarchal structures.
An example of the conflict between theatrical permissiveness of gender
performativity and the refusal of it in the “real world” in Madame Satã
occurs in the already mentioned opening scene at the police station. In
this, the socially manufactured patriarchal perceptions of João’s charac-
ter that are presented to the audience contrast sharply with the lively drag
performance he offers on stage. The male voiceover narrator character-
izes him by saying that he has no education and associates with pederasts,
whores, procurers, and other misfits, and that he makes his money from
degenerate criminal activities. Consequently, according to the narrator,
João is “entirely pernicious” and poses a considerable threat to society.
Building on Butler’s gender performativity theory, Deborah Shaw con-
tends that if gender is a construct derived from various repeated actions
learnt within cultures, this will allow it to break from hegemonic perfor-
mances of both the masculine and the feminine. Therefore, Shaw argues
that “subjects can be freed (and free themselves) from restrictions associ-
ated with their sex and can consequently take on multiple gender identi-
ties” (56). Indeed, this multiplicity of (gender) identities that Shaw suggests
is identified in the representations of the femme fatale discussed in this
book. For example, João’s gender performativity suggests that he takes
on multiple gender identities. The question João is asked in a sequence
near the end of the film—when he suffers an unprovoked homophobic
attack from a drunkard while still wearing his costume after a stage per-
formance at the Blue Danube bar—denotes how his gender performativ-
ity conveys different identities. The drunkard asks him: “Are you playing
56    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

a woman or a man?” In other words, João can be both hegemonic genders


and his gender performativity confuses patriarchal perceptions of “nor-
mal” gender identities that do not conceive or accept a gender beyond the
binary pair constructed in relation to biologically born bodies. But João’s
challenge to heteronormativity causes much phobia and this makes him
prone to patriarchal violence.
As illustrated in the same sequence, he is attacked by the man for tran-
scending fixed ideas of gender identities that are enforced onto sexualized
material bodies within patriarchal societies to maintain heteronormativ-
ity. As Bussinger argues, “Sex is a category that engenders the normative
politics. The materialization of sex onto a body is a social imposition done
through norms that search for regulating and controlling bodies and sub-
jectivities” (94). However, João ends up avenging the drunkard’s attack
and killing the man because in his interpretation, there is nothing wrong
with being a bicha.9 He declares that he “became” one by his own free
will, but, significantly, he claims he was not a “lesser” man because of his
choice. João’s attempt to understand and explain his gender identity recalls
another point Bussinger makes. For the author, “The subject lives in a con-
stant search for an answer to the norm and of unsubmissiveness to this
same norm and it is at this moment that the discursive borders of heter-
onormativity, creator of sexualized and gendered bodies, ‘shake’” (94).
João’s suggestion that he “became” a bicha also reminds one of
Beauvoir’s famous statement that “one is not born a woman, but, rather,
becomes one” (301). As Butler (Gender Trouble) argues, Beauvoir’s state-
ment indicates that someone who “becomes a woman” does not necessar-
ily need to be born as female. Hence, João suggesting that he “became”
a bicha could signify not only his performativity of gender but also that
he could easily become “a woman” and a “femme fatale,” as this book
proposes (developed in the next section), regardless of his biological body.
But João’s “gender trouble” attracts condemnation from patriarchy, which
explains the hatred he suffers from society.
In addition, João’s challenges to heteronormativity intersect with
“racial, class, ethnic, sexual, and regional modalities of discursively con-
stituted identities” (Butler, Gender Trouble 4). Putting it simply, he experi-
ences multiple marginalizations: he is an Afro descendant, a member of
the popular classes, a northeastern migrant, an illiterate person, and a
homosexual. Because of the intersection between gender and these other
modalities, as Butler suggests, it therefore becomes impossible to “sepa-
rate out ‘gender’ from the political and cultural intersections in which it is
invariably produced and maintained” (Gender Trouble 4–5). These politi-
cal and cultural intersections indeed play a role in João’s gender perfor-
mativity. For example, although he tries to pursue a career as a performer,
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    57

which he sees as a way of improving his and his commune’s social condi-
tion, this proves nearly impossible: he is exploited by the urban Carioca10
white society for whom he works but is not paid, and when he demands
arrears payments he is unsuccessful. He spends much time in prison and
has a problem finding a job and being accepted by society. This is well
illustrated in a sequence in which João takes Laurita and Tabu out and
they try to enter the High Life nightclub, which is a place frequented by
Rio’s high society. He insists on getting in but the bouncer tells him that
they cannot because “whores and bums are not allowed.” But João does
not accept such an offensive comment and gets into a fight with the secu-
rity personnel. Hence, João’s social and personal failures push him into
marginality. This is evident in a sequence after he left a job for not being
paid and Laurita asks him what he was going to do for a living, to which
he replies:

“Boob,” Laurita; “I am going to go really wild” . . . there is no point trying to


talk me into the artistic life as I have spoken to myself and decided that it is
not worth trying to become a professional artist. I am tired of cheering for
myself. I was born to be a malandro and that is the way I will live.

All these aspects in João’s life (especially work) are as unstable as his
gender identity: they change according to his needs. But among the mul-
tiple aspects of his identity the film plays on, his gender shifts are what
cause most confusion as they make it difficult for patriarchal society
(echoed in the drunkard’s comment) to establish his identity based on
his gender performativity. His “drag-queen” performance, for example,
echoes Butler’s point that drag “is meant to establish that ‘reality’ is not as
fixed as we generally assume it to be” (Gender Trouble xxv). This is fur-
ther complicated by the understanding of gender roles in the context such
performances are staged: Brazil. According to Goldenberg,

“Brazilian culture” is based on the construction of the male and female


bodies as an attempt to arrive at a model of masculinity and femininity
that is unattainable. To an extent, what studies about cross-dressing point
to is that it is exactly these models that are questioned by its practitioners.
Not only because they do not intend to reproduce faithful copies of the
models that serve as inspiration to them, but also because they question
the same models they parody. (qtd. in Vencato 106)

João’s performativity of gender and his drag performance echo the


points Goldenberg makes, especially when they blur the boundaries
between the bicha and the malandro. His performance parodies these
gender constructs but at the same time deconstructs society’s perceptions
58    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

of the gender and sexual roles associated with each of them. The instabil-
ity of the hegemonic gender models his performativity creates also relates
to the femme-fatale role as it shows that such a construct does not need to
be understood in terms of biological sex but instead in terms of performa-
tivity. The femme-fatale construct can in itself be understood as a parody
of femininity that is imagined, venerated, and indeed created by males,
but, at the same time, it is a transgressive figure that patriarchal society
condemns because it causes anxiety. Therefore, if the femme fatale’s gen-
der construction is theorized independently of biological sex, an intersec-
tion between the male homosexual and the femme fatale as constructs
that are performatively constituted becomes possible. Madame Satã’s first
sequence at the Cabaret Lux in Lapa, which has various shots portraying
fragmented male and female bodies, illustrates this possibility.
In this sequence, shots showing João’s face and a hand with rings and
nails polished in red (which could belong either to a man or a woman)
interweave with shots of different parts of a female body and of male cus-
tomers’ gazes. The impression they give is that the men are looking at
both fragmented bodies: the “male gaze” scrutinizes both. This implies
that there are male spectators for female and male biological bodies.
João’s face is shown in close-up behind a curtain made of colorful beads,
which works as an accessory in his “feminine” performance. The camera
then cuts and shows a female performer, Vitória (Renata Sorrah), who
the film viewers first see from João’s point of view and so realize that he
is not the performer as it first appeared, but that he is instead mimicking
Vitória’s performance.
During her performance on stage, Vitória, besides singing in French,
recites lines from the story of Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights about
a sultan who married a different virgin girl every night. The lines are
extremely important as they reproduce the patriarchal discourse about
hegemonic male and female genders that maintains social perceptions
concerning the heterosexual male/female pair: single women have to be
virgins and “real” men have to break as many hymens as possible. This
enforcement of hegemonic genders is further implied by the differences
between João’s and Vitória’s performances. Vitória’s wearing of a veil and
other accessories in her performance—the French song she sings, the
story she chooses to tell, and her skin color (“white”)—emphasize the dif-
ferences between her and João who, although mimicking her “European”-
white-feminine performance, is male and black. The last aspect is a crucial
difference between the two as Vitória’s skin color represents the Brazilian
elite’s racial ideal at that time, whereas João’s represents the subaltern
(Afro descendant) that the elite wanted to eradicate through “whitening”
the nation in the early decades of the twentieth century.11 Furthermore,
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    59

the “fight” for male attention between the black João/Madame Satã and
the white Vitória recalls, even if in a different way, that of the black femme
fatale Xica and the white Hortência in Xica da Silva, especially because of
the racism evident in these conflicts.
The clothes and accessories João and Vitória wear in the sequence are
also important as they reflect social reactions to public and private perfor-
mances, which are repeatedly depicted in the film. In other words, they
show patriarchal society’s response to performances that are accepted as
natural, such as Vitória’s, and performances that patriarchy deems a sub-
version of hegemonic norms, such as João’s “unnatural” feminine perfor-
mance. As Vitória is a “real” woman, her feminine performance is public
and she does not need to hide it, whereas João’s mimicked performance
takes place backstage—as the film audience finds out after seeing Vitória
on stage—away from patriarchal society’s controlling gaze (represented by
the male customers). Hence, the private performance functions as a mech-
anism that secures socially constructed ideals of masculinity and feminin-
ity as it does not directly threaten hegemonic gender roles in public.
João repeatedly mimics Vitória’s performance throughout the film
but he does so in private spaces. Subero argues that “João’s fascination
with Vitória diverts attention from his own desires to become a woman
and places more emphasis on his desire to become a star” (173). However,
at no time in the film is it indicated that to be a woman is something
João is interested in: his main dream is to become a famous performer.
Moreover, his mimicry of Vitória is arguably a parody of her performa-
tivity of “femaleness” as well as a direct criticism of the sameness in her
performance, denoting that both are not as “original” as first intended.
According to Vitória, she has been doing the same show for over two
years and “it is high time to finish it and change,” so perhaps the male
public is looking for something different, evident with the small audi-
ence during her performances, which is not the case when João performs
in public later in the film. Therefore, instead of showing his veneration
for Vitória, João’s “parodic repetition of the ‘original’ . . . reveals the origi-
nal to be nothing other than a parody of the idea of the natural and the
original” (Butler, Gender Trouble 31)—both in the sense of her failure to
be an authentic representative of “Brazilianness” and as a feminine con-
struct that is sexually desired. His parody additionally subverts the power
relation between the two in which João, who worked as her assistant
backstage, had to be subservient and accept the abuses she yelled at him;
thus, his performance not only destabilizes her identity as a white and an
authentic Brazilian female artist, but it also causes power inversion.
Moreover, despite “copying” Vitória’s performance backstage, at no
time does João repeat it in public. In his public performances, João creates
60    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

female personas that are aggressive and sexually assertive, not passive like
Vitória’s are. Similar to Xica da Silva, João’s behavior is rather cannibal-
istic; that is, he “selects” things that are important for him but changes
these to suit his own identity, which makes his performances more suc-
cessful than Vitória’s. For instance, although he refers to stories and char-
acters from outside Brazil while rehearsing his performances, he mingles
them with national characters such as when he narrates the fight between
a shark and Jamacy, the goddess of Tijuca12 Forest.13 Most significantly,
on stage, unlike Vitória, he performs the Brazilian characters he creates,
such as the mulata do balacochê (“The Divine Negress of Balacochê”)
and Jamacy. It can, therefore, be argued that his drag performance has
national authenticity because instead of repeating foreign models that
populated the Brazilian imaginary at that time, it “cannibalizes” these
and creates national types. João engages with types that are connected
to discussions of Brazilianness and exploits constructs that were seen
positively by Brazilian society at that time. The best example of this is
his reference to the mulata, a racial type that was considered essential for
“whitening” the nation, as pointed out in chapter 1.
Another sequence in the film also uses interwoven shots of João mim-
icking Vitória’s performance. This time he is cross-dressed in her clothes
in the dressing room backstage while she does her public performance.
When Vitória returns to the dressing room, she undresses by handing
her accessories to João. The act of handing her accessories to João implies
that she is transferring her femininity to him.14 But João never becomes a
copy of her “original” femininity, which also proves to be performatively
constituted. His reiteration of her femininity in his gender performativ-
ity is reinvented and his mimicry of her femininity challenges the origi-
nality of it and shows that reiterations “are never simply replicas of the
same” (Butler, qtd. in Román and Sandoval 571). However, in another
sequence, Vitória becomes very angry when she finds João wearing her
clothes in the dressing room and she asks him who he thinks he is to
mimic her in such a way. In João’s understanding, it was not a big issue
to have worn her clothes; nevertheless, she offends him by declaring that
she had already been advised about him: “Do not trust that ‘nigger’; he is
crazier than a rabid dog.” Of course, João does not accept such treatment
and destroys her costumes and accessories out of revenge, which implies
that he is destroying her constructed femininity as it relies on such acces-
sories. Vitória’s behavior also exposes her anxiety as her anger toward
him is mainly driven by his mimicry of her feminine performance. It
becomes unbearable for her that a male “nigger” can offer an alternative
performance to hers (as a white female), which, in addition, questions her
performance as an ideal of hegemonic-female-gender originality.
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    61

Because of their argument, João discontinues working for Vitória


and her husband Gregório (Floriano Peixoto). João goes to Gregório
to demand his wages in arrears, but the latter refuses to pay him and
instead points a gun at João’s face. João then puts a cut-throat razorblade
to Gregório’s genitalia and threatens to castrate him if he shoots. João’s
reactions to how Vitória and Gregório treated him signify at least two
threats to patriarchy’s hegemonic gender constructs: one to the female,
as he shows he can perform “her gender” regardless of his biological
body and another to the male, as he represents a metaphorical castra-
tion of the domineering machão figure, illustrated in João’s use of the
razorblade. João’s acts, therefore, are a direct result of his transgressions
of established hegemonic gender roles, especially regarding the figures of
the malandro and the bicha. These challenge and destabilize the gender
and sexual identities constructed according to stereotypical patriarchal
notions of hegemonic masculinity and femininity that are unchangeable
and defined solely based on the “biology-is-destiny” understanding of
gender and sexuality.

Performing the Femme Fatale

The reference to João/Madame Satã as a femme fatale could seem at first


to go against the binary categorizations that his gender performativity
resists, but this occurs because of a “linguistic failure,” which provides
only the binaries homme fatal and femme fatale. However, he does not
play the homme fatal’s role because he is seducing men, not women. On
the other hand, this book uses the term because its argument is that
the femme fatale should be understood as a performatively constituted
construct that is independent of the biological body. Hence, as both the
male homosexual and the femme fatale represent similar challenges to
patriarchy through their performativity, the term femme fatale refers to
both. This, however, does not mean that the male homosexual is without
agency and is just a repetition of the femme fatale.
The iconography of image and the visual style in Madame Satã, as well
as language, show the mechanisms João uses to seduce men, which are
“explicitly sexual” (Place 43). For example, when he first meets Renatinho,
at Bar Danúbio in Lapa, a shot/reverse shot sequence shows the tech-
niques João deploys to seduce his future lover. Despite Laurita advising
him while he is dancing with her not to get involved with Renatinho,
João puts a cigarette in his mouth and blows a trail of smoke in the air
while looking seductively at Renatinho (see figures 2.1 and 2.2) and mak-
ing meow movements with his mouth, which has a flirty connotation in
Brazil. This is also significant in the sense that it recalls the feline nature
62    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Figure 2.1 

Figure 2.2 

of the femme fatale, as illustrated in his incorporation of the wild pussy-


cats and the puma into the story he tells about China (mentioned in the
previous section). The use of a cigarette in the scenes is very significant
and recalls the point Place makes, that cigarettes with their wispy trails of
smoke are cues for dark and immoral “female” sensuality. In this case, the
spectator sees a biologically born male seducing another man by using a
device constantly used by other femmes fatales.
João’s acts of seduction catch Renatinho’s attention and he follows
Renatinho into the bar’s toilet, which suggests what he is up to: sex—an
act that mirrors the new femme fatale’s as she is often engaged in public
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    63

sex. In the subsequent sequence, the two men are shown inside a cubicle
through a peephole in the door in a rather voyeuristic way, giving the
impression that the audience is looking at something that gives the men
pleasure but is nevertheless forbidden. João’s approach to Renatinho is
rather aggressive, which contradicts the passive behavior assigned for a
bicha who, in Brazil’s popular imaginary, would want to be sexually pos-
sessed (or even “violated”) by an active bofe such as Renatinho (who at
least seems to be one). But because of João’s aggressive behavior, they fail
to have sex on this occasion.
This toilet sequence also shows a common feature that attracts con-
demnation from society and has been depicted in more-recent films por-
traying the femme fatale: the explicit use of drugs.15 Renatinho snorts
cocaine, but this attracts condemnation from João in another example of
the latter’s mimicry of patriarchal discourse. João reprimands him by say-
ing that no man “who surrenders to this sinful drug, Satan’s dust, can ever
satisfy a woman.” The use of the word woman is significant yet ambiguous
because it is unclear whether João is referring to himself as a woman or
not. In addition, his condemnation of Renatinho’s drug taking is rather
unexpected as before criticizing him, João had also tried the drug.
Besides the iconography of image and the visual style, João’s gender
performativity is very important because through it he makes use of dif-
ferent techniques to seduce his male sexual counterparts. For instance,
after failing to have sex with Renatinho in the toilet, he performs his role
of a tough male to defend Laurita in a sequence in which he uses golpes
de capoeira16 (capoeira moves) to fight a man who was trying to force
Laurita to have sex with him after she had refused to do so by saying she
had finished work for the night. João asks the man, politely, to stop, but
he does not take João seriously. When João tries to stop the man he points
a gun at the former who removes it from him with a golpe de capoeira and
makes the man run away, kicking and humiliating him in front of other
people from the bar. João’s act not only metaphorically “castrates” the
man, as it also did to Vitória’s husband—as mentioned in the previous
section—it also reinforces João’s motto that a “real” man defends himself
without using a gun. All men who fight João use a gun so, in João’s view,
they are not “real” men. His act additionally signifies a “return to ‘authen-
tic’ blackness and masculinity” (Wlodarz 14)  that conceives male Afro
descendants as hard macho men.
Moreover, besides protecting Laurita, João uses his macho performa-
tivity (which he transforms into a public spectacle) as a device to seduce
Renatinho as his fighting skills show how powerful he is. This is con-
firmed when, after beating the man, he tells Renatinho: “You know that it
was for you and for nobody else that I kicked that fat pig’s ass, don’t you?”
64    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

He then slaps Renatinho’s face. By getting involved in a fight, he also shows


that although society sees him as a bicha, he is as much of a man as any
other (or even more as he does not use a gun). Consequently, Renatinho is
seduced through João playing with gender roles, which sharply opposes
their earlier meeting inside the bar in which João exploited techniques
related to the traditional femme fatale, such as the use of a cigarette.
Hence, the sequence shows how João’s methods of seduction change and
play a role in his domination over the males. The destabilization of hege-
monic genders that he causes through his performativity of maleness and
femaleness creates confusion yet fascination in his male counterparts.
Later in the film, João dances for Renatinho in a performance that
reminds one of a striptease. Renatinho can resist no longer and kisses him.
But, after the kiss, João reprimands him: “Leave this depraved, stinking
world.” In João’s understanding, homosexuality has a polluted status in
society; putting it another way—and considering Douglas’s discussion of
social pollution17—his reactions such as this at different moments in the
film suggest that the homosexual is in the wrong and occupies the mar-
gins of society. He keeps emphasizing such a status (or stigma) in different
references he makes to it. For example, his echo of patriarchal discourse
about homosexuality is evident in a sequence in which he reprimands
Tabu because she had sex in their house. He refers to Tabu’s sexual inter-
course as “your dirty stuff.” Such a phrase denotes that in João’s view gay
sex is dirty and cannot take place in a “family home” like theirs, which has
the father figure, the “wife,” the “maid,” and a little child—even though
this is a rather dysfunctional family in conservative Brazilian society’s
interpretation. João’s mimicry of the patriarchal discourse that condemns
homosexual sexual practices also recalls Butler’s observation that “homo-
sexuality is almost always conceived within the homophobic signifying
economy as both uncivilized and unnatural” (Gender Trouble 180). Butler’s
statement is illustrated in the already mentioned sequence in which the
police bulletin is read and the scene in which the drunkard assaults João.
The man uses different words such as “dirty” and “shit,” among others, to
refer to João’s gender performativity, all connoting, according to patriar-
chy, the polluting and uncivilized status of homosexuality.
Sexual acts and the language associated with them in Madame Satã
also resemble the features added to neo-noir films depicting the femme
fatale, which can be summarized according to Kate Stables. As the author
observes, three key areas are introduced into the neo-noir films portray-
ing the femme fatale: repeated representations of sexual acts, transpar-
ently sexual speech, and the open problematizing of the femme fatale’s
sexuality. In Ainouz’s film, the “femme” fatale, João/Madame Satã, uses
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    65

violence and words linked to sex while seducing the men with whom he
has intercourse. In addition, there is a blend of a biological male body
(João’s) with female images “attached” to this body, which are in the
imagination of his male sexual counterparts. A sequence in which he
takes Álvaro home illustrates this. In it, Álvaro imagines he is possess-
ing a “real” woman, but she, unlike a traditional married woman who
presents an opposition to the femme fatale (particularly in film noir), is
naughty and provides “dirty” sex. Álvaro addresses João using adjectives
and nouns in the feminine form only (e.g., minha gostosa safada [“my red-
hot mama”]), which makes the sexual encounter more comfortable for
him and perhaps allows him to repress his sexual desires toward a man.
João, on the other hand, is very comfortable in his role and demonstrates
that he can be a “woman” or a “man,” or even a blend of the two, depending
on the performance he chooses. The conversation between the two shows
gender performativity through the use of language. In this, João alternates
between using male and female voices, softness and aggression:
João:  So, you are looking for a dark girl who is the same height as me?
Álvaro:  Yeah!
João:  Do you know I’ve got a sister like the one you want? . . . Her name is
Josefa . . . She’s got big thighs, hungry mouth . . . She’s really naughty, my
sister.

João then grabs Álvaro’s hand, puts it on his own thighs and orders
him in an authoritarian macho voice:
João:  Feel my sister’s thighs here! Grab them!

Álvaro not only touches João’s thighs but also grabs the latter’s geni-
tals. João takes the wedding ring from Álvaro’s finger by using his mouth
in a sensual and phallic scene, and Álvaro then takes it from João’s tongue
with his mouth and spits it away. This is very significant as it suggests
Álvaro’s abandonment of his heterosexual-married-man status and sets
the scene for him to experience the “dirty” pleasures of the red-light
­district—the “degenerate” Lapa—with another man. Álvaro is domi-
nated by João throughout the time he is with him and refers to João only
as Josefa. Thus, the performativity of gender through language in this
sequence works as a kind of “cross-dressing” in the characters’ imagi-
nation but mainly in Alvaro’s. João “cross-dresses” as Josefa but only in
the language he uses, not in his physical performance. He consciously
employs this “cross-dressing” through language to entice the “heterosex-
ual” man to have sex with him, so he helps to create an imagined world
that is comfortable for his male counterpart.
66    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Another moment in the film that shows João’s domination over a


“straight-acting” man is when he has sex with Renatinho. Their physical
position during the sexual intercourse—João on top of Renatinho—mirrors
the missionary position that is common in heterosexual sex. Renatinho,
who would be expected to be the active one during the intercourse accord-
ing to his socially constructed masculinity, takes the passive role. This
inversion of roles is another example of a split between gender and sexual
identities in the film. For instance, although in patriarchal society’s view
a bicha is synonymous with sexual passivity and effeminacy, Renatinho
does not consider himself one despite his passive role during intercourse
with João. Instead, he constructs and presents himself as a crook, which
is a symbol of hegemonic masculinity. This is indicated by his reference
to the homosexuals in Lapa—bonecas (dolls)—as if he were heterosexual.
Hence, this particular sexual role he takes does not interfere with his gen-
der identity and he seems comfortable with both, unlike Álvaro.
Renatinho falls for João, which could make a long-term relation-
ship between the two possible. But, as happens to the traditional femme
fatale’s “victims” in other films, this does not actualize. Near the end
of the film, Laurita reveals to João that Renatinho really loved him and
that he wanted to live with João. However, in the same sequence, she tells
João that Renatinho had been killed while João was in prison. Because
Renatinho is destroyed, a same-sex relationship is therefore avoided.
This enforced ending of the homosexual relationship in the film echoes
Butler’s point that “policing gender is sometimes used as a way of secur-
ing heterosexuality” (Gender Trouble xii). That is, once Renatinho is
killed, heterosexuality is kept in place. Besides this, there is an attempt
to have João “converted” to heterosexuality. Throughout the film, he is
given many opportunities for redemption—for example, the option to
follow the patriarchal model and form the traditional family with Laurita
in which they could bring up her daughter—but he rejects it. He refuses
to surrender to patriarchy’s social, gender, and sexual norms so he is pun-
ished, which his repeated imprisonment symbolizes.

“Perverse” Sexualities and Pleasures: A Different


Type of Femme Fatale?

Sexual practices and gender roles adopted by the main characters in


Madame Satã, as discussed so far, mirror those acts patriarchy deems
deviant and perverse. In João’s household, there is a homosexual/
drag/malandro/pimp (João), a transvestite/prostitute (Tabu), and a pros-
titute and single mother (Laurita).18 These characters are defined against
hegemonic social and moral norms, so they are judged and discriminated
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    67

against because they do not conform to these norms. The previously


mentioned male voiceover at the beginning of the film exemplifies this
as it defines João as a deviant person. According to Velho (following
Becker), the deviant condition is not intrinsic to a particular individual;
on the contrary, it is a “product or an expression of a social relation.” For
Velho, people are accused or labeled as deviants “by other actors, specific
individuals or groups, which establishes a relation between deviants and
non-deviants or ‘normals’” (529). Velho’s point is significant for Madame
Satã as the characters’ actions, especially João’s, reflect such dichotomous
social relations. Their “deviances” are a clear expression of the social
judgments that derive from such relations. In the specific case of João, his
sexual acts oppose “normal” sexuality and challenge hegemonic mascu-
linity and social order. Therefore, his sexuality becomes peripheral, which
makes him an “other” within patriarchy. According to Díaz-Benítez and
Figari,

The constitution of normal and peripheral sexualities denotes a false unity


that fragments the body, a disunity that reduces its erogeny. Therefore,
when other bodies or sexual/erotic practices that challenge the logics of this
grammar appear, . . . two political effects are produced: the first is a consid-
eration of non-humanity, the second, abjection and repugnance. (25)

Homosexual sexual practices in Madame Satã have this second effect


the authors propose as such practices are seen as abject and repugnant,
confirmed not only by society’s condemnation of them—represented
by the judgmental voiceover at the police station and the drunkard’s
comments—but also by João himself. The language he uses to refer to
Tabu’s sexual encounters strongly indicates that these patriarchal views
of homosexuality have influenced him. His repugnance of homosexual-
ity is also evident in his homophobic treatment of Tabu. For example,
somewhere in the film he calls her a “limp fairy” and tells the latter that
her “whining feminine voice” makes him sick.
The homosexual sexual acts in the film also touch on other gays’ sex-
ual practices that society deems perverse—particularly acts that reinforce
the relationship in the patriarchal imaginary between homosexuality and
sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially HIV/AIDS. The “devi-
ant” practices that the film touches on are gay sex in public spaces (in
this case in public toilets), cruising, multiple sexual partners, bisexuality,
and “barebacking,” even if the last is depicted in the film only in a subtle
way. These practices (particularly barebacking and public sex) are impor-
tant for the construction of a homosexual as a femme fatale because, as is
the case with the traditional femme fatale’s sexual acts, sexual practices
68    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

are deployed as a form of resistance to hegemonic roles. As Crossley


points out,

The embodied sexual activities associated with male gay cultures are . . . tes-
timony to the rebellion and “transgression” of “polite” sexual activity.
Multiple sexual partners, cruising, anonymous sex in dark, dirty places,
“intentional” acts of risky “barebacking” . . . All of this bears the hallmark
of resistance to dominant heterosexual norms and mores. The “rudeness”
of these “unacceptable” acts is used (not necessarily intentionally, but
habitually), to spit in the eye of “dominant” culture. (239)

One of the first scenes in Madame Satã that hints at such practices
occurs in the already mentioned sequence in which João first meets
Renatinho and follows him into the toilet. Although they do not have sex,
this was João’s intention before they fought over drugs. Renatinho reminds
one of the michê (rent boy), discussed by Perlongher. Like the traditional
michê, Renatinho looks masculine, is “straight-acting” (i.e., behaves like a
bofe), and he initially seems to see João as an effeminate homosexual who
is desperate for him and from whom he may get money. The latter case
is confirmed later on in the film when he steals money from João after
they slept together. The figure of the michê is significantly connected to
public sex, particularly cottaging (i.e., sex in public toilets) and cruising—
practices that make him abject within patriarchy.
Perlongher argues that the public toilet “occupies the lowest rank
in the categorization of places for a homosexual hookup. It is, together
with the sauna, the most directly sexual and the least ‘romantic’” (170).
Despite public toilet “manhunting” being an offence to public moral-
ity and the law, it has become a place commonly used for illicit sexual
encounters, especially for “heterosexual” married men looking for sex
with other men. Hence, although it occupies the “lowest rank” accord-
ing to Perlongher, the public toilet is “territory” for risky sexual encoun-
ters that provide “dirty” pleasures. As Toledo argues, cottaging provides
“an indescribable spectacle” in which one “can adopt, according to [his]
mood, only the voyeuristic way. [One] can also watch, touch, be touched,
be sucked, suck, ejaculate, be ejaculated on, or pick someone up and take
the person to more ‘quiet’ places” (qtd. in Perlongher 170). However, these
illicit sexual encounters pose different dangers to the people involved,
especially of being prosecuted and, worse than that, contracting STDs
as many of these sexual practices involve unsafe sex. The dangers these
pose to patriarchy’s social and sexual order is further complicated by
unsafe sex between homosexuals and “heterosexual” married men. The
latter becomes an intermediary between the dangerous “femme fatale”
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    69

who represents the risk of STDs (in the patriarchal imaginary), which in
this case is represented by the gay male, and the “innocent” wife at home
who is unaware of the risks her husband is subjecting her to through his
illicit sexual encounters. Álvaro is an example of this in Madame Satã.
Although he is married, he is in Lapa cruising for other men. This is an
important consideration because at the time the story was set, the 1930s,
the risk of STDs was rampant, especially syphilis—an STD for which, at
that time, there was no cure.
Syphilis was an STD that had often been associated with one specific
representation of the femme fatale in the nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries: the female prostitute. The prostitute became the quintessence
of sexual diseases in those periods—the scapegoat of a wild male lifestyle.
Syphilis became, or at least was seen by society as such, a punishment for
sexual deviants who came into sexual contact with her. She was blamed
for male corruption and contamination, and consequently for his down-
fall. The prostitute was seen as contagious to morality, and a challenge and
a threat to gender and sexual order. The danger she represented to soci-
ety continued throughout the first half of the twentieth century.19 Panic
about the danger the prostitute posed to social order appeared to decline
only after the cure for syphilis was found in the 1940s. But a new malady
would appear in the early 1980s, which would again bring chaos to the
social and sexual orders. This time a different type of “femme fatale” was
the scapegoat of patriarchal society’s discourse about dangerous sexu-
alities: that of the sexually active “effeminate man”—the “deviant” male
homosexual. As happened to the prostitute earlier, the homosexual was
blamed for and labeled as being the source of the new disease that would
endanger patriarchal society, so he became the new source of social anxi-
ety. The new disease was soon named GRID (gay-related immunodefi-
ciency) early in 198220; only later in the same year was it named AIDS
(Gilman). As Gilman states, AIDS “was understood as a specific subset
of the larger category of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as a dis-
ease from which homosexuals suffered as a direct result of their sexual
practices and related ‘life-style’” (89, emphases added). Gilman’s point can
be complemented by what Bersani argues while comparing syphilis and
AIDS. Bersani’s discussion applies to the prostitute and the homosexual
as these are two different types of femmes fatales who nevertheless share
similar features: both are considered deadly as they are deemed sources of
very dangerous STDs in their society’s imaginary. As Bersani observes,

The realities of syphilis in the nineteenth century and of AIDS today “legit-
imate” a fantasy of female sexuality as intrinsically diseased; and promis-
cuity in this fantasy, far from merely increasing the risk of infection, is the
70    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

sign of infection. Women and gay men spread their legs with an unquench-
able appetite for destruction. (qtd. in Olivares 409, emphases added)

Hence, the Victorian moralism of the previous century was resur-


rected around the world, including in Brazil, in this time of HIV/AIDS.
This new danger was understood to be a result of sexual practices that
were considered “perversions” and condemned by patriarchy. As with
syphilis in the past, HIV/AIDS “engenders powerful social conflicts about
the meaning, nature, and risks of sexuality” (Brandt 379). Thus, there
is a “systematic demonisation of the ‘AIDS carrier’ as a deliberate ‘serial
killer’” (Woods 171). Consequently, “Via the relay of AIDS . . . Death and
homosexuality are now inseparably linked in the public consciousness”
(Marshall, qtd. in Crossley 232).
Considering the Brazilian context, prior to the relationship between
gay men and death in its social imaginary with the appearance of HIV/
AIDS in the 1980s, male homosexuals were already seen as a threat to
the country’s security but in a different way. This was evident during the
1960s and 1970s. According to Foster (Queering), an example of this in
Brazil, which also happened in other Latin American countries living
under dictatorial regimes at the time, was the persecution of men in hippie
attire because the clothes, long hair, and other accessories worn by them
were considered to belong to the opposite biological gender. Hence, these
men were seen as “gender traitors.” As Foster further observes, “Anything
smacking of the blending of the genders, of the confusion of the absolute
God-given primes of Adam and Eve, was understood to be subversive”
(259). Sexual practices seen as “abnormal” were, therefore, soon charged
with subversion. As Cowan argues,

By the 1970s, national security theorists stressed degenerative, “perverse”


sex as a primary weapon of the “subversive” and/or “communist” enemy
against which they so fanatically inveighed. Young men’s “deviant” sexu-
ality, “free love,” and countercultural expressions of sexual “liberation”
became, in the discourse of the ESG [Escola Superior de Guerra/“Superior
School of War”], pathologized sources and symptoms of Brazil’s vulner-
ability to communist “penetration” and “subversive” warfare. (463)

Additionally, in Brazil’s military discourse and popular culture, includ-


ing the media, homosexuals were seen as a danger as well as an expression
of perversions. An example of this was an issue of the newspaper Hora do
Povo, which published, in 1981, an article stating that homosexuality was a
“sickness and a form of masturbation” (qtd. in Green, The Emergence 47).
Homosexuality was interpreted as one of the deviant sexual practices of
the period and, as such, many gays were prosecuted, but this happened
The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender    71

mostly to effeminate gays. As Green argues, because of the impossibility


of prohibiting homosexuality altogether, “discreet homosexual behavior
was tolerated while flamboyant public gender-bending was not” (Beyond
Carnival 232). Because of this, homosexuality in Brazil during this period
was constructed as a form of degeneracy, which mimicked European
social discourses of the previous century. As Pick argues,

Just as nineteenth-century European narratives of dégénérescence had


described a progression ending in “general enfeeblement, deprav-
ity, . . . insanity, . . . lost virility, . . . and impotence,” subversion in dictatorial
Brazil appeared as a “sociobiological” process whereby unconventional
sexuality enfeebled and emasculated Brazilian youth. (qtd. in Cowan 463)

Brazilian cinema, especially in the period mostly concerned in this


book, shares society’s intolerance of homosexuality. Films constructed
gay characters mostly as abnormal, effeminate, vengeful, and psychotic
criminals who had a negative influence on society, so they had to be
eradicated. Most gay characters in films of this period were killed or they
committed suicide (see Moreno). Thus, the homosexuals’ grand finale
in the films shares the traditional femme fatale’s fate of being destroyed
by death as a punishment for gender and sexual deviance. Even the first
Brazilian film adaptation based (loosely) on the life of João Francisco dos
Santos, A Rainha Diaba (Devil Queen, 1974), follows this route and unlike
João’s fate in Madame Satã, sees the protagonist Diaba killed at the end.
But although the openly gay characters in Madame Satã survive, they do
not escape the social stigma of homosexuality as sickness, abjection, and
perversion.
Hence, during a time of HIV/AIDS, gay characters in cinema, includ-
ing in Madame Satã, adopt sexual practices that patriarchal society con-
demns, in addition to the gender and sexual roles they already subvert
and challenge. These practices, therefore, make the homosexual male
even more abject than he is first thought to be, at a time when “bod-
ies are strictly policed” and “continually and forcefully disciplined into
socially sanctioned movements and punished for socially transgressive
ones” (Román and Sandoval 574). João/Madame Satã’s acts throughout
the film challenge heteronormative control over his sexual behavior and
gender roles. He challenges the “law” that says a “real man” must dress
and behave “like a man,” and he further complicates the two imagined
gender categories dictated by hegemonic patriarchal society—that one
has to be a man or a woman—because he “fails” to belong to one or the
other. His gender and indeed sexual performativities dissolve “the binary
categories on which straight-dom rests” (Williamson 78). But because he
72    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

does not fit into either category and refuses to embrace the roles expected
of a “man,” he is seen as an “other”—a threat to society that has to be con-
tained. As with the traditional femme fatale, patriarchal society attempts
to contain and control João’s behavior by finding a way to destroy him, or
at least remove him from society. As already mentioned, he is repeatedly
sent to prison, which is a form of punishment for his “infamous” acts that
endanger hegemonic gender and sexual roles.
3

Social Class and the Virgin/


Whore Dichotomy in
Bonitinha mas ordinária

T he dangerous and manipulative young femmes fatales—the “daugh-


ters of postfeminism”—became prominent in different American
films in the 1990s and the 2000s, such as Hard Candy (2005), Jennifer’s
Body (2009), Mini’s First Time (2006), Poison Ivy (1992), Poison Ivy 2
(1996), The Babysitter (1995), and The Crush (1993). However, as this
chapter shows, this type of femme fatale was already a figure in Brazilian
cinema before that. In Braz Chediak’s Bonitinha mas ordinária, the main
female character, the teenage Maria Cecília (Lucélia Santos), adopts a
performativity of innocence, as do many other young femmes fatales, to
conceal her true identity. She is a 17-year-old upper-class “innocent” and
“pure” teenage girl who is first presented as a “victim of rape,” but who
is actually a manipulative femme fatale: she hides behind her supposed
innocence. Maria Cecília uses her social status of a grã-fina (“stuck-up
woman”), as one of the male characters describes her, and her economic
position—her father owns a large company—to achieve what she wants:
to have sex with whomever she desires in the ways she dictates. In doing
this, she turns men, including her father’s male employees, into objects
to be bought for her personal use and she harasses the men she wants.
Thus, through her behavior, the film suggests that there is a relationship
between class exploitation (regarding sexuality) and the perception of a
woman’s sexual identity, especially in terms of virginity. The latter has a
different weight on a woman’s social value depending on the class from
which she originates. Moreover, the film repeats patriarchal society’s
view of women as good and bad that is depicted in film noir: virginity
is for good women who will eventually get married and a single woman
becomes bad once she loses her virginity.
74    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Bonitinha mas ordinária is an adaptation of a play written by the well-


known Brazilian playwright Nelson Rodrigues.1 The story takes place
in Rio de Janeiro and revolves around Maria Cecília’s alleged rape by a
group of five black men. The other characters’ behavior and fate develop
as a result of the sexual violence she “suffers.” Through the development
of issues in the aftermath of the rape, this portrayal of the femme fatale
indicates the cultural and socioeconomic conditions of women in Brazil at
the time the film was made. In this film, differences among social classes
and their connections to gender issues are presented as defining issues in
Brazilian society: members of the dominant class can break many of con-
servative society’s rules and they will hardly be punished for doing so.
Before it ends, the film reveals that Maria Cecília was not raped;
instead, she used rape to fulfill a sexual fantasy she had developed from
reading a newspaper article about a black girl who was raped by a group
of five black men. She wanted the same and made her brother-in-law
Peixoto (Milton Moraes), who is also in love with her, pay for five men
to carry out her rape fantasy. Her family, however, believes she was actu-
ally raped and they search for a husband for her so that she can avoid
bringing shame on them within their conservative society. Hence, one
film critic observes, “The cute girl, despite being 17 only, is a libertine;
she is not what she seems to be . . . ; as a matter of fact, she was raped by
her own choice” (V. Andrade n. pag., emphases added).2 This unstable
identity is an important aspect of this femme fatale and reminds one of
the point Doane raises: the femme fatale never really is what she seems
to be. Indeed, this instability makes the femme fatale an ambiguous and
mysterious character that generates anxieties for patriarchy. The femme
fatale behaves in various ways and takes on diverse identities so she could
be anywhere in different guises—from one of innocence (as Maria Cecília
illustrates) to a deadly serial killer, for instance.
Bonitinha mas ordinária received a mixed reception and was deemed
a pornochanchada, which, as with similar films,3 has contributed to the
film being ignored in many studies about Brazilian cinema. The film
explores themes that were taboo in Brazil, and still are to some extent,
and this surely also contributed to the way it was received. Even the trailer
for the film caused a furor among the audience. For instance, one critic
wrote: “It is unacceptable the fact that you go to the cinema in search of
a good program but then you have to stand so much dirtiness. One day,
someone will have the idea of using the intervals in opera presentations
to advertise the so-called gay-magazines” (Pereira n. pag.). In another
review, a critic points out the various taboos depicted in the film and
summarizes it as follows: “The women are no good; what they want is to
be raped, their pleasures are obscene, the men are scoundrels; no one has
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    75

sex for pleasure. The dominant class is corrupt and decadent; the working
class, a paragon of honesty, . . . marriage is only for women who are a vir-
gin” (Mello n. pag.). For Yazbeck, the film “is a noxious fragment within
the avalanche of films that explore the dichotomy sex/violence that is
core in hundreds of national productions that appeared since the much-
anticipated and demanded ending for censorship” (n. pag.). But there was
no ending to the censorship. The film was indeed censored, as were many
others at the time. However, in this period, the censorship was not as
strict as in its heyday between 1968 and 1973—the most violent period of
the military dictatorship in Brazil. This played a role in the film’s classifi-
cation because despite the cuts set by the censorship body (both of “dirty”
language and scenes) being made, the film still received an 18 classifica-
tion. But from 1988, this was lowered to 16. In a new censorship docu-
ment (from 1988), the demands for cuts to be made applied only to scenes
showing the characters taking drugs (Parecer A-20966).
As for the film critic Avellar, Bonitinha mas ordinária repeats staple
prejudices that are found in other Brazilian films “less worthy of critical
attention” (Um olho n. pag.) (by which he clearly means pornochancha-
das). Avellar argues that the black characters are portrayed as violent and
insensitive, and the women as a constant threat, which is a result of the lat-
ter’s infidelity and craziness. However, on a deeper level, the film decon-
structs the points the critic makes. At first, the audience is led to believe
these traditional portrayals, but later on in the film one sees that the black
men are actually victims, and they are exploited by the dominant class.
That is, the femme fatale takes advantage of the stereotype of black men
as aggressive and tough but economically subaltern to fulfill her sexual
fantasies, as do various femmes fatales in relation to their male victims’
financial inferiority. Thus, by its ending the film has shown that such ste-
reotypes Avellar raises do not hold true. Also significant is the fact that
Avellar considers the depiction of women as being a stereotype of gender
in Brazil and connects this directly to other overlooked films (i.e., porno-
chanchadas) that do the same. But again this is problematic as the point the
film critic makes is not confined to these films or to the Brazilian context,
as is evident in films depicting the femme fatale in other contexts. The
author’s observations are nevertheless crucial in understanding Bonitinha
mas ordinária within the period it was made—the postsexual revolution
and the feminist movements—because such depictions of women indi-
cate male anxiety, especially regarding infidelity, as women became an
“uncontrollable” sexualized threat in the patriarchal imaginary—a fea-
ture such representations of the femme fatale encapsulate.
Hence, as the reviews of the film indicate, Chediak’s Bonitinha mas
ordinária retains the “problematic” themes for which Nelson Rodrigues
76    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

became known—as the content of his plays and tales challenged and criti-
cized the social moral values of his time. He was a fierce and quite obses-
sive critic of the Brazilian middle class, particularly those from Rio de
Janeiro, that is, the Carioca. However, according to Fofonca, neither the
State nor society received the playwright’s work positively because he nor-
mally legitimized behavior outside the hegemonic norm. Furthermore,
the two institutions Fofonca mentions—the State and ­society—considered
Rodrigues a threat because his portrayals of the Carioca lifestyle ques-
tioned social values and structures on which the laws of these institu-
tions were founded and maintained. He argues that the “coldness” of
the author’s plays results from the portrayal of features that reflect the
perverse class division in modern Brazilian society. Rodrigues’s work,
however, arguably became the guilty pleasure for Brazilian readers and
theater audiences. As Fofonca observes, the playwright “would never have
gone unnoticed by the public at large and by the popular classes due to
the efforts of the critics in proclaiming him the destroyer of moral values,
in particular, for dealing with themes that were not that unfamiliar to
people” (216).
Nelson Rodrigues’s work penetrated the “sacred heart” of patriarchal
Brazilian society (i.e., the family), which his plays attack as a failed or
near-failing institution. This is a staple feature in the film that one of
the censorship documents mentions. It notes: “The ‘family’ institution is
characterized as if it were in a process of rotting, which is symbolized by
the degradation of moral values. Economic power is the trigger of amo-
rality and corrupt actions” (Parecer 5774 n. pag.). The themes he explores
in his plays revolve around the family and include the relationship
between parents and children, a quasi-neurotic and obsessive portrayal
of virginity and the loss of it, pedophilia, and incest in various forms—
the last two being perhaps the most provocative issues in his work. The
play Bonitinha mas ordinária, also known as Otto Lara Rezende, which
Chediak adapted, is an example of this as it shows a traditional fami-
ly’s disintegration along with its members’ deviations and degeneration.
This is an important aspect of the film, especially as it was made during
social changes that directly affected the traditional family’s power and
values in Brazil. For instance, Johnson argues that the “disintegration of
the family unit is one result of the country’s rapid and unequal develop-
ment during this period, when traditional values have been revealed to
be inadequate, and revered norms of behavior have become brittle and
repressive” (Nelson Rodrigues 18). It is not surprising, therefore, that by
being a writer who explores taboo themes, Nelson Rodrigues becomes
a kind of “enemy” of patriarchal institutions’ moral codes. His stories
defy the status quo and cause controversy yet provide fascination for the
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    77

readers and consequently for the audiences of the film adaptations of his
work. Indeed, he is the Brazilian writer whose work has the highest num-
ber of adaptations for the screen (cinema and television) in the country.
According to Dennison (Nelson Rodrigues), 19 feature films based on his
work were released between 1952 and the first half of the 2000s.
Chediak’s film maintains Rodrigues’s “insistence on electing the
theme of sex as the main annihilator, or unveilor, of family disorgani-
zation” (Salem 543). It is through sex that one sees the fall of patriar-
chal power, which is incapable of preventing the family’s disintegration
despite the economic power the head of the family has. Although Maria
Cecília’s father, Heitor Werneck (Carlos Kroeber), tries to deal with the
consequences of the rape, his behavior is controversial as he turns his own
house into a quasi-brothel. Putting it simply, it is in his house that much
of the dominant class’s sexual experimentation and pleasures take place:
there are sex and drug parties with much nudity; the guests openly talk
about their “dirty” sexual behavior and betrayals; and they also go wild
watching a live gang-rape of three working-class girls that Heitor sets up,
which takes place in the living room. Thus, the family members within
this house are unable to sort their problems by themselves: they need to
bring people in from outside to help with matters. The characters from
outside this decadent family’s environment try to bring morality back to
it while simultaneously exposing the immoral behavior of the dominant
family. An example of this is Maria Cecília’s grandmother. She goes to the
house to discuss, or more accurately dictate, a solution to the problems
caused by the rape of her granddaughter.
As for Maria Cecília, she is a femme fatale who uses her ostensible inno-
cence and purity to achieve what she wants. By hiding her real identity, she
maintains her image as an innocent teenage girl who has been a victim
of rape. Her planning her own rape, which is a consequence of and at the
same time an attack on the class to which she belongs, exposes the “social
disintegration” of the elite that results from its members’ “sexual excesses”
(Doane 145). Although Cecília’s father says that a plastic ­surgeon—again,
someone outside the family—can solve the “problem” (i.e., the taboo loss
of virginity) after she was raped, his family’s solution is the opposite.4 That
is, the family, or more accurately Maria Cecília’s grandmother, decides
that marriage is the only acceptable solution to stop any rumors about the
incident. So marriage in the film, as it was in “Victorian capitalist cul-
ture” (Hedgecock 139), which had the femme fatale as a staple character, is
used to keep both men and women, especially the latter, within patriarchal
boundaries. In this instance, the femme fatale, who has not yet revealed
her true identity, is treated as a puppet that her family members think they
can dispose of in the way they want without her consent.
78    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

By acting the way it does, the family adopts a retrograde attitude in


which women have to behave passively and follow the decisions made by
senior family members. However, Maria Cecília’s “degenerate” behav-
ior not only challenges the sexual behavior dictated as appropriate for
women but also brings economic concerns to her family because of her
loss of her virginity: there is an inversion of the more common social class
ascendance through marriage—the working or middle class girl marry-
ing a rich man—that has been depicted considerably in Brazilian cin-
ema and soap operas.5 Hence, the inversion in Bonitinha mas ordinária
undermines her bourgeois family’s class structure and can be explained
by referring to Hobsbawm whose argument hints at many features that
Rodrigues explored in his play on which the film is based. According to
Hobsbawm,

The “family” was not merely the basic social unit of bourgeois society but
its basic unit of property and business enterprise, linked with other such
units through a system of exchanges of women-plus-property (the “mar-
riage portion”) in which the women were by strict convention deriving
from pre-bourgeois tradition virgines intactae. Anything which weakened
this family unit was impermissible, and nothing more obviously weakened
it than uncontrolled physical passion, which introduced “unsuitable” (i.e.
economically undesirable) suitors and brides, split husbands from wives,
and wasted common resources. (277)

Considering Hobsbawm’s points, Maria Cecília being raped is detri-


mental to her family as she cannot be included in the “economic exchange”
because she is no longer a virgin. Consequently, she puts her family in a
difficult position because they have to find her a husband regardless of his
economic condition or suitability.6 The family searches among its male
employees for someone to marry Cecília, worrying more about shame
for the family because of her loss of virginity than the class mixture and
their “loss of capital” (i.e., her failure to marry a husband who is at least
at their economic level). With the family’s decision, Cecília will continue
having socioeconomic power from her father’s status only—not from her
husband-to-be as he will be working class.
The arrangements for her future engagement and marriage are made
by her father, her husband-to-be Edgar (José Wilker), and Peixoto with-
out her knowing about it at first—which recalls Irigary’s observation that
“culture is structured upon the exchange of women, and all exchanges
take place among men” (qtd. in Hedgecock 133). But the femme fatale
rejects this patriarchal decision making. Instead, she uses her body to
gain pleasure for herself—to satisfy her sexual desires, not to fulfill patri-
archal demands. Moreover, the father’s attitude in this decision making is
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    79

significant as it goes against the views he previously expressed. In other


words, if virginity was not a subject of concern as he repeatedly said, why
does he now worry about it so much to the extent of offering his daughter
to a working-class man? Why did he not take his daughter to a plastic sur-
geon—the solution he repeatedly suggests throughout the film for girls
outside his family? His behavior indicates that the problem is the conse-
quence of this loss of virginity: the shame for the family and the judgment
his daughter will receive from society. By getting an employee to marry
his daughter, Heitor seems to think people will forget about the rape or
that he will prevent people from discovering what really happened. If the
truth were revealed, it would change his daughter’s status of victim to that
of a “whore” in their society, as it may also do in the audience’s view—
“she really is ordinária and dirty,” because she appropriates, as a source of
pleasure, a crime society condemns.
Heitor’s decision to find a husband for Maria Cecília from his own
company also raises other issues. In doing this, he adopts a bourgeois
discourse that reflects an androcentric ideology “to maintain the bour-
geoisie’s political and economic interests” (De Siqueira 109). For instance,
Peixoto shows Cecília her father’s male employees’ profiles with photos
to pick one to marry—as if they were products on display to be bought—
and she decides that she wants Edgar. The latter is told what happened
to Cecília but in a different version to the true one (which he and the
audience learn only at the end of the film—in the “revelation sequence,”
discussed in the next section) so that he feels compassion for her. But at
the same time he refuses to accept the authoritative way Heitor treats him
so he quits his job at Heitor’s company.
Despite being given the employees’ profiles to choose her husband,
in most of the film Cecília is portrayed as a girl who has no agency,
whose family decides what happens to her, and who does little in life.
Nevertheless, although she is depicted as a victim and a naive girl, her
behavior reveals that she is actually a femme fatale who takes on the iden-
tity of an innocent girl to hide her true self—indicating once again that
the femme fatale is a performative construct. Her “double identity” is sug-
gested even in the film title itself. Bonitinha (literally “little pretty”) sug-
gests, in Portuguese, a nice woman or girl who is beautiful and kind. But,
although the word gives an idea of what the character looks like, the audi-
ence may suspect that her behavior opposes what would be expected from
her look because of the conjunction mas (but) and the adjective ordinária
(slutty) in the film’s title. Also important is the fact that Maria Cecília
chooses and uses men from the class below hers to fulfill her implied sado-
masochistic desires, as the audience learns at the end of the film, which
allows new interpretations of her behavior during the film. For instance,
80    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

to show Edgar her power over him and the class difference between them,
she treats him similar to how her father does. She calls him ex-contínuo
(“former office boy”) not only to remind him of something he is ashamed
of but also to indicate that he could lose everything he was on the verge of
achieving and return to his roots if he does not agree to marry her. This
is again a staple feature of Rodrigues’s fiction: to sacrifice personal values
for the sake of economic advantage.
Edgar, on the other hand, is attracted to his neighbor Ritinha (Vera
Fisher) who works as a teacher to conceal her “real” work as a prostitute.
He is in doubt about which woman to choose, as is implied when he says
that the only two women who deserve his love have both been raped, and
this sexual violence both have suffered makes it harder for the “hero” to
reach a decision. But class difference influences his decision and Edgar
ends up with Ritinha, which reflects how classes do not normally mix
in Brazil through marriage, especially when a man is from a lower social
position than the woman. As soon as Edgar chooses Ritinha, he tears up
a five-million-cruzeiro check Heitor had given him to see whether what
Edgar said about a Mineiro7 (“A Mineiro only shows solidarity in the case
of cancer”)8 was true or if he was just like Peixoto who accepted being
bought.9 Edgar’s choice also represents a failure of capitalism. That is,
despite Cecília’s father having much money and repeatedly saying he
would buy anyone or pay to silence them, he does not succeed in this
instance: his money is not enough to save the honor of the women in
his family. Heitor’s failure to buy a husband for his daughter to cover up
her “dirty” acts exposes the fragility of patriarchal power, which recalls
the point Salem makes. For the author, “The fact that the male identity
and honor are defined via female sexuality implies that the wife’s and/
or daughter’s infraction thematizes, simultaneously, the limits of male
power” (551). Still according to Salem, despite rich men—who Heitor rep-
resents in the film—having economic power and numerous people subor-
dinate to them, there is controversy in this as the limit and importance of
male power is brought to the fore through their own family disorganiza-
tion and degeneration from patriarchal law, that is, “in the males’ inabil-
ity to impose their authority over the daughters or wives” (551).
Edgar’s decision to tear up the check, going against Ritinha’s will, also
hints at Marxist ideas: “the development of a new type of society neces-
sitates collective, not individual, action” (Woodward 99). For Edgar, this
means they must start from nothing and if that means they will have to
eat from the garbage together, they will do so. Instead of starting a rela-
tionship in which he is in control financially, he decides that their rela-
tionship must be built together, sharing the struggles members of their
class face—a collective action rather than an individual one. However,
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    81

even if he is to start an equal relationship with Ritinha, his rejection of


marrying Maria Cecília indicates something else. That is, by refusing to
marry the rich girl, he finds a way to be in control or at least at the same
level of control as his wife. Had he married Maria Cecília, he would just
become a plaything for her and have to do whatever she wanted him to, as
is the case with Peixoto who is totally subservient to the teenage girl. This
is evident, for example, when Maria Cecília demands that Edgar allow
her to call him cadelão (“big-male-bitch”)10—the nickname she gave her
“rapist” in her sexual fantasy—but Edgar does not accept this. His refusal
to marry Cecília can be explained by referring to what De Siqueira argues
regarding working-class men. For the author,

In the case of the working classes, related to the situation of poverty, we


have the figure of the unemployed worker, incapable of inserting himself
into consumer society. As they are denied the right of acquiring mate-
rial goods, the men in the lower class, as a compensation, usually sustain
conservative values considered positive; among them, the value of being a
“man,” as a way of expressing the pride of being true and faithful repre-
sentatives of what is already established by the modern bourgeois society’s
ideology. (86–87)

Hence, Edgar maintains his male power, independence, and control as


a free man rather than being economically dependent on a wife, especially
if she is a “libertine” from the dominant class as the film shows. Peixoto,
on the other hand, is a victim—and perhaps the main one—of the femme
fatale. Because he has fallen under her spell, he has no power over her and
does whatever she or her father wants him to do. He is constructed as a rep-
resentation of subservience within the classes as he becomes a plaything
for the elite, especially for the femme fatale. Her behavior clearly makes
Peixoto suffer considerably, which his facial expressions in a sequence of
flashbacks in the last part of the film (the revelation sequence) show. In
this, Peixoto reveals to Edgar that he paid the black men to rape Maria
Cecília, but his suffering seems to derive mostly from the fact that she
makes him watch her “being raped.” Evidently, she is not only interested
in engaging in acts deemed masochistic but she is also a sadist—she likes
causing pain to and humiliating her victims.
Maria Cecília destroys the male who falls for her yet, as was the case
with the traditional femme fatale, she is also punished by death. But before
Cecília’s death in the revelation sequence, Peixoto advises Edgar to pro-
tect himself against her: “Run away from this woman, run away from this
house; she is the last remaining bitch.” The film’s use of such a line pro-
motes the idea (mirroring Rodrigues’s work) that people should not iden-
tify with the dominant class as it is rotten. And the message is that despite
82    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

its lack of economic power, the working class is the one that has good val-
ues. Furthermore, the film implies that any wrong thing people belonging
to the working class do is a consequence of the exploitation they suffer from
the dominant class, that is, the latter’s attempt at corrupting the ones who
do not have economic power. By chastising the dominant class’s behavior,
the film ends up, to some extent, praising and legitimizing the working
class’s values. It does so by punishing members of the dominant class and
those of the working class who fall for the charms of the former.
Peixoto is the best example of the working-class person who has been
corrupted. When Edgar punches him (in the revelation sequence) for his
offending words about the “innocent” Maria Cecília, Peixoto declares:
“I do not get offended any longer; she turned me into this!” And later he
reinforces his aforementioned sentence: “Run away while you still have
time as I can no longer do it myself!” Then he concludes: “She is only 17
but is more of a whore than . . . That’s the only way she knows to make
love.” Peixoto is thus an example of the Rodriguean characters that are
“incapable of transforming themselves and of transforming the environ-
ment that surrounds them (which is also the one that corrupts them, in
a vicious circle whose end can only be of desperation).” These characters
“allow themselves to be dragged down . . . and degenerate; [they] deterio-
rate as contaminated fruit” (Lins, qtd. in Johnson, Nelson Rodrigues 17).
Moreover, Peixoto’s concluding line also denotes that women are mas-
ochist and like being raped—they “ask for it.”
Hence, the film’s depiction of the characters’ deviant behaviors, which
are staple of Rodrigues’s plays, presents certain dilemmas and explores
different issues. These include social class relations; different female
roles in society—the wife, the mother, and the rich teenage girl who can
do whatever she wants; female sexual behavior; the female teacher who
is actually a prostitute (although what she does is for her survival and
because of dominant-class exploitation); and the matriarchal family—
Heitor’s mother is the person who has the final word. The criticism of
the relationship between money and people’s attitudes is also an issue in
the film, and the story develops showing how each character’s attitude
is conditioned by money. For example, the dominant class’s behavior
in the film denotes that “wealth confers power over the lives of others”
(Woodward 94). Yet this fails to actualize because of the devilish teenage
femme fatale’s unrestrained sexuality.

The Devilish Teenage Femme Fatale

As already mentioned, Maria Cecília is portrayed as an innocent girl


from the beginning of the film and behaves as if she were harmless
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    83

throughout much of it, which happens in other films portraying danger-


ous young femmes fatales. It is only in the last sequence of the film, which
takes place in Cecília’s bedroom, that a twist in the plot reveals her “real”
identity and shows that her innocence was a performative identity she
deployed. In this sequence, the iconography of image and the visual style
show how the power of this type of femme fatale is constructed differ-
ently from the adult ones—especially those in the neo-noir films, where
the femmes fatales’ danger is constructed and shown from early on in the
films. The choice of the iconography of image and the visual style in this
film helps to hide the danger behind Cecília’s apparent innocence rather
than revealing it, which again recalls Doane’s point about the femme
fatale not being what she seems to be.
In the beginning of this final sequence, Maria Cecília is on the left
side of her bedroom opposite the door. The camera pans on her while she
walks to the door to meet Edgar who has just entered the room. White
is the main color used in this scene, but there are also other light colors
such as pink and yellow, and the effect these have contrasts with the dark
and tense atmosphere of the previous sequence. White in this sequence
is crucial as it symbolizes Maria Cecília’s innocence, which reinforces
the idea of her being a victim of rape. Likewise, the decoration of her
bedroom also helps to construct her as a naive young girl who knows
nothing about the “dangerous” and “dirty” world of adults. Her fragility
is further indicated by the reason why she called Edgar to come and stay
with her: she was scared to be at home on her own. Her class status is also
implied by the décor and objects in her bedroom: wallpaper, curtains,
a stylish bed, various lamps, and little toy animals such as teddy bears.
All these symbolize her childish personality and her bed in white and
pink reinforces the stereotypical teenage girl’s bedroom, which contrasts
with her behavior as a mature and dangerous woman that Edgar and
the audience discover in this sequence. The way she is dressed reveals
her real intentions toward Edgar: she is wearing a nightdress, which for
a girl who has not done any wrong in her life, as her family (mother)
keeps claiming, would not be a decent way to dress to receive a man in
a patriarchal house, especially into her bedroom. Edgar is also wearing
white clothes.
Against this backdrop, Peixoto enters the room dressed in black, which
contrasts with the other characters. This metaphorically represents the
traditional fight between good and evil—very common in films depicting
the femme fatale. On Peixoto’s arrival in the bedroom, a sequence edited
in shot/reverse shot shows Maria Cecília and Edgar on one side of the
axis and Peixoto on the other—confirming the opposition between him
and the other two characters. The filmmaker uses eyeline matches while
84    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

presenting the conversation between the characters—a technique that


suggests their power relationship. After Peixoto reveals to Edgar that he
is the cadelão Maria Cecília constantly mentions, he occupies Edgar’s side
of the axis on the frame, which implies an opposition to Maria Cecília:
in other words, that the males are uniting against the dangerous femme
fatale.
The characters’ movements and facial expressions are thoroughly
explored in this sequence. For example, the depiction of Cecília’s facial
expressions suggests that she is a victim, but later on in a flashback show-
ing the rape her facial expression reveals much about her, particularly her
manipulation skills and her power of seduction over men. When Peixoto
starts telling what actually happened to Cecília, the audience hears her
voice offscreen denying what he says, followed by a discontinuous shot of
her face, giving one a sense of déjà vu. At this moment in the sequence,
the audience is likely to expect an interruption of the narrative to show
a flashback of the rape scene because this had already happened twice in
the film. Indeed, the abandoned rainy place where the rape took place,
which the viewer had seen before in two other versions, is shown again.
At the beginning of the flashback, the camera pans on a gloomy place,
which is full of pieces of old cars and there is no asphalt on the road. This
gives the place a sense of abandonment and isolation as well as danger—
recalling the perilous and shadowy streets of film noir that the femme
fatale occupied. Although the viewer has seen the place twice, this time
the camera uses an extreme long shot to show a car coming from far
away on the road; so it was not by chance that the characters ended up
in the place as implied in the previous flashbacks of the rape. Therefore,
the shooting technique in this sequence denies the other versions that
favored the construction of Maria Cecília as a victim. The car becomes a
motif because as soon as it is seen on screen, the audience is likely to cre-
ate expectations of what is going to happen, especially because Peixoto
had started telling the story in the previous scene. A shot shows the inside
of the car where the viewer sees a different Cecília from the one hith-
erto portrayed in the film (as an ordinary teenage girl, which contrasts
with her portrayal as a “grown-up dangerous” woman in this sequence).
In this instance, the depiction of her as an adult woman is constructed
through the iconography of image, especially the femme fatale’s makeup
and the clothes she wears (a black satin tube dress with a piece that looks
like a feather scarf), which are common in other films with this charac-
ter. This flashback is the complete opposite of the other two as in them
she was wearing an ordinary white dress. Her facial expressions and the
way she moves her tongue in front of the camera adds sensuality to the
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    85

close-up of her face. She expresses her enjoyment in what she is about to
do as if she were already experienced in it, despite being only 17 years
of age.
The “dirty” locale is very significant as it opposes her “clean” room
in the previous scene. The fact that she comes from the dominant class’s
space to the filthy area where her “dirty” sexual fantasy (the rape) takes
place is important as it connects geographical spaces, sexual acts, and
social class. Maria Cecília comes to this place to satiate her sexual plea-
sure, and is even driven to it by a “private chauffer,” but she then goes
back to where she belongs where life is “perfect,” although this “perfect”
life had been criticized throughout the film. In this version of the rape,
her power over the men who are paid to rape her is clear if compared
with the flashbacks of it in the other two sequences. This version nev-
ertheless veers away from the verisimilitude of the rape scene the film
had previously constructed—which contributed much to Cecília’s status
as a victim—and becomes considerably artificial and forced, if not just
titillation.
The beginning of the last version of the rape scene is shot from Peixoto’s
point of view and shows his suffering not only in seeing the woman he
loves act this way but also because she wanted him to be present (which
indicates that she is a sadist and treats him as a masochist—a common
feature in neo-noir films that portray the femme fatale). An extreme close-
up focuses on Maria Cecília’s mouth while she sucks one of the rapists’
thumbs, which clearly simulates fellatio. Her facial expression conveys
not only her power (if compared with the previous flashbacks) but also
her pleasure in what she is doing. Besides this, her physical movements
display considerable sexual experience for a girl who is only 17 and “pure”
as her mother said earlier in the film. The scenes of her “being raped”11
are interwoven with shots of Peixoto in the car—the camera shoots him
from the outside of the front of the vehicle in a way that shows his face
blurred by the rain on the car windscreen. The rain in front of his face
suggests deception, suffering, and desolation (which his lack of reaction
in the scene reinforces), while the rain in Cecília’s rape scene suggests
pleasure, enjoyment, and wildness. Moreover, rain becomes a motif for
the rape sequences as well as a fetish to some extent: all the rape versions
have rain in them.
A close-up shot of Maria Cecília’s face takes the story back to her bed-
room. The shot metaphorically implies a mixture of evil and sensuality
in her face, which is also conveyed in the language she uses. She tries to
seduce Edgar to turn him into her sex slave who will fulfill her sadomas-
ochistic desires. But Peixoto’s revelation of her “true” identity stops the
86    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

femme fatale from trapping Edgar. After learning the truth, Edgar leaves
the room. The camera then cuts back to Peixoto and shows him taking
a penknife from an inside pocket of his jacket. He decides to control the
femme fatale by killing her, which has parallels with patriarchy’s solution
to stop the traditional femme fatale’s immoral contagion, particularly in
film noir. The camera shows a screaming Maria Cecília running toward
the window to avoid being killed. She jumps on her bed, where Peixoto
kills her by slashing her face in a way that resembles a horror film scene,
which gives a sense of unreality as she is not as desperate as before.
The fact that Peixoto chooses to slash Maria Cecília’s face is very sig-
nificant as it is an attempt to destroy her beauty (i.e., she is “bonitinha”).
Because he could neither have her only for himself nor leave her, he ends
her life and his own. In addition, during this sequence the camera depicts
the characters from high and low angles to indicate Maria Cecília’s posi-
tion of victim and her ultimately being dominated by patriarchal power,
which Peixoto represents. The camera shoots Peixoto from a low angle
using a medium close-up to show him slashing his own neck, followed
by his fall onto the femme fatale’s body. The fact that Peixoto ends up on
top of Maria Cecília’s body is important as it connotes male power over
the woman. Before the femme fatale could destroy him, he ended her life,
even though he also kills himself.
Therefore, by acting as if she were a passive and innocent girl who
happened to be raped, the teenage femme fatale hides not only her sex-
ual history but also her predatory nature. Because she was a “victim”
of such a crime—and because of the money offered for a working-class
man to marry someone of her status—her (kind) husband-to-be, Edgar,
is attracted to her. But unlike some girls in other films who try to attract
wealthy men, Cecília is not only interested in lower-class men as she wants
to be in power (similar to Solange in A dama do lotação, discussed in
chapter 4), but she also wants to control them and treat them as her sexual
playthings. This is confirmed by Peixoto advising Edgar, during the final
sequence in her bedroom, to run away while the latter still had time to
escape from her. But previously, her performance of being a rape victim
had achieved its result as Edgar agreed to marry her because of it, and
they had gotten engaged before he discovered the truth about her. Edgar
implies that he accepted the engagement with her not necessarily because
of the money Maria Cecília’s family has (unlike his mother, who pressed
him into the marriage as she saw it as an opportunity for them to change
their lives—“a lottery jackpot”) but because of the innocent, defenseless,
and naive girl she appears to be. Indeed, Edgar convinces himself that
Cecília is good and marrying her, despite the check he was given by her
father, is more an act of benevolence than a physical attraction to the
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    87

femme fatale as is normally the case in other films portraying this figure.
This is exemplified in the statement he makes to Ritinha:  “I  have only
known two women worthy of my love: my fiancée and you.” To Edgar’s
disappointment, Ritinha reveals to him that she is a prostitute but agrees
with him about his fiancée being the one he should love.
Thus, the femme fatale performs a character that conceals her real
identity and the dangerous nature of her acts is hidden behind a veneer
of innocence. Because she acts like an innocent girl, she differs sharply
from the traditional (adult) femme fatale: she is portrayed as neither
sensual nor erotic throughout most of the film, which helps to keep her
dangerous identity secret. Furthermore, like other young femmes fatales,
she does not wear the things that commonly constitute the iconography
of image in films depicting the (adult) femme fatale (e.g., makeup, “pro-
vocative” clothes, and jewelry), nor does she have the traditional femme
fatale’s look. She dresses in white and her hairstyle is that of a schoolgirl
so she appears to be an ordinary teenage girl. Also absent are cigarettes
with wisps of smoke, volatile and predatory sexual behavior (there is no
indication of this throughout the film, except for the last sequence when
the truth is revealed), and language bordering on that used in porno-
graphic films contemporary to Bonitinha mas ordinária (again, Maria
Cecília uses “dirty language” only in the last sequence). Because she acts
the way she does, this Brazilian femme fatale conceals from society that
she is neither innocent nor a virgin as would be expected from a girl of her
age at that time. This is not because she was a victim of a rape; rather, it is
a consequence of her own “degenerate” sexual behavior.
Because Maria Cecília plans her own “rape,” she steps into a “man’s
shoes” and takes liberties that males are normally believed to pursue
in patriarchal societies: she exploits men sexually and plays with their
fantasies, but her acts cause distress to them—which recalls what Žižek
argues about the new femme fatale (see Introduction chapter). Men do
not exploit her, and her “deviant” sexual behavior challenges hegemonic
sexual and gender roles within Brazilian society (even that of the “scared”
rapists). Once Maria Cecília appropriates a “patriarchal tool,” namely,
rape—which is a symbol not only of oppression but also of punishment
for “deviant” and “loose” women—as a source of pleasure, she becomes
a representation of evil and abjection. Her behavior does not allow many
women to identify with her and it indeed undermines the truth a rape
victim normally has to prove to demonstrate her innocence—that she was
not “asking for it.”12
Whereas in the earlier flashbacks the audience is likely to see Maria
Cecília as a victim and support her cause while despising the rapists’ bru-
tal actions, in the flashback that shows the true version of events one sees
88    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

a “perverted” femme fatale who makes the man who loves her, Peixoto,
suffer. This is illustrated by her demanding that he stays and watches
her being violated. Her sexual behavior also leaves the five black rapists
uneasy with her voracity and her “shameless” sexual acts, which shows
that the “innocent girl” from a well-off family can and does play dirty. It
also demonstrates that behavior the patriarchal society commonly asso-
ciates with a prostitute or a vagabunda (slut) is also adopted by a woman
belonging to the dominant class and is not restricted to working-class
women (e.g., Ritinha), as is constructed in patriarchy’s social imaginary
and repeated in different Brazilian films.13 Chediak’s film indicates that
these roles (“innocent” and “vagabunda”) derive from the characters’ acts
and thus are performatively constituted. It is through the characters’ rep-
etition of acts that are associated with hegemonic roles and are ingrained
in the patriarchal imaginary that their gender and sexual identities are
scrutinized.

The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy and the Threat


of Class Destabilization

The virgin/whore dichotomy is established early on in Bonitinha mas


ordinária and is the main topic around which the primary storyline
develops. Hence, unlike most of the films discussed in this book, this
film retains the “good and bad women” pair that is staple in film noir. The
teenage femme fatale’s first name, Maria, is significant as it associates her
with the Virgin Mary who symbolizes purity and chastity in Catholicism;
however, Maria Cecília’s behavior opposes what one would expect from
this association, which is an indication of the dichotomy she represents.
The views of female virginity and the turning of a woman into a whore on
losing it (in patriarchal society’s imaginary) are explored and contrasted
throughout the film. It engages with portrayals of two kinds of whore:
the “willing whore,” Maria Cecília, and the one who becomes one out of
necessity, Ritinha.
These two portrayals show a relationship between social class and
sexuality in patriarchy’s social imaginary. The femme fatale’s behavior
in Chediak’s film goes against the role of an upper-class woman within
patriarchal law. As already mentioned, she behaves like a “working-class
woman” and she uses “dirty” language. Her “degenerate” behavior is
likely to cause a frisson among the audience—particularly the heterosex-
ual males (especially at the time the film was released)—because her sex-
ual advances and dirty words challenge the hegemonic patriarchal roles
imposed on women: she looks like a lady but acts like a “whore.” This is
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    89

best illustrated in the language Maria Cecília uses in the rape scene at the
end of the film (e.g., “Fuck me, nigger!”) and her domineering behavior
toward men, which hint at this lady/whore fusion. The femme fatale takes
advantage of men sexually and acts like a predator. Her nails (or “feline
claws”) symbolize this when she scratches the chest of one of the “rap-
ists” (see figures 3.1 and 3.2), which is a common feature in contemporary

Figure 3.1 

Figure 3.2 
90    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

films depicting the new femme fatale.14 Her “savage” nature reinforces
this as does her opening of the same man’s trousers, especially because
these leave the male uneasy. The rapists’ behavior was, nevertheless,
the opposite in the previous flashbacks: they were in control and Maria
Cecília was the victim.
It is this kind of predatory and controlling behavior that makes the
new femme fatale so wanted and desired by her male counterparts in con-
temporary films. This is confirmed by the men adopting, to some extent,
a masochistic position in the relationship with the femme fatale. Maria
Cecília, for example, is strong and domineering, and she knows how to
bring men to their knees. Nevertheless, her dirty and shameless behav-
ior is hidden behind her class status, which plays an important role in
the way society sees her. Even Ritinha, who is poor and working class,
thinks that sexual behavior associated with the “impurity” of the prosti-
tute is normal only for women like herself (she assures Edgar of this when
they have sex in a cemetery). She thinks that Cecília deserves Edgar’s love
because in her mind the rich girl is pure. But such a perception is an issue
of social class.
Furthermore, the film shows that Ritinha’s “impurity”—or vagabund-
agem (“slutiness”), as she refers to it—is a consequence of gender and
class exploitation, which is a key feature of Rodrigues’s plays. In them,
Fofonca argues, the playwright shows the contrasts between the bour-
geoisie and the Carioca suburban middle class. For Fofonca, “They are
bourgeois people who use the power they have to corrupt and humiliate
everyone; and they are middle-class parents who prostitute their daugh-
ters so that they can maintain their mediocre status” (213). Ritinha is an
example of this exploitation. She became a prostitute after her mother’s
former boss sexually abused her in exchange for not putting her mother
in prison. Once Ritinha lost her virginity, she embraced prostitution as
she became the breadwinner in her house because of her mother’s men-
tal illness. Thus, once she starts depending on the patriarchal economic
power to give her family financial stability, she is left with “little alterna-
tive but to manipulate bourgeois social codes in order to empower [her-
self]” (Hedgecock 111). In addition, Ritinha says that everything she has
done was to prevent her sisters from also having to prostitute themselves
so that they can marry as a virgin—an important quality for a working-
class girl if she wants to find a “good” husband within this patriarchal
society. The audience is likely to sympathize with her by the end of the
film when realizing that she has been a victim of gender and class exploi-
tation. But it is only at this stage that the attention shifts from her to
Maria Cecília. That is, from the outset of the film, Ritinha is constructed
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    91

as a “potential slut” and perhaps a femme fatale: she is blonde as the tra-
ditional femme fatale is; her body is on display constantly; she has sex
in a public space—a cemetery; she dresses provocatively (all these are
features explored in contemporary cinematic depictions of the femme
fatale); and she catches a ride with a man (Edgar) in his car, during which
he rapes her.
Maria Cecília’s behavior, on the other hand, hints at her possibly being
the girl to whom the film title refers, but this occurs only later in the film.
She acts in a way that crosses class and gender boundaries, and she adopts
behavior that one would not expect from a teenage girl belonging to such
a family in the conservative Brazilian society of that time (at least in its
social imaginary). She is likely to attract some pity from the audience in
the first flashbacks of the rape as these show the violence to which she has
been subjected, and her condition of victim is amplified by her mother’s
affirmation: “There has never been a girl more a virgin than my daugh-
ter!” However, by planning her own rape Maria Cecília shows how “dirty”
she is (“more of a whore than . . . ,” as Peixoto says). She also crosses class
boundaries as she goes to the abandoned location to be raped and this
place distances her from the elite’s territory. Because she behaves as she
does, it can be argued that Cecília has agency, especially as she manages
to fulfill her sexual fantasy.15 When her hidden transgression is exposed,
one sees that her sexual behavior challenges the patriarchal control over
women that represses and commodifies female sexual desire while deny-
ing women agency. The femme fatale’s behavior goes against the grain as
rape is mostly seen as a way of “controlling” women and preventing them
from being “loose.” But her attitude is condemned and she is constructed
as a woman who is ordinária.
Additionally, Cecília’s behavior is condemned as it puts masculinity in
a delicate position. Her threat to patriarchy cannot be contained with the
usual method of marriage. She proves she is neither a fallen woman nor a
woman to be turned into the respectable patriarchal housewife. But it is
exactly because she does not fall into either of these classifications (which
normally categorize or control the femme fatale’s challenges to patriar-
chy and deny her agency) that she becomes a dangerous and irresistible
temptation who exposes males’ masochistic desires at the same time she
exploits them. But the ways she plays with men and their acceptance of
her domineering power costs them their manhood—she even manages to
cause one male’s death (Peixoto’s). Nevertheless, despite Cecília having
feminine power that goes against patriarchal impositions, it is the work-
ing-class passive prostitute “with the heart of gold” that the film con-
structs as someone with whom the audience should identify. By doing so,
92    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

the film implies that the dominant class has no moral principles and that
male power is also in decline, which is indicated mostly through their
sexual deviations.
Thus, the crisis of masculinity that permeates Rodrigues’s work, which
is illustrated in this film adaptation, symbolizes the crises of patriarchal
Brazilian society and the values it preaches. The femme fatale becomes
a logical representation of this challenge of the hegemonic structures
dictated by patriarchy, as happens in other patriarchal societies; that is,
a woman who is direita (honest) does not engage in sexual acts outside
marriage as the vagabunda (slut) does. Regardless, although perhaps
unintentional, the depiction of sexual acts in this play and in the film
adaptation points to female agency rather than objectification. That is,
the femme fatale has agency and by subverting traditional gender roles—
in the sense that she wants to be raped and that she has control over the
men—she becomes a “man-eater.”
The film additionally replicates Rodrigues’s work in terms of fam-
ily relationships. As Salem argues, Rodriguean families lay their hopes
on the youngest members who are the ones through whom the family
expects to have its values actualized and maintained. Ritinha is the best
example of this in the film. Her prostitution, to some extent, is justified as
she does not expect much in life, but she hopes to see her younger sisters
get married wearing a white dress and a veil (i.e., a virgin). But through
her own discourse one sees that she replicates the patriarchal view that if
a single woman is no longer a virgin, she is therefore a vagabunda, which
is again a staple feature in Rodrigues’s plays. This explains her efforts to
make her sisters behave and remain a virgin until they get married. As
with other characters in Rodrigues’s plays, Ritinha transgresses a patriar-
chal value by losing her virginity, but she does so for the sake of her family
and this reveals how wicked patriarchy is: it is because of capitalist class
exploitation that she transgresses patriarchal law as she has to pay off her
mother’s debts by selling her body (i.e., prostitution).
However, Ritinha’s efforts do not work out as she expects: her moth-
er’s house oscillates between being a family home and being a brothel,
even if Ritinha is not aware of it. This is suggested in a sequence in which
Ritinha is away and her sisters, a boyfriend of one of them, and her men-
tally perturbed mother are in the living room while a pornographic
film is been played on the television. This sequence shows that, despite
Ritinha’s dreams, her sisters are probably no longer virgins. Thus, as in
other works by Rodrigues, “Although there is a strong attempt to estab-
lish rigid borders between these spheres [the home and the brothel], these
borders appear, in reality, very tenuous and imprecise . . . the domes-
tic space is, sometimes, literally converted into a brothel” (Salem 558).
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    93

Nevertheless, the film develops the dichotomy “good girl” and “bad girl”
mainly through the portrayal of Ritinha and the femme fatale Maria
Cecília.
The depiction of these two female characters reflects issues concern-
ing social class and the consequences these have on representations of
women. The rich girl is portrayed as the “bad one” and the “whore,”
whereas the one representing the working class is portrayed as the “good
girl” despite her (albeit forced) “deviant” sexual behavior. And sexual
behavior is exactly what makes them different. The bad one chooses to
act the way she does, whereas the working-class girl becomes a sort of a
bad girl in the hands of patriarchy. Regardless, one sees that the poor girl,
when it concerns her beloved one—in this case Edgar—is portrayed as
someone who is able to offer a pure love as well as maternal qualities (the
latter is suggested by the way Ritinha acts toward her sisters). Although
in theory Ritinha is no longer a virgin, she does not make advances to
Edgar. Despite losing her virginity, she still maintains and replicates
patriarchal discourse about it, which has much to do with fidelity. That
is, just as the man who marries a “good girl” receives assurance that she
has not slept with anyone else and that she is to be trusted—similar to
the innocent marrying-type woman who normally opposes the femme
fatale, particularly in film noir—Ritinha reveals to Edgar that she has
never had an orgasm with any other man, only with him. By telling him
this she seems to be assuring him that she is, in a way, a virgin and that
she is giving him something no other man has received: her real sexual
pleasure.
Maria Cecília, on the other hand, is a prototype of a “bad girl” because
she initiates relationships, acts in seductive ways, and has sex before mar-
riage. This disentangles her from marriage in patriarchal society’s view:
she wants to enjoy herself and is to be married only because her fam-
ily decides she has to do so. She has affairs and is domineering over her
partners: she makes men act according to her demands and introduces
them to her “dirty” way of life. Thus, they are the ones who have to adapt
to her, not the other way round. Peixoto is the best example of this as he
becomes her sexual “plaything.” By portraying the “bad girl” as a rich
girl, the film shows that Maria Cecília engages in “dirty” sexual acts that
give her pleasure but put the moral values dictated by patriarchy under
scrutiny. In doing this, she is taking advantage of her family’s money and
her social position.
Safilios-Rothschild argues that in film “rich girls have always been able
to enjoy a greater social and sexual freedom, often equalling that of men,
without being stigmatised or having to pay any kind of serious social pen-
alties” (528). The author goes on to argue that an explanation for their
94    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

avoidance of such penalties is because the money they possess and/or the
high social status they occupy make them “attractive marital partners for
most men who possess neither or just one of the above” (528). Because
of this, Safilios-Rothschild adds: “While a poor girl can only offer her
virginity and her unconditional love in the marriage market the rich girl
can offer her wealth, a potentially more valuable asset, and hence does
not have to be a virgin or to love unconditionally” (528). Therefore, the
“bad rich girl” in Bonitinha mas ordinária who acts as a femme fatale uses
her class status—or more accurately, her family does—to clean up her
“dirty” behavior that offends the patriarchal family. She employs various
tricks to get the men and whatever else she wants. But unlike the bad girls
in Safilios-Rothschild’s argument, the Rodriguean teenage femme fatale
does not escape condemnation for her behavior. As usually happened to
the traditional femme fatale, she meets punishment and ends up being
killed.
Another important aspect concerning the “bad girl” in Bonitinha mas
ordinária is that she is the only opportunity for the male “hero” to climb
the social ladder. The film inverts the patriarchal gender model that has
working-class women as the ones for whom families are desperate to find
a rich husband, which is why they virtually offer their daughters to well-
off men. However, the film shows this from another angle. As mentioned,
the male protagonist is the one whose mother is desperate for him to find
a rich woman as she sees this as the only way for him to move away from
his current working-class position and avoid ending up like his father:
poor and an alcoholic. But despite his rather bad financial position, Edgar
does not compromise his moral values. His refusal to marry the bad girl,
therefore, suggests that keeping traditional values and marrying the good
girl is more important for him than climbing the social ladder and being
engulfed by the dominant class’s dirty way of life. This is also a reward
for the good girl who, unlike the bad one who plays around with men
and changes relationships almost as frequently as she changes her clothes,
remains faithful to the “hero”—her beloved one—and is rewarded for her
patience and for not relinquishing her love.
Therefore, by constructing the dichotomy virgin/whore, which is
represented by the working-class woman and the femme fatale, the film
hints at masculine fears and anxieties about women and, as indicated
in other contexts, such portrayals “definitely intend to discourage men
from getting involved with rich girls, who may threaten their ‘unques-
tionable’ masculine rights simply because they have a high (a higher)
social status” (Safilios-Rothschild 530). When a rich man ­marries a poor
girl, he is still in control according to hegemonic gender and class hier-
archies. On the other hand, if a poor man marries a rich girl, it is likely
Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy    95

that he will always be the dependent one—that is, a symbol of a failure


of masculinity in patriarchal society’s view. Hence, Edgar’s refusal to
marry Cecília avoids two “dangers”: of social class inversion and of put-
ting hegemonic masculinity under scrutiny. His decision keeps both in
place.
4

The Fetish “Dirt” as “Social


Pollution”: The Married
Femme Fatale in A dama
do lotação

T he married femme fatale is probably the best example of the chal-


lenge such a character represents to patriarchal law. She subverts
the roles assigned for women in patriarchy regarding both gender and
sex. She also deconstructs the notions of good and bad women presented
in film noir as her acts demonstrate that these are performatively con-
stituted constructs and that she can perform both. In other words, she
is simultaneously the good woman (as she is married) but also the bad
one (the femme fatale) because of her “dirty acts,” as evident in A dama
do lotação. The way the married woman Solange (Sônia Braga) develops
into a femme fatale in this Brazilian film shows that instead of being
born as one, Solange becomes one through the “degenerate” behavior
she acquires after getting married, particularly in relation to sex. But
unlike the married femme fatale often constructed in American cinema
who wants to get rid of her husband, usually by having him killed (espe-
cially the black widow), this Brazilian femme fatale shows no interest in
destroying her husband in such a way. Her acts are related to her identity,
and she wants to experiment and find the sexual satisfaction she does
not have at home with her husband. Solange shows that she has more
interesting things to do rather than wasting her time plotting against her
husband as the black widow mostly did. Like Maria Cecília in Bonitinha
mas ordinária, she adopts an identity to conceal her true self as she uses
her supposed “frigidity” to reject sex with her husband, even though it
becomes clear she is anything but frigid.
A dama do lotação was directed by the controversial former udi-
grudi1 filmmaker Neville D’Almeida. It was adapted from a short story
98    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

written by Nelson Rodrigues that was published in 1953 in the newspa-


per Última Hora. The film’s storyline contains many of the features of
the playwright’s short story and of his other works, including “deviant”
sexuality, betrayal, and masculinity crisis, among others—for example,
those pointed out in chapter  3. The film is about Solange who, after
being engaged to her childhood sweetheart Carlinhos (Nuno Leal Maia)
for years, finally marries him. But although Carlinhos had been eagerly
waiting for a sexual relationship with Solange—she marries as a virgin—
she postpones the consummation after getting married. This distresses
Carlinhos and he ends up raping her because she fails to fulfill her “mar-
ried woman’s sexual role,” and her refusal raises the question of whether
or not she is frigid. She then starts picking up men on public transport for
sex to find out whether or not she really is frigid as her sexual relationship
with her husband suggests.
A dama do lotação, deemed the “Belle de Jour of the poor” (J. Ferreira,
Com cortes n. pag.), a luxurious pornochanchada (Bernardet; Coelho;
J. Ferreira, Com cortes), and even a “papa-fila” (“queue-eater”) (Carvalhaes),
was very successful with the public. The film was one of the biggest box-
office smashes between 1970 and 1984 (Buckley). According to Neto,
6,509,076 spectators watched it between its release (1978) and December
1986, which made it the second biggest box-office success of Brazilian
cinema behind Bruno Barreto’s Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (Dona
Flor and Her Two Husbands, 1976) as this had 10,775,463 viewers. It was
also the first Brazilian film to be released at the same time all over Brazil
(Cambará). One of the adverts for the film says it was released in 80 of the
“best cinemas in the country.” The same advert also states Embrafilme’s2
interest in protecting national filmmaking: “We are occupying our space:
the house is ours” (Esta dama). Not surprisingly, the film was seen as “rig-
orously commercial” (De Faria) and received negative reviews from the
critics. For example, it was deemed “an intellectualized pornochanchada
or as another attempt to make the Brazilian Emmanuelle” (Filho n. pag.).
Consequently, as Dennison observes, because the film “was condemned
by serious critics on its release, . . . scant attention has been paid to it since”
(A Carioca 85).
The film was initially censored for its “adult” content. Jairo Ferreira
(Lixo de luxo) states that at least 70 cuts were made in it, but by its release
these were reduced to seven. According to Bernardet, the film was “ampu-
tated by some ten to fifteen minutes” (n. pag.). Needless to say, these cuts
also contributed to foster the critics’ bad reception of the film and the
view of it as a pornographic film. For example, the critic Carvalhaes
states in his review: “Each country has the hardcore it deserves” (n. pag.).
Another critic shares Carvalhaes’s view as he states that “the film is totally
The Married Femme Fatale    99

indecorous. It clearly disrespects all decency codes” (Filho n. pag.). This


is perhaps why from its release until 1993, the classification age for the
film was 18.
The director of the film seemed to anticipate the polemics and con-
troversies his film would generate as well as the comparisons that would
be drawn between it and Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1967). This is observed
in one of his responses to criticisms that stemmed from such compari-
sons: “If people wanted to see Catherine Deneuve and I frustrated them
because I brought in Sônia Braga, I have nothing to do with their frus-
tration” (interview with Stigger n. pag.). Regarding Solange’s sexuality,
D’Almeida argues that her promiscuity would surely shock the audience,
although she does things men commonly do. This is evident in one review
in which the author states: “The nymphomaniac on the bus would be the
most appropriate title for the film” (Filho n. pag., emphases added). But
in D’Almeida’s view, the shock of Solange’s sexual acts is more a result
of the character being a woman rather than of her actual behavior. As
he observes, “Our society accepts the male having a large number of
sexual relations with different women in a short period of time, but the
same does not apply to women” (qtd. in J. Ferreira, Com cortes n. pag.).
D’Almeida says he wanted to create a crônica (“short story”) about the
Latin American woman’s sensuality, especially about the Brazilian wom-
an’s, to show “that she is surrounded and massacred by scoundrels” (Com
cortes n. pag.). Nevertheless, according to D’Almeida, A dama do lota-
ção “can be understood anywhere in the world as it addresses a universal
problem: the woman” (qtd. in Redisch n. pag.). Redisch observes that the
film poses many questions regarding the issue of women’s liberation and
opens up some others: “To what extent is a woman free? Is there gen-
der equality? Is the woman allowed to manage her own life? Does society
offer the woman conditions to manage her own life?” (n. pag.).
The film generates controversies not only because of the main topic
itself—female sexuality—but also for the way it chooses to portray it. As
Buckley observes, the film undermines dominant ideology at the same
time it reinforces it; that is, the film can be seen as a radical text in the
way it challenges hegemonic roles through Solange’s acts (she does what
patriarchal womanizers normally do), but it can also be considered con-
servative if such acts are read as an objectification of women (as anti-
pornography feminists did about various films). The themes D’Almeida
explores in his film indeed reflect Brazil’s social context and the situation
for women in the country at that time, and this surely played a role in the
way the critics received the film. But these themes additionally expose
patriarchal hypocrisy toward female sexuality as the former dictates what
a woman can do and what she cannot do. For example, Dennison argues
100    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

that the film “could be seen as documenting the impact that moral hypoc-
risy has on a generation learning to live with abertura, or freedom with
restrictions (sexual, moral, and as an extension, political)” (A Carioca 91).
Indeed, the film’s success with the audience suggests this.
Although sex is the element that stands out in A dama do lotação, and
the femme fatale gets much of it, it is her supposed frigidity with her hus-
band that makes their relationship a burden to the male. The possibility of
Solange being a frigid woman who subsequently turns out to be a femme
fatale is considerably important as her potential “asexuality” goes against
the traditional conception of the femme fatale in cinema as a dangerous
sexual being. But as becomes clear throughout the film, her supposed “fri-
gidity” is part of her performance to reject sex with her husband rather
than her real sexual identity. Like Cecília in Bonitinha mas ordinária,
she performs an identity to mask the fact that she is a femme fatale who
brings distress to the patriarchal male. However, even if she were frigid
this would not necessarily prevent her from being one as although the
femme fatale’s power is mostly constructed in various cultures and repre-
sentations of her through her sexuality, the frigid femme fatale has been
identified in other cultures. For instance, Bell acknowledges the exis-
tence of the frigid femme fatale in British cinema. According to Bell, the
frigid femme fatale “is perhaps a peculiarly British phenomenon” (101).
The author goes on to argue that the femme fatale’s frigidity is a peculiar
aspect that differentiates her from the Hollywoodian (sexualized) ones—
the latter being the standard representation on which research about this
character concentrates—which, according to Bell, ends up being a limita-
tion in these studies. In her words,

Frigidity and pragmatism may seem the antithesis of the femme fatale,
but they point to a particularly British inflection of female sexuality, and
indicate some of the methodological limitations in deploying wholesale
a framework drawn from critical discussions of the Hollywood femme
fatale to another national cinema. (101)

Bell’s point is considerably important as it is because of the param-


eters that have been established for the femme fatale based on American
cinema that many World-cinema femmes fatales are overlooked or not
considered to be one—a fact that explains the marginalization of these, as
already noted in this book.3 Hence, the relationship between frigidity and
the femme fatale may be something new or perhaps, considering Bell’s
argument, just a feature that has not yet been looked at in detail. The
frigid femme fatale could be connected to British cinema in the period
Bell discusses (post-Second World War), but it would be a limitation to
The Married Femme Fatale    101

confine this type of femme to this one context only and take it as a “pecu-
liarly British phenomenon” without considering other representations of
femmes fatales outside the Anglo-American world and throughout differ-
ent historical periods, as the femme fatale in A dama do lotação demon-
strates. Moreover, the question is if the frigid femme fatale Bell identifies
is really frigid or if this is another mechanism she uses, as Solange does, to
play with the patriarchal view of women’s sexuality (i.e., if a woman does
not satisfy her male counterpart, she is frigid). Thus, it seems a defensive
mechanism the femme fatale uses to conceal her real sexual identity.
This reference to frigidity in A dama do lotação and other
­f ilms—especially those belonging to the sexploitation subgenre—is
­crucial as it represents a challenge to masculinity. That is, previous
decades (especially in films noirs of the 1940s and 1950s) had the overt
sexualized femme fatale whom the male fell for, but she was ultimately
dominated or destroyed. However, in the neo-noir films (especially from
the 1980s onward) there is another extreme: the “asexual” femme fatale—
the “frigid” femme (who reveals that she is not frigid as believed by males
in the films). Both cases imply male anxiety in distinct ways: in the first,
he was scared of failing by not satisfying the femme fatale’s voracious
sexual appetite, whereas in the second (which D’Almeida’s film exempli-
fies) he is the failure himself—he cannot arouse her. Despite this, in the
second case the male does not accept that he fails to give the femme fatale
what she wants (i.e., “modern” sexual practices); rather, he endeavors to
show that it is the woman’s fault that he does not turn her on so she is the
one who needs help (especially from a psychologist, as in Solange’s case),4
not him. Solange embarks on a search for help to discover if she is frigid,
which her experience with her husband suggests. The males she meets
are mere guinea pigs for her sexual experimentations and a means for
her sexual fulfillment, which is a typical feature of Rodrigues’s works. As
Salem points out, “It is only in the role of a lover that a woman is capable
of overcoming her supposed frigidity . . . and/or discovering her sexual-
ity” (553). But this is not confined to Rodrigues’s work as it was a staple
feature in different films at the time A dama do lotação was made. A good
example of this is Mulher objeto (Woman as Object, 1981), which has the
well-known actress Helena Ramos in the main role.
Solange, however, acts as if she were a nymphomaniac. She scours the
city, particularly its public transport, to pick up unknown working-class
men to have sex with in an “insatiable Carioca” version of Belle de Jour,
as Dennison and Shaw note.5 Through the depiction and construction
of this sexually voracious femme fatale in the film, “Female sexuality is
given the force of nature and is signalled as destructive, unbridled and
unhealthy, certainly when it is cut loose from socially acceptable avenues
102    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

such as monogamous marriage” (Bell 109). By acting in ways that make


her a “shameless” promiscuous woman (in patriarchy’s view), who hides
behind her “frigidity,” this Brazilian femme fatale transgresses “the
bounds of patriarchy’s definition of appropriate feminine behaviour,”
which gives her power but will subsequently leave her “alienated from the
rest of society” (Marambio and Rinka 181–82). The main thing the audi-
ence sees Solange doing is manhunting, which is an inversion of the patri-
archal womanizer role. But unlike Belle de Jour, she is sexually assertive
and domineering, and she does not fall for any of the men with whom she
has sex. Indeed, Solange controls all the males with whom she has sexual
contact. This Brazilian femme fatale becomes increasingly addicted to
cruising but this behavior brings about the downfall of her husband and
destroys her marriage. The significance of this femme fatale’s “dirty” acts
and those of other Rodriguean female characters is that their behavior
shows that “more than men, these women kill off any possibility of repro-
duction of the family itself” (Salem 560). The idea of marrying to create
a family as in the past is over because the woman wants sex merely for
personal satisfaction, which she finds through experiencing “new things.”
Her behavior, therefore, goes against the traditional norms associated
with marriage that Foucault points out. He argues that

Traditionally the connection between the sexual act and marriage was
established on the basis and in terms of the need to have descendants.
This procreative aim figured among the reasons for marrying. It was what
made sexual relations within marriage necessary. Its absence, moreover,
was what could dissolve the conjugal union. It was in order to take account
of the best possible conditions for procreation that certain recommenda-
tions were made to married people regarding the proper way to perform
the conjugal act. (The Care 166)

Solange clearly fails to comply with such roles. Although she gets mar-
ried and conforms to society’s ideal of a woman marrying as a virgin,
after losing her virginity (by her husband raping her) she becomes an
ambivalent figure as she is a married woman who also “acts like a whore”
(despite the fact she repeatedly claims throughout the film: “I am not like
the other ‘dirty’ women”). Such a duality shows that women “appeal to
the ambivalent, deeply eroticized power of a femininity that defies con-
trol by husband, marriage, domesticity, motherhood, and the standards
of respectability, propriety, modesty, and chastity” (Hayes 20–21). Solange
evolves into a sexually proactive being and her fatality is constructed
mostly in relation to her sexual behavior, which strongly suggests that
her frigidity is a performative act she uses to reject her husband’s sex
demands: she is frigid only with him.
The Married Femme Fatale    103

By acting the way she does, Solange escapes patriarchal control and
subverts what Willems observes about women in Brazil in the decades
before the film was made (around the year the short story A dama do lota-
ção was published). The author argues that Brazilian women were watched
by zealous parents or spouses and were supposed to “adjust themselves
to their domestic role and to limit their outdoor activities to worship in
church” (339). However, Solange’s behavior in the outdoors is much more
exciting than it is at home as a dutiful housewife. In the former, she lives
a life on the fringe and uses multiple partners to fulfill her sexual desires.
The femme fatale’s sexual acts are a clear subversion of hegemonic sex-
ual roles as she exploits the considered-to-be male prerogatives (within
patriarchy) that subordinate women so that she can turn men into her
sexual playthings. She becomes a cold femme fatale who shows no feel-
ings toward men, much to their disappointment. The best example of this
is Carlinhos’s closest friend, Assunção (Paulo César Pereio), with whom
Solange has sex. Despite the man believing she was in love with him, she
dismisses his expectation—as illustrated in a conversation the two have in
a motel6 (discussed later in the chapter). Moreover, the way Solange treats
males, including her husband, demonstrates, as other works by Rodrigues
do, that “the structure of ‘male domination’ (Bourdieu 2002)  suffers a
rupture that gives females the capacity to exercise the dominant power in
a given moment, relegating to men the role of dominated, in the figure of
the husband and lover” (Sales and Da Silva 3).
Solange’s involvement with her husband’s closest friend is consid-
erably significant. During a time of distress, Carlinhos confides the
troubles in his marriage (i.e., Solange’s refusal to have sex with him) to
Assunção. Carlinhos states that his own father and Assunção are the only
two men he trusts. To Carlinhos’s disappointment, Solange has sex not
only with Assunção but also with his own father. This recalls the obses-
sion with female betrayal repeatedly depicted in Brazilian films of the
1970s and 1980s, especially (but not only) in pornochanchadas.7 By por-
traying women’s experience of betrayal, such films seemingly informed
men that women had become “loose” so a husband should not leave the
home because his wife would put whomever she found—the milkman,
the taxi driver, the window cleaner, and male (or even female) in-laws,
among others, in their bed. Or worse than that, she would go cruising
in a city where the urban space would give her anonymity. This is when
the femme fatale poses a threat to the male’s masculinity “as he desper-
ately tries to ascertain whether she can be trusted or not—an ambivalence
that makes him both vulnerable and sexually paranoid” (Hayward 91).
This is strongly suggested by the fact that husbands hire private detec-
tives to find out whether they are being betrayed or not—a feature used
104    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

repeatedly in various films. Carlinhos becomes paranoid about Solange’s


“frigidity” and concludes that because she refuses him she surely has
another man. His quest in the film is thus to discover whether Solange
is faithful or not.
In the midst of his personal drama, Carlinhos goes to talk to his father
about his troubled sex life and reveals to him that Solange says she dislikes
sex. Indeed, when Carlinhos rapes her, she tells him: “I am going to be
violated every day. I do not want to sully my love with sex.” Nevertheless,
her statement shows that she performs the “ingénue type” (Bell 101)  of
femme fatale to avoid fulfilling the traditional sexual role patriarchy
assigns for a married woman as, outside the home, she “plays around”
with various men. Her refusal to comply with patriarchy’s demand for
her to have sex with her husband challenges the male authority because,
as suggested in Rodrigues’s plays, “husbands should be the bosses of the
family, and holders of authority in the home” (Sales and Da Silva 4). But
Carlinhos’s father assures him that it is best to have a frigid wife, and that
all wives should be frigid. He even tells Carlinhos that the latter’s mother
was not interested in sex and that she was a “saint” because she was frigid.
But the audience knows that this is not true as it is revealed that she used
to have sex with a female friend of hers.
The father’s advice intimates at the model wife patriarchal Rodriguean
males should seek  —the “impossible wife” or the Virgin Mary type—
because “Rodriguean husbands tend to impose extremely rigid limits
on what is sexually legitimate and permitted between spouses” (Salem
553). This is evident in A dama do lotação with Carlinhos not finding
out what Solange desires; instead, he wants to perform the sexual acts on
her that give him pleasure—in the “traditional” way of having sex (i.e.,
between a patriarchal husband and his wife). Solange, on the other hand,
shows that she is interested in more than this and that her husband’s “out-
dated” sexual behavior does not arouse her. Consequently, she becomes
an antithesis of the ideal married woman as she is “disobedient, defiant
of convention, sexual, subversive,” and she “displays the assertion rather
than the subordination of self” (Simkin 149).
Solange also undermines the roles patriarchy assigns to women by
refusing the housewife role (she does not perform any domestic chores
throughout the entire film) and she represents the most “up-to-date
female type” in social imaginaries: the subversive sexualized woman.
Although she occupies the position of a housewife through her mar-
riage, she shows no interest in acting as one or in receiving the label of a
“nurturing woman.” Unlike the married woman who opposes the femme
fatale in film noir—especially those responsible for rescuing the male
from his life on the fringe and bringing him back to the home after his
The Married Femme Fatale    105

involvement with the femme fatale—Solange behaves like the new mar-
ried women who show that they have “got better things to do with their
time than changing bad men into good ones” (Aronson and Kimmel 44).
Furthermore, the authors continue, “Women abandoned their role as
nurturing mother in their rush toward self-fulfilment professionally or
sexually” (46). Hence, Solange is a modern femme fatale with multiple
identities. She is a combination of the nurturing woman—she occupies
a position in the patriarchal household as a married woman (but only
in theory because she does not embrace the role)—and the sexualized
femme fatale who engages in free coupling for sexual satisfaction. Despite
being a wife of an upper-middle-class man from an apparently respect-
ful Carioca family, she pursues and gains sexual satisfaction only outside
her marriage, which is the behavior of a whore in patriarchy’s imaginary.
It is through her sexuality that Solange defines herself as a woman and
overcomes patriarchal power, which mirrors the point Salem makes, that
“the attraction of the ‘honest woman’ to the whore also evokes her desire
to liberate herself from family ties and from relatives in order to affirm
herself as an independent and self-referential being” (559).
Solange transgresses the boundaries of conventional family values
and acceptable sexual behavior, but so do the men who engage in sex
with her. However, unlike what commonly happened to the noir femmes
fatales, she does not “meet with . . . the most extreme punishment, [nor
do] the men who fall victim to her sexual charms meet a similar fate”
(Blaser n. pag.). Therefore, one of the features that differentiate A dama
da lotação from noir films is its “failure” to “reinforce the male-domi-
nated status quo family by destroying characters who threaten the estab-
lished ­order—particularly women” (Johnston, qtd. in Blaser n. pag.). In
the film, the femme fatale escapes punishment—as her “sisters” would in
the 1990s—but the leading male character (her husband) is punished (by
being symbolically killed—discussed in the last section of the chapter)
for his failure to reestablish patriarchal power. Consequently, once the
male, who is “delegated the role of guardian of female sexual morality”
(Salem 551), fails to control the femme fatale’s overt sexuality, she repre-
sents “dirt” and spreads moral pollution within the patriarchal context in
which she dwells. But this turns her into a “social fetish,” as I discuss in
the following section.

“Dirt” as Fetish: What Does a “Clean”


Lady Want with a “Dirty” Man?

Douglas argues that our idea of dirt “is compounded of two things, care
for hygiene and respect for conventions” (7). For the author, dirt essentially
106    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

means disorder. Taking dirt as a metaphor for social behavior that falls
outside the margins society establishes and enforces, one can understand
the effects dirt has on social order, especially regarding the moral codes
society dictates. Dirt damages the system of signification and breaks
boundaries that have been established and dictated as correct conduct.
This applies to Solange’s sexual behavior, which locates her in a “modern”
context of sexual practices in vogue at that time, at least in the Brazilian
social imaginary. Her behavior is alarming for society, as was the behav-
ior of other femmes fatales in film history who “have been identified with
the transformative depredations of the ‘modern world’, but which is for-
ever in danger of slipping from patriarchal control” (Andrews 68). Not
surprisingly, Solange’s behavior is utterly condemned by society as it dis-
turbs patriarchy’s hegemonic gender and sexual order.
The fact that Solange is considered a “lady” yet often uses public buses
indicates that something is wrong. That is, as she belongs to the dominant
social class she would not normally be a frequent user of public transport,
at least in Brazil. Hence, Solange is an antithetic body of signification.
On the one hand, she is “a lady”—well-dressed, clean, and married—but,
on the other, she is a representation of dirt because she is a sexual preda-
tor who uses public transport to transgress patriarchal law. As she repre-
sents dirt and consequently “social pollution [she] offends against order”
(Douglas 2). In Douglas’s terms, she is a “polluting person,” a person who
“is always in the wrong” as she “has developed some wrong condition or
simply crossed some line which should not have been crossed and this dis-
placement unleashes danger for someone.” Douglas goes on to argue that
pollution “is a type of danger which is not likely to occur except where the
lines of structure, cosmic or social, are clearly defined” (114). According
to her, society’s understanding of pollution is on two levels—one instru-
mental and one expressive. The first is relevant to the point made about
how the femme fatale and the idea of her being transgressive and destruc-
tive is spread and condemned in the social imaginary, especially in the
early representations of such a character, such as in film noir, where she
was often penalized for her transgressive acts. That is, Douglas argues that
the instrumental one, which she considers to be the more obvious one,
concerns how people try to influence other people’s behavior; it is con-
nected to beliefs that “reinforce social pressures” (3). An important belief
clearly connected to social perceptions of the femme fatale—especially of
the prostitute femme fatale and women as the “bearer and transmitter” of
sexual diseases—is that “each sex is a danger to the other through contact
with sexual fluids. According to other beliefs only one sex is endangered
by contact with the other, usually males from females, but sometimes the
reverse” (Douglas 3). Such beliefs are propagated as an attempt to contain
The Married Femme Fatale    107

the femme fatale’s challenge to society through her “shameless” sexual


behavior, as illustrated in A dama do lotação.
As shown in various films, to contain the femme fatale patriarchy
resorts to what Douglas calls “danger-beliefs,” because society’s ideal
order “is guarded by dangers which threaten transgressors” (3). However,
the femme fatale receiving punishment (from which the femmes fatales
Solange in A dama do lotação, Suzana in A dama do Cine Shanghai—
discussed in chapter  6—and various new ones in international films
escape) implies both male anxiety and that the same patriarchal repre-
sentatives who punish the femme fatale are as degenerate as she is or even
worse. As Douglas points out, by resorting to danger-beliefs to coerce a
transgressor, the person who punishes deviance simultaneously “fears to
incur by his own lapses from righteousness” (3). The author elaborates:

The whole universe is harnessed to men’s attempts to force one another


into good citizenship. Thus, we find that certain moral values are upheld
and certain social rules defined by beliefs in dangerous contagion, as when
the glance or touch of an adulterer is held to bring illness to his neighbours
or his children. (3)

Hence, constructing a femme fatale who is synonymous with “other-


ness” and dirt—a vampire, the black widow, the nymphomaniac, and the
dominatrix, among other variations in popular culture and cinema—
and exaggerating such things as her “fatality” is a mechanism to purify
society and demarcate its margins. The means of doing this is by pun-
ishing transgressions because, as Douglas argues, “It is only by exaggerat-
ing the difference between within and without, above and below, male
and female, with and against, that a semblance of order is created” (4).
Moreover, by being a transgressor the femme fatale loses her place in the
social system, which turns her into a marginal being. Because of this, “All
precaution against danger must come from others” (Douglas 98), that is,
from those who endeavor to keep patriarchal morality in place. However,
the contradiction in cinema is that the femme fatale generates fascination
exactly because she is depicted as a “polluting person”—her life on the
fringe is what makes her powerful and challenges patriarchy.
This fascination for her is constructed in the films by exploiting dirt
or “social pollution” as fetish, and is shown through many close-ups of
fetishistic props and the iconography of image. The femme fatale’s clothes,
makeup, and iconic cigarettes are a source of fetish and contribute to the
femme’s deadly status, particularly because they are important for her
seduction and “castration” of the males’ power (especially considering
that, according to Freud, fetishism is directly linked to castration anxiety).
108    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

In Mulvey’s terms, the fetish object “acts as a ‘sign’ in that it substitutes


for the thing thought to be missing, the maternal penis” (Fetishism 5).
Mulvey further informs us that “feminist film theory has argued that the
eroticisation of the cinema is a major prop for its successfully fetishised
credibility” (8). As well as this, Mulvey continues, feminist film theory
“has argued that cinema finds, not its only, but its most perfect, fetishistic
object in the image of woman” (13). Although on a visual level the points
Mulvey makes are true, one needs to remember that even if there is an
insistence on depicting women as a source of pleasure for the “male gaze,”
some film genres (particularly the ones related to sexploitation that are
criticized for the fetishization of women)8 indicate other things that go
beyond their main intention of providing pleasure for the male audience:
for instance, the male gaze strongly indicates anxiety (Da Silva). Hence,
instead of just fetishizing the figure of the femme fatale as is commonly
claimed, I argue that her causing anxieties, as past representations of her
did, indicates her power and the abject status she acquires because of this.
Her abjection is manifested in patriarchal society’s struggle to control
her, especially through its desire for her death.
The femme fatale in A dama do lotação is eroticized as she does things
supposedly to please the male voyeur, that is, the “male gaze.” However,
she cannot be considered to be merely an object-to-be-looked-at that
represents a fetishistic image for male pleasure because, like many of
the new femmes fatales, Solange is assertive, and clearly wants and
demands ­“to-be-looked-at” and admired, which causes anxiety in the
males. Being-looked-at and being admired give her pleasure rather than
make her a victim of patriarchy’s exploitative heterosexual male gaze.
Indeed, she is looked-at in a way the camera used to do in the past (e.g.,
through peepholes—as in sexploitation films), but in this case she is not
being “spied on” by a Peeping Tom: she knows she is being-looked-at
and demands it. Her castrating power shocks and scares the patriarchal
male characters, and to some extent the male viewers. This is indicated,
for example, in one review of the film in which the author states that
after watching the film he felt like “becoming a seminarian, a monk, an
ascetic, a hermit” (Vasconcelos n. pag.), all because of the femme fatale’s
sexual behavior. Moreover, the camera’s obsession with showing close-
ups of ­“male-fetishistic” props in A dama do lotação demonstrates how
these new commodities of the modern lifestyle, although being used as a
source of pleasure, leave males neurotic about anything the “new woman”
may do.
An example of this is the camera’s insistence on showing Solange’s
high-heel sandals (different ones of various colors), her polished nails
(especially in red), and her underwear (even when she is in the shop
The Married Femme Fatale    109

buying them), which can all be read as the filmmaker’s attempt to give
the heterosexual male audience visual pleasure. The other side of this is
that a woman’s commodities and desire to be beautiful and well-dressed,
instead of providing pleasure for the males (e.g., embellishing the home),
encourage the perception that the woman may be involved in something
naughty that threatens patriarchal power. Hence, fetishistic objects in the
film not only provide visual pleasure but also confirm the femme fatale’s
status as a transgressor. This is evident in the sequence in which Solange
removes her white panties and puts on black ones just behind a tree on the
street. The change from white (purity she brought from home) to “black”
(a symbol of darkness and perversion) also shows a rite of passage from
her status as a respectable wife (private) to her dirty behavior as a femme
fatale (public) that endangers patriarchy’s marriage institution. In addi-
tion, the material of the black knickers that the camera shows in close-
up when Solange is buying them in the shop is also very significant. It
resembles a spider’s web, which foreshadows the “black widow” Solange
symbolically becomes later in the film.
The femme fatale’s “polluting status” is further indicated by her “pub-
lic striptease” in which she takes off her bra while inside her car that is
parked in a place surrounded by passersby. Her “transformation” is com-
pleted by her putting on makeup before she leaves the car for her man-
hunting. Thus, by exposing Solange’s “dirty” behavior, the film implies
that if a married woman is disobedient to her husband (i.e., refuses to
fulfill her sexual roles) and starts dressing up too much, this alarms inse-
cure husbands such as Carlinhos and they may suspect that the wife has
lovers or is searching for one, which therefore generates anxiety in them.
Solange’s “dirty” behavior is, therefore, antithetic as it fascinates yet
offends patriarchal order. She becomes an agent of social pollution who
spreads “immoral” contagion around society as males cannot resist her
insatiable and demanding sexual voracity. She also acts like a dominatrix,
albeit without S/M paraphernalia, whose performance leaves no doubt
about her domination over men, as illustrated with her spitting into her
father-in-law’s face and slapping him when they are in a motel, before
mounting and riding him while he begs her “Beat me! Punish me!”—
although he tried to refuse her sexual advances up to this time.
Additionally, Solange’s performance indicates a shift in the way films
of that time constructed women: as masochists. She repeatedly asks to be
beaten and sworn at (“Beat me, swear at me!”), but this happens mostly
in her therapy sessions or as she speaks aloud while dreaming. However,
this is not something she creates. She explains to the psychoanalyst that
this is what she heard (when she was a child) a female beggar telling her
partner while they were having sex in the street. Her conception of sex
110    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

as dirty, she explains, stems from this “trauma” she experienced in her
childhood. Solange is beaten only once, by her husband’s former office
boy, because she forces him to do it. But although she demands that he
does to her what he does to his wife, the man fails to fulfill her request at
first. As he does not slap her properly, she slaps his face to show him “how
to beat someone.”9
Another important aspect of Solange’s acts, as mentioned in the previ-
ous section, is how she does not mix sex and love, unlike many women
in cinema—especially in melodramas—and popular culture. For such
women, sex and love always go together and this is “appropriate” female
behavior according to patriarchy. However, Solange scandalizes patriar-
chal Brazilian society by making a “shameless claim for the traditional
masculine privilege of sex without commitment” (Simkin 159). She
repeatedly declares that she loves her husband but she does not have sex
with him. On the other hand, she has no feelings for the men with whom
she has sex. The best example of the latter case occurs when she is with
Assunção in a motel. The conversation between them after they had sex
shows how the femme fatale separates sex from love:

Assunção:  It never occurred to me that you liked me!


Solange:  I don’t like you! Give me a cigarette?
Assunção:  So, why are we here then?
Solange:  Frigidity! I am frigid with my husband. I wanted to know if it was
only with him or with everyone.
Assunção:  Ah, an experiment! And I was the guinea pig. Now, tell me:
What was the result?
Solange:  You don’t hold a candle to my husband.
Assunção:  You make me sick, so sick!
Solange:  You are luckier than I am. At least I make you sick. I feel nothing
for you.

As is evident from these lines, Solange’s language denotes that she


rejects the hegemonic roles assigned to women by subverting patriarchy’s
stereotypical view that if a woman has sex with a man it is because she
loves him.10 This Brazilian femme fatale wants sex, and sex only, with no
commitment and no sentiment: she is, as the later femmes fatales are, a
proper “cold bitch”; but her behavior causes much anxiety. Considering
the time of the film’s production, 1978, this is even more significant,
especially with the apparent male neurosis about the “new woman” that
emerged—at least in social imaginaries—after the sexual revolution and
the ongoing feminist movements. Such anxiety concerned the assertive
and independent woman who was “spreading like the plague” through
society, challenging it in terms of claiming not only equal social rights but
The Married Femme Fatale    111

also her rights as a woman: a right for pleasure as an active person rather
than being the passive wife whose sexual role within patriarchy is for pro-
creation. Different films at the time were arguably a “backlash” (Faludi)
against the liberated woman as they promoted the idea that “feminism
changed good girls, innocent and pure, into worldly women—corrupted
by power . . . tainted by greed . . . , inured to the needs of their children.”
Worse than this, a number of them had “even become murderous”
(Aronson and Kimmel 44). For example, in A dama do lotação, one sees
in Solange a femme fatale who is a corrupt version of the girl who mar-
ries as a virgin and behaves as a faithful wife because she marries “pure”
but then acquires a “dissolute” life of sexual encounters with whomever
she desires. However, despite acting in a way that attracts condemna-
tion from patriarchy and makes her abject in her society, she expresses
and fulfills her “dirty” sexual pleasure with an attitude and no guilt. As
Simkin argues in another context, this married femme fatale is

unafraid of expressing and exploring her sexuality, and setting up very


different power dynamics in the arena where men and women battle for
sexual autonomy and control. At the same time, in an era that had seen
traditional models of masculinity fragment or shatter, it is probably not
surprising that the threat of the powerful, sexual woman should return to
haunt the . . . hero. (153)

Despite this, during the period mostly concerned in this book, the
femmes fatales tend to escape punishment (as Solange does) and the films
instead condemn the males for their weakness rather than the dangerous
women for the latter’s behavior. As Andrews argues about American soft-
core thrillers, many of the films of the 1970s and 1980s “focus on upscale
married women whose lack of fulfillment leads to adultery” (73).11 He
continues by stating that the films “underscore the risks of infidelity. But
they also stress that a lack of fulfilling sex is equally risky and they rarely
‘punish’ heroines for adultery, which distinguishes them from big-budget
erotic thrillers” (73). Still according to Andrews,

These softcore thrillers even make the counterintuitive suggestion that


infidelity can empower women to realize mainstream ideals. Adultery fre-
quently leads softcore heroines to the self-awareness and self-esteem req-
uisite to leave irredeemable marriages, allowing them to form more stable,
traditional love matches. (73)

Andrews’s view that infidelity can empower women is a positive way


to look at these films, which could be applied to films of other genres and
contexts, including A dama do lotação. There is a level of permissiveness
112    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

in such films in which women become free to make their choices instead
of being forced to be content with the roles patriarchy imposes on them,
especially regarding their sexuality. This is a change that differentiates
the new femme fatale from the traditional one as the latter either had to
redeem herself, usually by getting married, or was destroyed, mostly by
being killed, whereas the former tends to get away with punishment, as did
the softcore heroines Andrews discusses. Hence, the femme fatale subverts
the hegemonic social hierarchy and is arguably empowered by becoming
a representation of dirt whose acts simultaneously blur the boundaries
between the public and the private spaces. Nevertheless, her transgressive
behavior fascinates male characters other than her husband, and indeed
the (heterosexual) male audience, so it provides fetishistic pleasure.

The Public and the Private Spaces, and


the Making of a Femme Fatale

According to Hedgecock, private and public life “are divided by the


boundaries of the home” (135), which is evident in A dama do lotação.
Solange’s “dirty” behavior and her transgression of patriarchal law are
constructed in the film through the opposition between her sexual acts
performed in public and private spaces. This femme fatale violates the
home boundaries enforced on a married woman as she performs acts in
public spaces that patriarchy deems to belong in the private sphere. This
recalls the point Weeks makes that the freedoms of everyday life “are con-
stantly governed by a host of assumptions embedded in the practices of
public life about what constitutes proper behaviour, and these shape what
should be regarded as appropriately private” (Invented 135–36). Besides
this, Weeks argues that private life “has generated the social movements
around sex, gender, race, and the quality of life, which have significantly
changed the political agenda—and in so doing have shifted the boundar-
ies between public and private” (136). It is such boundaries that demar-
cate the private and public life that the femme fatale transgresses: she
finds pleasure in the public space, not in the private space as patriarchy
dictates. From the beginning of the film, the private space, represented
mostly by the home, is constructed as a space that is not pleasurable for
Solange—it is governed by the demanding male who wants her to fulfill
his sexual pleasures. Her pleasure is fulfilled mainly in the public space,
which indicates, as happens in various Brazilian films of the 1970s and
subsequent neo-noir American films, that this is a need the new femme
fatale has. She is not interested in or satisfied with dominating her male
counterparts indoors only; instead, she wants to challenge patriarchal
The Married Femme Fatale    113

society in new ways (e.g., by engaging in sexual acts outdoors), which


reasserts her power and protects herself against death. In other words, in
previous decades the femme fatale had sex with men indoors and ended
up being killed, whereas the new femme fatale performs her “ludicrous”
sexual acts in public but in most cases escapes death.
Besides connecting domestic and public spaces, the femme fatale’s sex-
ual behavior in A dama do lotação shows how different gender, sexual, and
class relations take place in both indoor and outdoor spaces. For instance,
outdoors the femme fatale has sex with men who are in subaltern posi-
tions (working class), whereas indoors she has it with men belonging to
the dominant class. This inverts common relations and scandalizes patri-
archal Brazilian society as the traditional pattern was rich men picking up
“subaltern women” such as secretaries, maids, and prostitutes (illustrated
in many Brazilian films at the time—as already pointed out in chapter 3).
Her behavior also subverts the saying that in Brazil “all is allowed ‘within
four walls’”12—that is, away from society’s eyes—because the femme
fatale finds all sorts of pleasure in the public sphere, whereas in the pri-
vate space not much goes on besides sexual frustration and patriarchal
subjugation of women. Moreover, Solange’s behavior mirrors the point
Roberto DaMatta (A casa) makes about the mediating role women have
in Brazil. According to the author, women are mediatrizes (“mediators”)
and as such they link the internal (e.g., the womb, nature, the bedroom)
to the external and “cause the desire that keeps everything acting against
law and order” (108).
Indeed, the married femme fatale’s transgressive behavior exposes the
private life of a couple undergoing changes regarding sexuality, but this is
happening only for one partner: the female, as the male is still stuck in the
past and out of touch with such changes. Carlinhos is neurotic about the
possibility of being betrayed and displays sexual insecurity and distress
because he does not arouse his wife. He blames Solange and assumes that
either she is frigid or she has a lover. Thus, the figure of the frigid wife
seems ideal for patriarchal husbands in such a situation as it allows them
to “control” their wives and it gives them reassurance that the women
will not stray, as Carlinhos’s father reassures him. Conversely, her sexual
behavior exposes the male’s weakness and fear of being betrayed. It is
therefore the “main deflagrator, or revealer, of the family (dis)organiza-
tion” and shows the wife’s “profound sexual and affective dissatisfaction
in the matrimonial space” (Salem 547).
Because the unfaithful married woman uses the public space as the
place where she finds pleasure, her behavior expresses “a masculine view
of female sexuality” and this is “a kind of signpost” that “can point to
male neurosis” (Martin, qtd. in Bell 107). However, the male does not
114    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

try to find out what gives his wife pleasure. Instead, he is interested in
satisfying his own sexual pleasure only, which contributes to his neurosis
about being betrayed. He is stuck in sexual acts that predate the feminist
and the sexual revolution—an era when a wife’s role in sex was procre-
ation and the fulfillment of male pleasures. This relives a time when men
embraced a “Virgin Mary” ideal of a wife who had no “sinful” pleasures
and was just a loyal housewife and a perfect mother. A dama do lotação
goes against this as it portrays a femme fatale who is a premature repre-
sentation of a postfeminist woman: she is assertive and despite her appar-
ent titillating behavior that pleases the camera and the (heterosexual
male) audience—the “visual pleasure” (Mulvey, Visual) of the film—she
controls both the narrative and the male characters, and she shows that
she wants ­to-be-looked-at. This cultivates her narcissism—her desire to
be seen as a “gostosa” (“hot mamma”), to use her own words—and con-
firms her power of seduction.
Solange wants males to worship her and give her pleasure, regardless
of their social class (although she is clearly more interested in working-
class men), marital status, and race. The film’s visual style contributes
much to these and helps to construct her as a powerful representation of
women. For example, the camera constantly shoots her from a low angle
and the close-ups of her face and hands (i.e., her “feline claws”) intimate
at her domination of males but also locate her in the private and pub-
lic spaces. When depicting the public spaces, the director insists on long
shots, especially of the city, and shoots from a bird’s-eye perspective. Such
shooting techniques suggest both the anonymity of the public spaces in
a big urban center—implying that the space contributes to the woman’s
behavior—and that Solange may be just one of the many “ladies on the
buses.” Additionally, the idea of the city as a space that contributes to
one’s performance of “dirty” public acts (as in Solange’s case) indicates
that it represents modernity, whereas the home stands for archaic sexual
morality. DaMatta (A casa) has developed a coherent argument about
public and private life in the Brazilian imaginary that illustrates features
relating to both spaces. Hayes argues that according to DaMatta,

There is a marked opposition in Brazil between the domestic sphere of the


home and the public sphere of the street, the world of the casa [home] and
that of the rua [street]. While the casa represents the orderly and civilized
virtues of the family, with its ties of affection, loyalty, and obligation, the
rua exemplifies an impersonal world of exchange governed by the laws of
consumption and desire. More than a zone of transit, the street is also a
place of immorality and criminality populated by prostitutes and pimps,
petty thieves and drugs. (10)
The Married Femme Fatale    115

Hence, the “new” women in the city are seeking sexual satisfaction
instead of continuing to please the patriarchal males by being locked in a
private space to fulfill their role as wives—so they subvert the construc-
tion of the city as a “male territory” that remained from Brazil’s colonial
time (Parker). Because of this, a conflict between the private (the home)
and the public (the urban space and transport) boundaries is established.
In this, the street (the public) represents the femme fatale’s immorality
and her challenge to patriarchal law, whereas the home is the place where
the fallen male (e.g., Solange’s husband) “hides” himself from patriarchal
society.
Most of Solange’s sexual acts take place in the public spaces, but she
also has sex indoors—in the motel. Nevertheless, a motel cannot be con-
sidered a “private space,” which is denoted in the film by Solange asking
her father-in-law what a hotel de alta rotatividade (“high turnover hotel”)
was. Furthermore, it cannot be classified as a “public space” either as it
is paid for and, although the customers normally have some privacy, it is
very risky for a married woman such as the femme fatale Solange to meet
someone in such a place, especially if her husband is suspicious of her
marital infidelity as he could easily follow her or hire a private detective to
do so.13 The motel, nevertheless, can be considered an “in-between space”
that serves as a “bridge” for the femme fatale to move from the private
to the public spaces. Such a possibility reminds one of the point Califia
makes that

[M]ost people who condemn public sex do not seem to know that the legal
difference between public and private sex is not a simple matter of choosing
either the bushes or your bedroom. There are many zones in between—a
motel room, a bathhouse, a bar, an adult bookstore, a car, a public toilet,
a dark and deserted alley—that are contested territory where police battle
with perverts for control. (74)

Solange seduces the two males her husband says he trusts—his own
father and his best friend—at the couple’s own home, but the sexual acts
take place only in the motel. This could be for significant reasons: first,
as already mentioned, Solange does not mix sex (dirt) with love so there
is a separation between the home (the clean space inhabited by those who
have married and formed a family according to patriarchal society’s wish)
and the motel (the “dirty” space with its high turnover of clients engag-
ing in sexual encounters—a place people like Solange who are infringing
patriarchal law frequent). Second, as she has sex in the motel, the “sacred-
ness” of the home is protected. And third, going to the motel rather than
having sex in the home is what the males prefer. For example, Assunção
116    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

first refuses her sexual advances and says that they are in the couple’s
house, an excuse that seems more because of guilt in betraying his best
friend than respect for the family as in the motel he has sex with the
femme fatale. Thus, the males show more caution, whereas the femme
fatale enjoys the risks as these provide the adrenaline that stimulates her
“basic instincts,” as do her “shameless” advances toward the two men in
her home. This is also similar to when she has sex in public spaces as it
involves the risk of being caught. Furthermore, her sexual acts in pub-
lic also fulfill the femme fatale’s need to show off her sexual power and
domination over men.
Therefore, the move from the private space (the home) to the in-
between space (the motel), then to the open public space (the street) and
public transport (the buses) plays an important role in shaping Solange as
a contemporary femme fatale who challenges the husband’s power, even
if he threatens to kill her if she betrays him. She ignores his threats and
continues spreading “immoral” contagion every morning—as she reveals
near the end of the film—by picking up men on the streets and on public
transport. Thus, instead of portraying the married woman in relation to
the private space, the film associates her with the public space, where she
is assertive and, most importantly, manages to satiate her sexual desires.
Her transgressive acts in the “in-between space” are similar to those of a
prostitute (from a patriarchal perspective), but they are not enough for
her. In other words, although she previously used a motel for her sexual
acts, it is the public places that give her pleasure, which makes her an even
bigger problem for patriarchal society.

Public Sex and the Challenge to Patriarchal Law:


The Femme Fatale as a Symbol of “Otherness”

The femme fatale’s “otherness” is manifested mainly through her engag-


ing in public sex. Solange’s sexual acts in the public space also suggest
that she is a “late representation” of the vamp, a common habitué of
early twentieth-century cinema, who was seen as a type of femme fatale.
According to Marambio and Rinka, the vamp became a common charac-
ter in North American cinema in the early twentieth century. The authors
argue that the term “vamp” comes from the word “vampire” and was used
to describe a glamorous and exotic woman who was considered to be a
heartless seductress. In A dama do lotação, Solange’s vampirism is sug-
gested mostly during her “shameless” sexual acts in public. Her behavior
during these, besides making her resemble the feared vampire woman
who symbolized abjection in popular culture, represents her “otherness”
to patriarchal society. Vampirism in the film is evident, for example,
The Married Femme Fatale    117

when the femme fatale has sex in a cemetery and when she has sex with
her husband’s former office boy. The statement she makes while walking
in the cemetery with a man she picked up on a bus connotes her status of
a “supernatural” being. She tells the man: “I like reading the inscriptions
on the gravestones hoping that one day I will find my name written on
one of them,” which would be impossible if she were alive. Her status as a
vamp is further confirmed by other props in the same cemetery sequence,
particularly objects normally used in films to destroy vampires (e.g., a
cross).
The iconography of image is crucial in this sequence and the editing
pattern in shot/reverse shot is also important. On one side of the frame,
Solange and the man are in a corner of the cemetery. She slides against
a wall like a snake and her mouth movements resemble those of a vam-
pire about to bite her victim, and she keeps ordering the man to continue
giving her pleasure throughout the sequence. The “biting” aspect of her
vampirism permeates most of the scenes in which she has sex (see fig-
ures 4.1 and 4.2). On the other side of the frame, shown in shot/reverse
shot, we see a large cross with bright lights in its background that is shot
from a low angle, which creates the impression of an exorcism of the vam-
pire femme fatale. We also see the statue of an angel, which is a symbol of
purity (in Catholic belief) and represents a further condemnation from
patriarchal Catholic society of perverted sexual acts, such as the ones in
which Solange is engaged.

Figure 4.1 
118    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Figure 4.2 

One important aspect of this Brazilian femme fatale’s vampirism is


the fact that she subverts the connection of the vamp to night and dark-
ness. As Dennison observes, “Solange continues her sojourns by day”
(A Carioca 85), which represents a bigger challenge to patriarchy as she
does not hide her “dirty acts” in the darkness; instead, she is a diurnal
vampire. Thus, she is presented as an up-to-date tropical reincarnation
of the feared vamp from the cold hemisphere that populated early twen-
tieth-century cinema. In addition, her behavior, especially her public sex,
makes her a representation of “otherness,” which recalls what Krzywinska
argues regarding transgressive acts. The author contends that

[A]cts and thoughts experienced as transgressive, whether in fantasy or


reality, lend substance to the cultural system through the placement of
otherness and difference. Transgressive acts or thoughts always carry with
them an excess (a form of over-determination) which both problematises
and reinforces the limits of cultural practices. (Cicciolina 190)

By engaging in public sex, the married femme fatale in A dama do lotação


challenges the boundaries of traditional morality and, therefore, becomes
abject. She goes against not only patriarchal law but also Brazilian law
regarding sexual acts in public spaces. That is, according to Brazilian law,

Adults engaging in sexual activities with other adults in a public setting


could be charged with “public assault on decency” for “offending propriety
The Married Femme Fatale    119

with shameless exhibitions or obscene acts or gestures, practiced in public


places or places frequented by the public, and which . . . assaults and scan-
dalizes society.” (Green, More Love 93)

Nevertheless, Solange is exempt from punishment for her public sexual


acts by her husband and by Brazilian law. She does break the law, espe-
cially in the cemetery sequence as people walking in a procession to bury
someone clearly see her having sex. The presence of the people recalls the
point Califia makes while defining “radical sex.” For the author, the pres-
ence of a third party “makes sex an indecent rather than a protected, pri-
vate act” (74); so Solange is a practitioner of “radical sex.” Califia defines
radical sex as follows:

By “radical sex,” I do not simply mean sex which differs from the “norm”
of heterosexual, vanilla, male-dominant intercourse. People whose erotic
practices are deviant do tend to acquire an outsider’s critical perspective
on marriage, the family, heterosexuality, gender roles, and vanilla sex. But
being a sex radical means being defiant as well as deviant. It means being
aware that there is something unsatisfying and dishonest about the way
sex is talked about (or hidden) in daily life. It also means questioning the
way our society assigns privilege based on adherence to its moral codes,
and in fact makes every sexual choice a matter of morality. (11, emphases
added)

Despite the term being applied mostly to homosexuals’ public sex,14


the femme fatale in A dama do lotação, from Califia’s perspective, is
clearly a sex radical. She defies the patriarchal marriage law that assigns
sexual roles to a wife and her acts suggest a criticism of the patriarchal
institution—the family—and the package that comes with it, especially
hegemonic gender roles and vanilla sex. Furthermore, the femme fatale’s
behavior exposes patriarchal representatives who are degenerate, perhaps
even more than she is. In other words, she reveals that those who preach
women’s honesty and respect for the home are nothing but “dirt” and
are similarly outside the margins they help to establish and endeavor to
maintain. For instance, the two men, Assunção and her father-in-law,
fail to follow the patriarchal social code: they do not respect Carlinhos
as one would expect. Of all the male characters in the film, these two
should not have had sex with Solange if they were concerned about fam-
ily values. They both help to destroy the newly wedded couple’s relation-
ship, even if the narrative tries to exempt them from any wrongdoing and
shift the blame to the femme fatale instead. Another important fact in
these betrayals is that although women got together to fight patriarchy
in the feminist movements, here men are not together for a cause (i.e., to
120    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

maintain patriarchal law)—despite many other films and much popular


culture indicating the opposite; instead, they are individualists who take
advantage of any opportunity to satiate their sexual desires. Solange’s
public “radical sex” thus questions the patriarchal system of signification
that privileges those who preach, or at least adhere to, its moral codes (as
Califia puts it), and sees the subject’s sexual choices through the morality
lenses that deem certain sexual acts taboo. This recalls Bataille’s argu-
ment that “the taboo is necessary to the constitution of culture and sexu-
ality and, therefore, for the meanings and experience of transgression”
(qtd. in Krzywinska, Cicciolina 206). Because of this, Krzywinska argues
that the

subject internalises social mores through the experience elicited from the
transgression of a taboo. The experience produced through transgression
is crucial for it to retain cultural currency, but transgression can also carry
within it the capacity to disrupt the stability of a given system through
the pressure of repressed desire which produces excess. (197, emphases
added)

So taboo and sexual morality are the establishing point of the moral
code created by society to limit what represents dirt and what falls
outside the margins of values established as “cleanliness” (Douglas).
Consequently, the femme fatale symbolizes dirt because of her radical-
sex practice, but she becomes a fetish through her very challenge to patri-
archal law—a taboo her masochistic male counterparts do not tire of,
as their continually subjecting themselves to her demanding seductive
power demonstrates, especially in her sexual acts in public. Public sex
takes up a considerable proportion of films portraying the new femme
fatale, which, unlike the looked-down-on sexploitation films of the 1960s
and 1970s, have had massive theater and video releases around the world,
as was the case with the American films Basic Instinct, Body of Evidence,
and The Last Seduction.
So what should we make of public sex and why do the new femmes
fatales such as Solange insist on acting as a “sex radical”? There could be
various answers to such questions; however, what is more important to
consider in this case is that such sexual acts indicate that the new femme
fatale is more assertive than she has ever been; that is, she has agency.
This additionally shows that she has not disappeared from popular cul-
ture and that she is an up-to-date subject who is “deadlier” than in the
past. Her radical sexual acts suggest that the moral codes used to contain
her in the past continue to be the same so they are losing their impact
as she has learnt how to deal with them and become more powerful and
The Married Femme Fatale    121

transgressive than ever—the code that had her destroyed and even killed
in the past is now mocked and played down. She knows how to escape
punishment and enjoy her most lewd pleasures as a sex radical.
By having public sex, the new femme fatale shows that she wants to be
seen (she “shamelessly” turns her acts into a public show that caters for
an audience) and that she is strong and can cause “mischief” for patri-
archy. She has developed and is more powerful in the postfeminist era,
she depends on a husband for neither financial survival nor sex, and she
strikes a blow to the patriarchal society that tried to tame her and return
her to the place it deems her to belong—the home. Her public sexual acts—
as well as exposing male weakness, her latent and “dangerous” sexuality,
and male infringement of the patriarchal code—are an indication of her
agency and that she is not simply the scopophilic object ­“to-be-looked-at”
(Mulvey, Visual). More than ever the femme fatale wants men “who
are not afraid of experimenting.”15 She is more ruthless than ever, as is
Solange, because for her sex is only an “experiment”—it has nothing to
do with love. Patriarchy previously made her a sexual being, and now she
uses this to assert her power, which recalls the point Žižek makes about
the neo-noir femme fatale exploiting the males’ fantasies for her own ben-
efit. Hence, if patriarchy wants to tame her, it will have to develop new
ways of doing so as the new femme fatale “likes to play games” with patri-
archal law. Indeed, her latent sexuality is a key feature in the films. As Bell
argues, sexuality is “the defining feature of the femme fatale,” which “is
‘perceived to be rapacious, or fatal to her male partners’” (101). Not sur-
prisingly, the sex-radical-Brazilian-vampire femme fatale in A dama do
lotação becomes a threat to society and ultimately destroys her husband
through her sexual behavior.

The Dominant Femme Fatale and the


Symbolic Killing of the Male

The way the male is ultimately “destroyed” in A dama do lotação is


very significant. Carlinhos becomes neurotic because of his suspicion
of Solange’s infidelity with Assunção, which derives not only from her
refusal to fulfill her sexual duties as his wife but mainly because he saw
her caressing Assunção’s legs under a table in a nightclub. Although
Carlinhos repeatedly says he will kill Solange, or even Assunção, his
behavior is rather passive and makes him seem an example of the con-
temporary “fallen male,” or the “sucker-partner” in Žižek’s terms, who
represents a redemption in cinema: he is in love with her so he plays the
patriarchal role previously assigned to women of trying to save their
122    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

marriage (as well illustrated in film noir). He suffers much because of the
femme fatale’s “indecent behavior.” However, despite declaring he would
take actions normally associated with males within patriarchy, such as
killing to “clean” the betrayed husband’s honor—implied by the phallic
gun he points at Solange’s face—Carlinhos adopts masochistic behavior
that allows the femme fatale to consume and ultimately “kill” him. His
masochism is particularly indicated by him confirming his suspicions
about Solange’s infidelities but wanting to know the details. He points
the gun at Solange’s face and demands that she tells him who was the first
(the one he will blame for corrupting his wife), which fuels his desire to
hear the details of her behavior as a sex radical.
By making his wife confess her lewd acts, he therefore “produces sexual
discourse whilst appearing to repress sexuality” (Stott, qtd. in Bell 111).
This is clearly illustrated in Solange’s shameless confession about seduc-
ing Carlinhos’s former office boy who asked her for financial help to bury
his dead son when they met on the bus. She exploited the situation and
made him have sex with her, which shows her narcissistic nature: even
someone’s death cannot stop her demands for sexual satisfaction. Her
confession is important in the sense that it furthers her status as the cold
femme fatale who cares about no one but herself and, in particular, ful-
filling her sexual desires. Furthermore, her confession helps to construct
a discourse about the new woman’s sexuality in an almost postfeminist
era in which women are assertive, know their bodies, and pursue sexual
practices that are intended to fulfill their sexual desires, unlike before.
It emphasizes that the shameless femme fatale must be punished as she
respects no conventions, contravenes the social order (especially by being
an agent that opposes the family and marriage), engages in infidelity, and
has sex with married men, such as the former office boy and Assunção.
The narrative uses the child’s death for the reason the former office boy
approaches Solange on the bus she is manhunting on—to ask for help,
but she shows no interest in this and instead puts her self-satisfaction
before anything—so the film suggests that such voracious female sexual-
ity needs to be contained and punished if patriarchal society is to preserve
its morality.
Nevertheless, patriarchal society fails in this as Carlinhos does not
punish Solange. Instead, he cries and decides to alienate himself from the
outside world by locking himself in his home and “dying.” Thus, this male
is no longer the tough patriarchal husband who does not accept being
betrayed and would even kill his wife to assert his power to society and
avenge his damaged honor. Such an outcome is emphasized in the last
visit Solange makes to the psychoanalyst in the film’s final sequence. In
the voiceover, the psychoanalyst tells Solange that she is normal and that
The Married Femme Fatale    123

the ill one is her husband, implying that he is not the “real” patriarchal
male who is in charge both sexually and domestically. Moreover, Solange
is never intimidated by Carlinhos’s threats and once he decides to “die” to
the world she acquires a new identity—the black widow (a very common
type of femme fatale present in other films). In the last part of the film,
she devotes her time to dressing in black and praying close to her “dead”
husband before going to the streets and taking “the first bus and getting
off with any man.”
The femme fatale in A dama do lotação, therefore, “resists the textual
eradication which Mary Ann Doane suggests is the ‘desperate reassertion
of control’ by the male subject” (Wood, Chiaroscuro 164). By adopting
“radical sex” as her new tool and showing that she knows the patriarchal
ways of controlling women rather well, she overcomes male power and
not only survives but also continues with her own “business” without
surrendering to patriarchal control. She ends up triumphant, defeating
“all attempts to contain her” (Simkin 162), which strongly indicates her
agency. Hence, this Brazilian femme fatale is ahead of her time consider-
ing the context in which the film was made as the feminist movement
in Brazil took place there much later than it did in the United States and
England, for instance. In other words, in this film one sees a femme
fatale who adopts behavior that would be associated with women in the
postfeminist era, at least in the sense of the sexually aggressive woman.
However, Solange’s case, unlike that of the postfeminist-era femme fatale,
is more about her sexual independence than any other aspect (such as
financial independence).
5

The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale


in As intimidades de Analu e
Fernanda

T he lesbian fatale became prominent in neo-noir films, particularly


in the 1990s. She is often related to violence and aggression, and
her sexual and gender identities disrupt patriarchal power; consequently,
she is seen as an “other.” In other words, her acts challenge hegemonic
binary constructions as they cross the boundaries patriarchy established.
By doing so, the lesbian fatale represents social pollution and abjection.
Thus, as happened to various femmes fatales in film noir, patriarchal
society’s main aim is to get rid of her so that the threat she represents
is cordoned off and hegemonic gender and sexual relations are reestab-
lished. However, through its very attempt to control the lesbian fatale,
patriarchal society exposes its weakness as it fails to contain her and
does not manage to “convert” her back to heterosexuality. The only way
to dominate her is primarily by having her eliminated for good (i.e.,
being killed), but death, however, indicates her (and the other femmes
fatales’) power rather than her weakness, as already proposed in this
study. This is evident in José Miziara’s drama/thriller1 As intimidades de
Analu e Fernanda.
The film tells the story of Analu (Helena Ramos) and Fernanda (Márcia
Maria). Analu is an unhappily married upper-middle-class woman whose
husband Gilberto (Ênio Gonçalves) cheats on her and does not have as
much sex with her as she would like (only on Saturdays—the “day of the
wife,” according to her). Analu decides to leave her husband to find hap-
piness (i.e., freedom and sexual satisfaction) and thus defies Gilberto’s
authority, despite his threat to kill her if she left. Through Analu’s behav-
ior Intimidades mirrors other films of the same period—particularly the
pornochanchadas—as it suggests that a sexually frustrated wife is a danger
126    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

to patriarchal husbands,2 especially those such as Gilberto who marry for


materialistic motives (Gilberto runs a company that Analu’s family owns).
On her way to a city (Ubatuba) in the interior of São Paulo state,
Analu meets Fernanda—an independent and assertive woman who later
reveals herself to be a (stereotypical and possessive) lesbian with whom
Analu ends up having an affair and exchanging love vows. However, as a
reviewer of Intimidades says, the film shows that there is something miss-
ing in the relationship: a “penis” (Ormond). Hence, a male comes between
the two and the trouble starts from then on when the film “leaves” its
melodramatic features behind and “turns into” a thriller.3 From this
moment on, the fairy-tale-like romance deteriorates and Analu experi-
ences Fernanda’s obsessive behavior that derives from jealousy. Because
of this, Analu leaves Fernanda and returns to her (unfulfilling) married
life in São Paulo. Fernanda, on the other hand, does not want to relin-
quish their relationship, but things do not go well for her and this “real”
lesbian character is killed.
The film received a mixed reception at the time of its release. According
to one review, the film was Miziara’s “most committed cinematic venture,
in which he sought, giving it the appearance of condoning the ‘porn’ vogue,
in fact, to build a serious drama” (As intimidades n. pag.). But others ignore
the achievements of the film and look down on it, as illustrated in a point
the film critic Avellar makes: “What matters . . . is not to discuss these films
as real films, as if they were freely self-determined things because, in fact,
they are all results of a particular context” (As intimidades n. pag., empha-
ses added). Not surprisingly, the film has been largely ignored since then
(as happened with hundreds of other films considered to be pornochancha-
das) and little can be found written about Intimidades besides some men-
tions in a few articles in blogs written by fans of pornochanchadas. This is
mainly for two reasons: first, and more importantly, as mentioned before,
the film has been deemed a pornochanchada. Such a label has contributed
to many films of that period being forgotten, which is explained by Avellar’s
judgmental statement that “the pornochanchadas’ spectator is not quite
interested in film. The cinema’s spectator is not exactly interested in por-
nochanchadas” (n. pag.). The second reason is that the theme Intimidades
explores, lesbianism, was considered (and still is to some extent) taboo in
Brazil. This influenced the film’s classification, which is evident in the fed-
eral police’s censorship document: “Because it deals with a sensitive theme
[lesbianism] the film seems more suited to an adult audience” (Parecer
4132). As a result, the film received an 18 classification in 1980.
A further reason to explain why the film has been forgotten concerns
the fact that many films of that time portrayed lesbianism for titillation
rather than to engage with the theme, as already mentioned, so they were
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    127

considered unworthy of serious attention. A feature they explore, which


Intimidades uses, is the fact that women have lesbian sex because of a lack of
sexual fulfillment with their husbands at home, which reflects the anxiet-
ies that gender politics was causing patriarchal Brazilian society. There are
various examples of films that have at least one scene of lesbian sex: Ariela
(1980); Giselle (1980); As intimidades de duas mulheres, Vera e Helena (Two
Women’s Intimacies: Vera and Helena, 1980); Mulher objeto; and Sofia e
Anita (Sofia and Anita, 1980). Moreno makes a comment that summarizes
how lesbianism was portrayed in Intimidades in comparison to other pro-
ductions of that time. According to the author, it is the kind of film “that
deals with lesbianism falsely, as was the case in erotic comedies of the
period—without showing, most of the time, any scene or comment on the
subject, using it only to ‘spice up’ the other scenes aimed at the heterosexual
audience” (85–86). Although pertinent to some extent, this is inaccurate as
the film does engage with lesbianism, but in a different way. However, it
repeats the patriarchal formula of dealing with the theme, as is evident in a
censorship document of the federal police: “Despite the exploration of les-
bianism, the subject is treated with some seriousness, without descending
into debauchery, offset by an outcome that discourages the practice of similar
attitudes” (Parecer 4190, emphases added). The italicized point concerns the
ending the film gives to the lesbian fatale as it confirms that she is abject.
In their reading of abjection in film noir, Oliver and Trigo (referring to
Julia Kristeva) raise various points about abjection that reflect the way the
concept is deployed in this book in relation to the femme fatale. The authors
argue that applying the theory of abjection to the films they discuss helps
to interpret “condensed and displaced figures of race, sex, and origin as the
return of repressed abjection, which is to say the return of repressed ambi-
guity and blurred boundaries” (xxxiv–xxxv). Moreover, Oliver and Trigo
conclude that these “sites of the return of repressed abjection challenge any
stable racial, sexual, or national identity by bringing racial and sexual ambi-
guity back into the construction, and process, of identity” ­(xxxiv–xxxv).
This reference to boundaries is key to the discussion of the femme fatale as
a transgressive representation in cinema, particularly when her acts inform
us about different issues that are linked to this representation such as gen-
der, sexuality, race, and social class, as already pointed out.
According to Kristeva, the abject represents all those things that do
not respect borders, positions, or rules (especially those established by
society), but it is, nevertheless, full of ambiguity. The abject is “immoral,
sinister, scheming, and shady: a terror that dissembles, a hatred that
smiles” (4). It is associated with corruption and perversion as it is based
on the logic of prohibition. Anything that “crosses or threatens to cross
the ‘border’ is abject” (Creed 11). For Kristeva, the abject is also perverse
128    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

because “it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule, or a law;


but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, takes advantage of
them, the better to deny them” (15). The author points out that corruption
is the most notorious socialized appearance of the abject and she further
contends that “the subject of abjection is eminently productive of cul-
ture” (45). Still according to Kristeva, as a representation of corruption,
the abject attacks religion, morality, and the law, and it is “integrated in
the Christian Word as a threatening otherness.” Because of this, Kristeva
says that “abjection persists as exclusion or taboo” (17).
The lesbian fatale in Intimidades is, from Kristeva’s perspective, a rep-
resentation of the abject because she represents (from a patriarchal point of
view) taboo, transgression, and immorality. As an abject the lesbian fatale
is eroticized, but her representation panics and confuses the borders patri-
archy tries to maintain through religion, morality, and the law. She breaks
“the major taboos set down by the laws of the symbolic order” and “demon-
strates the fragility of those laws and taboos” (Creed 40). Consequently, she
becomes a symbol of otherness and attracts condemnation for her behavior
because “disobedient, sexually transgressive women are monstrous in the
eyes of the patriarchy (if not the audience)” and are “aberrations associated
with witchcraft” (Simkin 201). This association of transgressive women
with witchcraft is denoted in Intimidades when Fernanda tells Analu: “By
coming out one becomes a witch. And people love witch-hunting.” So,
because the lesbian fatale violates patriarchy’s gender and sexual borders,
she attracts condemnation and her transgression of these reveals “how a
system is constructed” (Hart 98); that is, it shows how the patriarchal sys-
tem is constituted, particularly in its phobia and condemnation of those
who represent abjection. Moreover, she is abject because she “leads” Analu
(the “experimenting” lesbian) into a life on the fringe that goes against the
hegemonic gender and sexual roles that patriarchy dictates.
Although Kristeva develops her argument about abjection mostly
regarding body waste such as urine, menstrual blood, and the like, she
contends that the abject is also

what disturbs identity, system, order. What does not respect borders, posi-
tions, rules. The in-between, the ambiguous, the composite. The traitor,
the liar, the criminal with a good conscience, the shameless rapist, the
killer who claims he is a savior . . . Any crime, because it draws attention to
the fragility of the law, is abject, but premeditated crime, cunning murder,
hypocritical revenge are even more so because they heighten the display of
such fragility. (4)

Much of the author’s suggestions can be extended to cinematic repre-


sentations of the femme fatale, especially contemporary ones. The “new”
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    129

femme fatale’s abjection stems from her “social uncleanliness” or all that
results from her transgression of hegemonic representations of race,
social class, gender, and sexuality that disturbs social order and patriar-
chy’s social organization. Indeed, these transgressions are evident in all
portrayals of the femme fatale in cinema (but not necessarily all together
in the same representation), including those of the Brazilian “femmes”
discussed in this study.
In Xica da Silva, the black femme fatale represents the racial abject
who transgresses the racial borders of colonial Brazilian society. She has
sex with white, black, and mixed-race men, but what society cannot tol-
erate is the fact that she manages to enter the dominant class’s domain
and become a powerful and demanding black woman in the locale. João/
Madame Satã disturbs and confuses society by his abject (homo)sexual-
ity and criminality, whereas Maria Cecília transgresses the social class’s
boundaries through fulfilling her “deviant” sexual fantasies with men
in a lower social class than hers. Solange does not respect the borders
patriarchy imposes on married women and she engages in “dirty” sexual
practices (especially public sex) that make her abject. The lesbian fatale
Fernanda represents another type of otherness to patriarchy as lesbians
are “associated with a number of forms of abjection” (Creed 62), espe-
cially, and perhaps most significantly, because she simultaneously crosses
hegemonic gender and sexual boundaries —transgressions for which she
arguably attracts most condemnation. As for Suzana (discussed in chap-
ter 6), this femme fatale gets involved in acts that attract patriarchal con-
demnation for a woman. She “hides” her husband’s homosexuality from
society, she has lovers and she is involved in crimes—the last two often
being related to patriarchal males rather than to women. Hence, these
representations show a variety of ways that abjection permeates the films
and again show that the femme fatale cannot be defined as a single type,
even in a single context.
Furthermore, another argument concerns what the borders associated
with the abject represent. In order to understand this, it is important to
first locate the lesbian fatale in terms of social borders to analyze how she
challenges these. Such borders can represent “symbolic borders” (psycho-
analytically speaking) and physical borders of the material body because
she is “releasing” a desire (for another woman) that is abject to her biolog-
ical body, according to the hegemonic sexual roles that patriarchy propa-
gates. In other words, she is fulfilling instinctual drives in the form of
pleasures that are marked as otherness and abject to her identity as a bio-
logically born woman. Nevertheless, although these “dirty” pleasures are
deemed to be abject and are consequently condemned by patriarchy, they
play a role in the femme fatale’s constitution of her subjectivity, especially
130    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

as a lesbian subject. She creates her own identity as a lesbian by “releasing”


these desires that are alien to her “female” body, and indeed to patriarchy.
But this “release” can backfire exactly because it represents abjection.
As for Analu (the “experimenting” lesbian), she initially has the main
female qualities needed to secure her place as a member of patriarchal
social organization: she is heterosexual, married, and a housewife. But
she lets abject pleasures transgress her body borders in her quest for free-
dom and sexual satisfaction. Analu liberates herself—or the forbidden
desires “stuck” in her identity—by experimenting with pleasures that
patriarchy considers abject with the lesbian fatale. She overcomes her
­betrayed-married-woman crisis when she liberates pleasures (“ghosts”) so
far unknown to her. She only returns to her old self (the patriarchal wife)
through experiences that occupy the other side of the borders. Through
these experiences, she realizes that being outside her usual borders as a
married woman is more dangerous than being inside them and that being
on the outside actually restricts her liberation as a woman. Her “lesbian
desire” is expelled from her body and she sees it as abject. Hence, once the
abject craving for lesbian sex has been expelled from her body, she can
carry on with her life under patriarchal control.
So lesbianism, in a way, replaces in Analu’s sexual experimentation the
body waste to which Kristeva refers in her argument. She needs to get rid
of it in order to “cleanse” the patriarchal environment. This is suggested
by her killing Fernanda, which implies that Analu is killing the abject
in her own self, that is, the lesbian desire that disturbs her heterosexual
female identity and threatens the hegemonic model of the patriarchal
family she had embraced. But destroying the abject is not an easy task, as
it is repugnant but bewitching at the same time. It is a “ghost” that con-
tinues haunting its fascinated victims, such as those of the heterosexual
femme fatale. Hence, the abject, although showing its corruptible and
immoral aspects, proves to be irresistible. For example, Fernanda, who is
first portrayed as a caring and kind woman before her true sexual identity
is revealed, changes into a stereotypical psychotic and possessive lesbian
who poses more danger to a passive woman such as Analu than males
may do. The abject lesbian is therefore a contemporary representation of
the classic heterosexual femme fatale, as she also causes fascination but is
nevertheless deadly.

The Lesbian Fatale

The lesbian fatale is most often a sexually independent woman for whom
sex is an experiment. She gives no clear indication that she has a fixed
agenda or gender identity: she is surely not a slave of the hegemonic gender
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    131

binary. She also provides “visual pleasure” for the Peeping Tom protago-
nists in the films4 (and the [heterosexual] male audience), especially in
girl-on-girl sex scenes. But despite enjoying looking at her, male charac-
ters are rather uncomfortable with her sexual domination, particularly
when she imposes this through her “hideous” acts such as S/M, drug tak-
ing, and obscene language. Instead of being considered mainly a lesbian,
she is portrayed as gravitating toward bisexuality. The implication from
this is that she either brings danger and destruction to both hegemonic
genders (male and female) or refuses to compromise herself to be in a
stable and monogamous relationship with a partner from either gender.
Her rejection of a monogamous relationship additionally serves, in a
patriarchal environment, to confirm her degenerate and abject nature as
a being that is alluring but selfish: it is her satisfaction that matters so she
pursues this wherever, whenever, and with whomever she wants. But she is
not normally a feeble person who lives on the margins of society; instead,
she is mostly independent, occupies high positions at work, and is, of
course, beautiful (a quality films depicting the femme fatale equate with
evil). The lesbian fatale has much power and is a “total fucking [castrat-
ing] bitch”5 not only symbolically but also literally—she uses objects such
as ice picks and (pen)knives to castrate males who dare to challenge her
power.6 Fernanda encompasses all these characteristics as she has a house
and a car, and she shows her independence both financially (although the
film does not show her occupation clearly) and personally because she
protects herself against male violence, even if she sometimes becomes a
“mimicry” of it herself (i.e., she is violent toward another woman).
In constructing the lesbian based on stereotypical perceptions of les-
bianism in a patriarchal culture that sees lesbians as sexually aggressive
masculinized women, such a portrayal of the femme fatale in cinema
indicates a connection between “sex, violence and death” (Creed 59). This
threefold association has been constantly repeated in films depicting the
femme fatale: sex results in the death either of the hero or most commonly
of the “shameless” femme fatale. Hence, female violence is an element that
stands out in the representation of this new type of femme fatale. Her vio-
lent behavior makes her more contemporary and, as Tudor argues, con-
nects this representation of the violent and sexually domineering woman
to the women’s liberation movement, which “led to public fears about a
more aggressive expression of female sexuality” (qtd. in Creed 59). This is
strongly indicated by the boom of sexually aggressive women in different
film genres—especially lesbians and female criminals—particularly from
the 1970s onward, as already mentioned in this book.
Creed provides a discussion about the abject female killer that can be
related to the overtly sexual and violent lesbian fatale. She develops her
132    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

argument by exploring Kristeva’s discussion of abjection and its associa-


tion with sin. Creed argues that

The definition of sin/abjection as something which comes from within


opens up the way to position woman as deceptively treacherous. She may
appear pure and beautiful on the outside but evil may, nevertheless, reside
within. It is this stereotype of feminine evil—beautiful on the outside/
corrupt within—that is so popular within patriarchal discourses about
woman’s evil nature. (42)

In Intimidades, Fernanda seems to be a generous and good woman


when Analu first meets her as she behaves in a kind and helpful way. But
as the film develops, her acts expose her kindness as a masquerade and
the stereotypical lesbian’s violent and possessive behavior surfaces. She
shocks Analu with her aggression; consequently, she becomes abject to
Analu.
Fernanda’s “monstrous identity” that is revealed to Analu (and to the
audience) is constructed through her crossing the borders patriarchy
establishes that separate “those who take up their proper gender roles
from those who do not” and those “between normal and abnormal sexual
desire” (Creed 11). It is her identity as a lesbian, especially a fatale one, that
makes her an aberrant representation of feminine behavior within the
patriarchal society that sees her as degenerate, a monster, and, ultimately,
abject. These are exactly the deviations with which the traditional femme
fatale is charged. She is a body that incarnates all three features (degener-
ate, monster, and abject), but, controversially, these make her fascinating
and appealing to the patriarchal male and, as is the case in Intimidades,
to the daughters of patriarchy as well—or at least those daughters who
“defy” patriarchal power, such as Analu.
In Miziara’s film, the lesbian fatale is portrayed as a neurotic character
whose psychopathology is a consequence of her sexual identity and the
way she loves, which is intense and somewhat “sickening,” as Fernanda
herself confirms when she confides in Analu: “I know that what I feel
for you is a sickening love, but you are the one who stimulated this sick-
ness. You are responsible. Now, you are not going to give it all up and
just abandon me.”7 The lesbian fatale’s claim to the traditional right for
the romantic love that heterosexuals experience reinforces the hegemonic
articulation of a woman’s gender role (the obsessive one in a relation-
ship) and hints at the lesbian’s difficulty in finding love and her fear of
loneliness. The film, therefore, touches on different traditional social per-
ceptions of lesbians according to which, as Kitzinger summarizes using
different studies,
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    133

The lesbian leads a “lonely, difficult and unhappy life” . . . of “frustration


and tragedy” . . . troubled by all the “personal confusion, anguish and fruit-
less search for love which may be the products of maldevelopment” . . . :
“agony, sorrow, tragedy, fear and guilt of both unconscious and conscious
nature.” (100)

A point to consider from this research, though, is what differentiates


the lesbian fatale from the heterosexual femme, especially the one in
the postfeminist era. The heterosexual femme does not normally show
affection toward her male counterparts, which is the staple feature that
makes her an aberration for patriarchy—she has sex without love and
only for her own satisfaction, not for procreation as patriarchy advocates.8
The lesbian fatale’s behavior in Intimidades opposes that of the hetero-
sexual femme. Unlike the latter, Fernanda does not give up her love (or
her obsession) and she fights for her love until she is killed. She follows
Analu to the latter’s apartment back in São Paulo, after a cat-and-mouse
car chase on São Paulo’s roads, where she intends to kill Analu and then
commit suicide—a typical ending for many homosexual characters in
Brazilian films of that time.9 In the apartment, Fernanda points a pen-
knife at Analu’s face and tells her: “I told you I would search for you even
in the middle of nowhere. Because of people like you . . . we are marginal-
ized, disregarded, oppressed.” The lesbian fatale’s comment suggests that
she blames the patriarchal representatives for her psychopathic behavior
because they see girl-on-girl action as just a show to satisfy male fantasies;
for them, lesbianism has nothing to do with “love,” and it is not a proper
sexual identity.10 In other words, by showing girl-on-girl action, this film
suggests that “one can perform ‘lesbian’ acts without ‘being’ a lesbian”
(Hart 94), which reinforces the idea that gender identity is a performa-
tive construct. Following her previous comment in this scene, Fernanda
concludes: “Our sensibility is visible and intense. For this reason we love
more intensely. And hate more intensely as well.” These lines suggest that
a lesbian is someone extreme, that her behavior is a consequence of patri-
archal society’s attitude toward differences (i.e., lesbianism), and that
because of this patriarchy creates its own “visible monster,” the psycho-
pathic lesbian, but does not take responsibility for this.
Also important in this case is how this lesbian acquires an identity
of a particular type of femme fatale that would become prominent in
American films from the late 1980s—the “bunny boiler.” Bunny boil-
ers, Simkin points out, run alongside the other “dangerously seductive
women” and their “danger lies primarily in their obsessive pursuit of the
male protagonist—they are what Kate Stables refers to as the ‘psycho-
femmes’” (153). In Intimidades, one sees an obsessive lesbian fatale, or to
134    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

use Stables’s term, a psycho-[lesbian]-femme, who neither accepts rejec-


tion nor relinquishes the “heterosexual” female protagonist. She is will-
ing to kill or die for such love, which is a feature the film uses to show her
troubled psychological state.
Intimidades explores the lesbian fatale’s psychological state in a way
that ends up constructing her sexual behavior as a disease and a mental
disturbance rather than an identity. This strategy means that the film
legitimizes patriarchal perceptions of lesbianism as an appealing perver-
sion that causes problems for society by exposing its depraved and mon-
strous characteristics so that its abject status receives condemnation from
society. Furthermore, an interesting point to note is that when Fernanda,
in tears, gives her final verdict on Analu’s fate (“You are not going to be
with anyone else!”), Analu tries to persuade the lesbian fatale not to kill
her by explaining why the relationship did not work: “The problem is that
I cannot stand to live imprisoned any longer.” This is the means by which
patriarchy, represented by the film, averts a family model that is abject
and unacceptable. Nevertheless, the excuse Analu gives was exactly the
reason she first left home: she could no longer stand being “locked in
the apartment” without her husband’s “attention.” But after satiating her
sexual desire and discovering a new possibility for her gender and sexual
identities (“Suddenly we realize that the world is nothing like we used to
think!”), she returns to her womanizing husband and reestablishes the
acceptable patriarchal family model (i.e., husband and wife) and in doing
so belittles the lesbian relationship she had. So once lesbianism is assigned
“an inferior ontological status, the institution of heterosexuality is vali-
dated and reinforced” (Kitzinger 121). Therefore, although the film, in a
way, opens up possibilities for a different world that contains more than
two sexual and gender identities,11 it ends up confirming and reestab-
lishing the hegemonic gender and sexual norms that it deems acceptable
for Brazilian society, which often happened in American film noir. The
lesbian identity is, thus, rejected and seen as a representation of otherness
and abjection.
The lesbian fatale’s abjection derives from the lesbian becoming a
social construction of women, particularly in the 1970s, that is linked
to the independent woman who emerged with the feminist movements
and the sexual revolution; in other words, patriarchal society saw lesbian
“ghosts” everywhere, “hidden” among the feminists—the “man-haters.”
This echoes the point Hart makes:

Because signifiers of lesbian and gay “bodies,” as opposed to racial, eth-


nic, or gendered bodies, are less secure, harder to read, presumably less
fixed in a visible economy, the gay and lesbian affirmative slogan “we are
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    135

everywhere” must indeed seem ominous to the paranoid gaze that seeks
identifiable objects. (90)

In Intimidades, the lesbian fatale confuses the patriarchal gaze but the
film nevertheless confirms the patriarchal “thesis” that she is everywhere.
Fernanda is not a butch lesbian so she “passes” first as a heterosexual
woman. She also reveals her “passing” as a heterosexual woman when she
tells Analu that she has sex with a man when she knows he likes boast-
ing to his male friends about the women he takes to bed. Fernanda does
this for revenge, as according to her it leaves the male ashamed when
his friends find out that she is a lesbian. Hence, by rejecting this lesbian
part of her sexual identity, the males who get involved with her suggest
that Fernanda’s sexuality is abject, and like “a palimpsestic body,” it is
“seductive and repellent” (Hart 98–99). This is illustrated when Fernanda
seduces a man who chatted up Analu on the beach (I will discuss this
sequence later on) and takes him home but then changes into a “repellent
body” by acting violently toward him.
Another example of the abjection that the lesbian fatale’s sexuality
represents is in the way Analu’s husband reacts when he discovers that his
wife is having a lesbian relationship. He uses various lesbiphobic terms
to refer to Fernanda (e.g., butch, pervert), showing his despair and shock
in sensing that his masculinity is in check because of a lesbian. This is
illustrated when Fernanda tells him that she gave his wife what he had
never been able to provide: sexual satisfaction. The husband’s reaction in
this sequence suggests that lesbianism is abject because “abjection itself is
a composite of judgement and affect, of condemnation and yearning, of
signs and drives” (Hart 98–99). As such, lesbianism is a part of the wom-
an’s identity that the patriarchal male despises most, and it consequently
generates lesbiphobia. As Kristeva argues, the phobic “has no other object
than the abject” (6). Such phobia helps to destroy the abject lesbian fatale
because the abject challenges patriarchal borders and demonstrates that
they are not as fixed as they appear.
The film’s portrayal of Fernanda is a direct attack on the symbolic
order (its borders) that “highlights its weaknesses, plays on its vulner-
abilities,” and consequently shows that “the symbolic order is a sham
built on sexual repression” (Creed 41), which, in turn, destroys any pos-
sibility of a stable lesbian relationship. The patriarchal panic in this case
derives from the fact that Analu is married to a man and Gilberto thinks
he knows her as a woman more than anyone else; it is not conceivable in
the male’s mind that his wife is attaining her sexual satisfaction with the
social abject (the lesbian). To lose one’s wife to another man is a challenge
for the patriarchal male, but to lose her to a woman seems too much for
136    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

him to bear. The solution, therefore, is to have the abject lesbian fatale
removed (i.e., killed) so that his male power and the patriarchal family
are restored.

Disturbing Patriarchy and Challenging


the Patriarchal Family Model

The lesbian fatale, as indicated in the previous section, disturbs patriar-


chy in at least two ways. First, she challenges the hegemonic gender and
sexual roles patriarchy dictates to a woman. Second, she also threatens “to
seduce the daughters of patriarchy away from their proper gender role”
(Creed 61). Intimidades shows both of these. Fernanda seduces Analu and
takes the heterosexual married woman to a world that was unknown to
the latter. Their “love” story starts when they meet by chance in a café as
Analu is having an argument with the café’s male assistant who refuses to
sell Analu a cup of coffee because he has no change. Fernanda steps in and
pays for the coffee—a gesture that resembles the scenes of a man buying a
drink for a woman in films depicting the femme fatale, but in this case it
happens in an “inverted” way: a woman “plays the male role.”12 Analu is
so determined to have the coffee—she says she left home and after driving
far wants a coffee to keep her awake—that such obstinacy could be seen as
a metaphor for her desire to receive what she wants: sexual satisfaction.
Fernanda, on the other hand, acts like a “daughter of Eve” with the
apple, and by giving Analu what she wants, the coffee (“apple”)—like the
snake gives Eve the apple in the Christian Bible—she manages to slowly
“entwine” herself around Analu and finally seduce the married woman.
By doing so, Fernanda makes Analu commit the sinful act of betraying
her husband and experiencing sexual practices that, according to patri-
archy, are abnormal. The lesbian fatale, therefore, symbolizes temptation
because, as Kristeva suggests, “The brimming flesh of sin belongs, of
course, to both sexes; but its root and basic representation is nothing other
than feminine temptation” (126). This perception of women as temptation
clearly plays on stereotypical constructions of the femme fatale in patri-
archy’s social imaginary—from Eve and Lilith to more-recent cinematic
representations of sexually aggressive women, which in Intimidades is the
lesbian fatale. Fernanda seduces Analu and shows her a way to escape
the patriarchal oppression of women. But despite this outlet for women
to escape oppression, the film ultimately surrenders to patriarchal ideol-
ogy as it locates “an oppressive and outcast place for women” (Kaplan,
Women and Film 61). This is evident in Analu returning to her oppressive
home to reestablish patriarchy’s ideal family and the lesbian fatale being
removed from patriarchal society by being killed—a similar fate that the
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    137

heterosexual femmes fatales often met in film noir. Both femmes fatales’
endings show ways in which patriarchy deals with outcast women.
Analu’s feeling of claustrophobia is another way the film explores
women’s oppression. She repeatedly complains about it, either when she
is with her husband or after she has spent time with Fernanda, which
denotes that as a woman she is trapped. The film constructs this sense
of claustrophobia mostly through shots of Analu in enclosed spaces,
especially in her heterosexual marital relationship. At no time is she shot
in an open space while with her husband: all the scenes depicting them
take place in their apartment, which resembles the aesthetic of film noir.
However, as soon as she meets Fernanda she enjoys the outdoors—they
take a trip on a yacht and they go to the beach—and these scenes are
mostly shown in very bright shots in contrast to the noir atmosphere of
Analu’s previous scenes in her car when driving in the darkness to escape
home. This noir touch in the film is used again only when Analu experi-
ences conflicts with Fernanda. For example, the film uses dark shots in
the sequence where she sees Fernanda betraying her with the same man
Analu had previously met on the beach and she breaks down, which the
close-up shots of her face emphasize.
An interesting aspect of this betrayal, which Fernanda staged to
make Analu jealous, is that through it the film shows the lesbian fatale’s
­promiscuity—she has sex with whomever she finds available (which is
a typical behavior of patriarchal womanizers)—so yet again it plays on
imaginaries that view lesbianism as nothing but an “inverted copy” of
the heterosexual male. For instance, although Analu suspected her hus-
band’s infidelity, this is never proved to her—the film shows him having
sex with his secretary but only to the audience. However, in her lesbian
relationship, the film makes sure she sees her partner’s cheating, to show
her that a lesbian relationship is certainly not the solution for her exis-
tential crisis. Besides this, by showing that both the male and the lesbian
are promiscuous, the film decides that she is better off being with the
heterosexual male in the coupling pattern patriarchal society dictates and
indeed accepts.
The film constructs Fernanda as a vengeful, heartless lesbian fatale,
which this betrayal sequence illustrates (at least judging by her motive for
betraying Analu). It also exposes her as a danger to the patriarchal family,
and it alerts men and women to the lesbian fatale’s threat to both of them.
Fernanda’s behavior demonstrates that she is monstrous and this attracts
condemnation from patriarchy, especially because Analu is faithful to her
and seems to believe they could have a stable relationship—which makes
the aforementioned motivation and the betrayal even worse. The film
exposes Fernanda’s monstrous and aggressive nature through her being
138    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

jealous to the point of hurting Analu and, toward the end, even wanting
to kill her (as already mentioned), thus “equating aggressive women with
demonic women” (Finley 214). It is because of Fernanda’s betrayal that
Analu leaves her and this initiates the unfolding of the lesbian fatale’s
“monstrous” behavior, which ends in her own death.
Moreover, Fernanda denies the patriarchal family model by playing
down the importance of a husband for a woman. According to her, in
practice a woman does not need one; a husband, she says, is merely a jus-
tification a woman gives to society. She demonstrates this when she meets
Analu in the café and tells the latter that her husband is traveling so Analu
could stay at hers as, she says, all the hotels in the city are fully booked.
When Analu asks her about her husband the next day, Fernanda replies:
“I only need a husband to talk about him, otherwise society marginal-
izes me.” She then elaborates on her answer with a judgment on patriar-
chal society: “I find society funny. The word means union, but nothing
symbolizes discrimination more than society itself.” Many of the lesbian
fatale’s lines criticize patriarchal society’s attitude toward difference—
slightly echoing the educative aspect of many (s)exploitation films (see
Schaefer)—but the film itself ends up endorsing patriarchy as, at its end-
ing, it reinforces the message that people deemed to be outside society’s
margins (i.e., the abject) must be punished.
This same sequence also suggests that the patriarchal husband,
Gilberto, is unable to give the wife what she wants: sexual satisfac-
tion. Analu’s revelation to Fernanda confirms this: “You have given me
something that I had never experienced before,” by which she means an
orgasm. Such a declaration puts her husband’s male sexual prowess in
check (despite Gilberto being portrayed as a womanizer) and implies
that the patriarchal husband is the one endangering the traditional fam-
ily pattern because the wife wants more from sex than procreation and
satisfying him, but he does not provide it; she therefore looks for it some-
where else, as Solange does in A dama do lotação. Fernanda, as on other
occasions, uses the opportunity to criticize heterosexual males: “From
men, only expect pain. He subjugates you . . . , what he needs is the feeling
of possession, of domination.” Indeed, this is the view the film puts for-
ward. However, Fernanda ends up mimicking the very male behavior she
criticizes: she gives the woman pleasure, but in her attempt to dominate
her and make her stay, the lesbian fatale subjugates Analu when the latter
decides to leave her.
Furthermore, the film shows how the lesbian fatale disturbs patriarchy
by creating alternatives to sexual fulfillment for women that escape the
hegemonic roles society enforces. This is illustrated with Gilberto when
he discovers Analu’s whereabouts and wants to force her to return home.
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    139

His consternation on finding out that Analu is having an affair with


Fernanda is evident in the following lines:

Gilberto:  You two!?


Fernanda:  What is it? Is the poor husband shocked?
 . . . 
Gilberto:  Gosh! For God’s sake! But, this is not possible!
 . . . 
I would expect anything from you (Analu), except that . . . 
Fernanda:  Except that a woman would give your wife what you have never
managed to?
 . . . 
And you are the ones who want to marginalize us [lesbians]? (laughs) I am
above you! I am much more than what you are.

In response to this provocation Gilberto becomes aggressive and


tries to impose his masculinity through violence, and he starts insult-
ing Fernanda by calling her butch and a pervert. But Fernanda grabs a
knife and takes control of the situation: “Go be the boss in your house, do
you hear me? Not in my place!” Although the male’s lesbiphobic behavior
offends Fernanda, it is a rather strong indication of not only his weakness
but also his anxiety in discovering that he has failed to satisfy his wife and
has lost her to a lesbian. Arguably, his phobia is a self-defense mechanism
that surfaces when the aggressive lesbian fatale’s behavior indicates that
he is a womanizer, as the film has constructed him, but not as good a one
as he thought: while he is with other women his wife is being looked after
by a lover—but worse than this, by a lesbian lover. Fernanda’s aggressive
behavior in this scene also mirrors the reconfiguration of the lesbian on
screen in the period the film was made: as a “lesbian fatale.” However,
her violent behavior makes her abject as through this she challenges the
hegemonic gender roles patriarchy assigns to women.

Dismantling Hegemonic Gender Roles through Violence

Grindstaff contends that “most people see femininity and aggression as


mutually exclusive” (169). Such a perception is embedded in the construc-
tions of gender roles in patriarchy’s social imaginary and reverberates
“cultural standards” that “still equate womanhood with kindness and
nonviolence, manhood with strength and aggression” (McCaughey and
King 2). This construction of gender has been repeated in many films of
different genres, even in contemporary times. There are, however, films
that do the opposite, even if these still have a hidden patriarchal agenda
regarding gender roles. For instance, Aaron argues that Hollywoodian
140    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

depictions of the female sexual killer procure “a lucrative meditation upon


the evolving cultural climate where sex is increasingly associated with
risk, with death and with freedom and the place of gender within this”
(179). For Aaron, the female sexual killer film “can certainly be seen as
modern film noir” (178). Nevertheless, such depictions of female violence
seemingly remove a woman’s rights to femininity. The lesbian (fatale), for
example, epitomizes these representations of aggressive women in cin-
ema because “a woman who is perceived as aggressive carries with her the
shadow of the lesbian” (Hart 89), which therefore confirms her threat to
patriarchy’s hegemonic gender roles.
The connection between lesbianism and criminality has been explored
and debated in different studies of lesbianism in Brazil. Mott gives an exam-
ple of research on homosexuality and delinquency in a Rio penitentiary
that sheds light on the depiction of lesbianism in Intimidades. The author
cites work by Dourado, the chief of biopsychology at the Penitentiary of
Rio de Janeiro, to illustrate the negative and problematic ways lesbians
have been perceived in Brazil and the flawed imaginary about them that
has been disseminated in Brazilian culture, especially concerning the
connection between lesbianism and violence. In the example Mott cites,
Dourado argues that “numerous crimes are related to female homosexu-
alism [sic], not only directly but also indirectly.” In the first case, Dourado
continues, “we have murder provoked by morbid jealousy between two
women, when one of the two, not being able to stand infidelity or being
left by the other, ends up killing her” (Mott 57). Intimidades’s portrayal of
the lesbian fatale follows this argument but with a different ending—one
in which the “real” lesbian is the only one removed (i.e., killed) from soci-
ety, not the heterosexual woman who dumps her.
Therefore, the lesbian fatale’s behavior in Intimidades resonates with
the social perception of a violent woman being a lesbian. Fernanda is dom-
ineering and aggressive toward men and women. The risk of violence she
represents is a further matter of concern for patriarchy as she becomes a
castratrix who challenges the power of all males who have sexual contact
with her. And on this lays the real threat the lesbian fatale and indeed the
other sexually aggressive women pose to patriarchy—“not the masculine
qualities that these women have taken on in defense of themselves and as
a result of their objectification” but “the castrating power that they wield
as seductive objects” (Brown 67). The film constructs the lesbian fatale as
a woman who tends to engage in criminality and shows that the behavior
she adopts is a direct consequence of her sexual and gender identities. The
lesbian fatale acquires a duality in her performance of gender roles that
makes her doubly abject: she is abject for being fatale but above all for her
own identity as a (violent) lesbian, which is a feature even more despised
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    141

by patriarchal society. Because she is violent toward both men and women,
she displays behavior deemed to belong to patriarchal men. But despite the
lesbian fatale being seemingly constructed as a “copy” of the heterosexual
male identity, it can be argued that she does have her own subjectivity.
Salih argues (about Judith Butler’s work on gender) that lesbian identi-
ties do not replicate heterosexual identities; rather, “they panic them by
confounding the origin-to-copy/heterosexual-to-lesbian line of causa-
tion, thereby exposing heterosexual claims to originality as illusory” (119).
Furthermore, as Butler herself observes, heterosexuality “is always in the
process of imitating and approximating its own phantasmatic idealiza-
tion of itself—and failing” (Imitation 128). Additionally, she contends that
if heterosexuality “is compelled to repeat itself in order to establish the
illusion of its own uniformity and identity, then this is an identity per-
manently at risk” (130–31). The points Salih and Butler make are very
significant in understanding the lesbian fatale portrayal in Intimidades
as well as in other films. The lesbian fatale uses violence toward men and
women; her behavior demonstrates that the male/female gender origi-
nality that patriarchy dictates to both heterosexual men and women is
nothing but a fallacy: she shows that she can perform both genders but
does not embrace any as her “true” identity, indicating that the latter is
beyond binarian constructions. Her performativity of hegemonic gender
roles panics patriarchal society as she has sex with and is violent toward
not one but both biologically born genders.
The lesbian fatale, therefore, occupies a place (or, to be more precise, is
perhaps in limbo) within the regulatory boundaries of patriarchy as she is
“categorized” within such an environment but at the same time she rejects
any categorization. Patriarchy’s attempt to assign the lesbian a place sup-
ports the notion that “identity categories tend to be instruments of regula-
tory regimes, whether as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures
or as rallying points for a liberatory contestation of that very oppression”
(Butler, Imitation 121). Such regulatory mechanisms to some extent control
the lesbian fatale and other femmes as these representations of women’s
gender roles go beyond the two gender categories accepted under patriar-
chal law: the heterosexual passive woman and the domineering heterosex-
ual male. The lesbian fatale and the other femmes push these boundaries
and reject the oppression patriarchy imposes on women, so their sexual
acts and gender performativity are tools to contest the hegemonic gender
and sexual roles established as “original” and the model to be followed.
Furthermore, Butler contends that “lesbian sexuality can be under-
stood to redeploy its ‘derivativeness’ in the service of displacing hegemonic
heterosexual norms” (124). The lesbian fatale’s acts challenge such norms,
especially the conception of her being just a “copy” of the male gender.
142    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Instead of merely “copying” it, her gender performativity actually paro-


dies the heterosexual male’s gender role and it does so to criticize it. Such
a “gender parody” echoes Butler’s assertion that “the parodic or imitative
effect of gay identities works neither to copy nor to emulate heterosexual-
ity, but rather, to expose heterosexuality as an incessant and panicked imi-
tation of its own naturalized idealization” (129). For instance, Fernanda
adopts “male” behavior but she seems conscious of her appropriation of
this as she uses it for her own purpose and has it all under control. It is only
when she loses control of it and becomes a “copy” of the patriarchal male—
for example in her oppression of and attacks on Analu—that her “male”
behavior causes her downfall and leads to her subsequent death.
Fernanda’s performativity of gender in the film also reflects another
point Butler makes. For the author, gender “is not a performance that a
prior subject elects to do, but gender is performative in the sense that it
constitutes as an effect the very subject it appears to express.” It is, Butler
continues, “a compulsory performance in the sense that acting out of line
with heterosexual norms brings with it ostracism, punishment, and vio-
lence, not to mention the transgressive pleasures produced by those very
prohibitions” (Imitation 130). This applies to other femmes fatales as well
as the lesbian fatale, especially those from the neo-noir films. The fact that
they adopt gender and sexual performances that transgress patriarchal
borders implies that they bring violence and degeneration to their soci-
ety. These films more often portray visions “of sexually attractive women
skilled with weaponry, licensed to kill, beating up men,” which “might
rather take the wind out of the sails of the culture in which sex difference
seems unalterable” (McCaughey and King 6). Their transgressive behavior
is a way to experiment with prohibited pleasures, but these are the very
things patriarchy punishes to retain its borders and keep its hegemonic sex
and gender roles unalterable. An interesting example of this in Intimidades
is Fernanda’s domination of and attacks on the males. She does not sur-
render to males’ threats and attempts of violence against her; she keeps the
males under her control and “castrates” their male power, as her use of the
penknife connotes. This is illustrated when she seduces the man who made
advances toward Analu (as pointed out in the previous section). Fernanda
plays her femme-fatale role to seduce the man, but he has no idea that he is
being used by her to make another woman jealous. She, therefore, doubly
exploits him: for sex and to make another woman jealous. However, when
the lesbian fatale has achieved what she wants, she tells him to leave her
house even before they “finish,” but he refuses to do so and is aggressive
toward her. Not surprisingly, Fernanda takes her penknife and shows him
who is in control (see figure 5.1): “Look, you macho, idiot, imbecile! Do
you think I am one of these whores you are used to being with?”
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    143

Figure 5.1 

Hence, Fernanda’s acts show that her power is castrating. Her reaction
also implies that she either uses violence or else is a victim of it. As she
had previously told Analu: “Darling! We live in a jungle. I am no Gary
Cooper, but you either kill or you die.”13 Nevertheless, her violence has a
negative impact on herself and pushes Analu away from her: Analu leaves
her because the lesbian fatale mimics “male” violence and betrays her.
The “male” behavior she acquires is, therefore, what destroys her and the
possibility of her developing a meaningful relationship with Analu. In
addition, because her violent behavior disturbs patriarchy, the latter finds
a way to get rid of her.

Falling into the Patriarchal Trap: Mimicking Male


Violence and Meeting Destruction

As discussed in the previous section, the lesbian fatale’s violent behav-


ior causes her downfall. Her aggression surfaces when she sees Analu
being chatted up by the man on the beach. Up to then, the audience had
seen a benevolent and caring Fernanda who offered Analu what the lat-
ter desired: freedom and sexual satisfaction. Fernanda’s discourse and
behavior until then gave the impression that a lesbian is anything but the
stereotypical evil and violent woman constructed in patriarchal society’s
144    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

imaginary. This behavior challenges and denies negative social percep-


tions of lesbianism (such as the example in Mott’s study) and recalls the
point Sartre makes about “role inversion” in which “the person attempts
to demonstrate in her or his own behaviour that her or his group is not
what the stereotype says it is, e.g. Jews who are deliberately and overtly
generous because Jews are typically characterized as being avaricious”
(qtd. in Kitzinger 92). However, Fernanda’s stereotypical lesbian identity
is revealed precisely when she senses that her relationship is in danger
because of Analu possibly leaving her for a man. This is despite Analu
assuring her when they first met (in the café) that she would no longer be
involved with any man: “I have learnt one thing: another one (man) will
not have me!”
The iconography of image is important during the sequence in
which the man chats up Analu (when Fernanda’s violent and revenge-
ful behavior is also shown for the first time). It is edited in the common
shot/reverse shot pattern used in scenes in which femmes fatales seduce
their sexual counterparts. But in this case, shot/reverse shots are used
in a different way: to show the danger the lesbian fatale poses. However,
this sequence still relates to the scenes of seduction as it is during her
seduction that the heterosexual femme fatale first becomes a danger to
the males. Some props used in the sequence—especially a cigarette—also
incite Fernanda’s jealousy. For example, Analu lights a cigarette to smoke,
but the pushy Don Juan takes it from her while Fernanda watches every-
thing from behind a bush and concludes that Analu is enjoying being
chatted up. But, as the audience knows, Analu is not enjoying it and is
actually annoyed by the man. After making the wrong conclusion from
what she saw, Fernanda turns into a serious threat to Analu as the former
behaves like a vengeful bunny boiler—she inflicts physical violence on
Analu (she beats Analu later on in the film). Analu also becomes a victim
of rape because of Fernanda’s acts.
Furthermore, Fernanda becomes increasingly violent. She fails to
control her own behavior, as is evident in what she tells Analu: “Look,
I know that my jealousy is sickening. But any man who approaches you,
I will have him. Have you forgotten that I am beautiful?” Analu replies
by repeating that she is not interested in men (“And I am not interested
in any man anymore, remember?”), but Fernanda does not seem con-
vinced. Because of Fernanda’s treatment, what seemed to be a paradise
to Analu—an escape from the oppressing patriarchal environment that
her home in São Paulo represented to her—becomes a nightmare and
brings her a sense of déjà vu. Her psychological crisis that results from
Fernanda’s violent behavior toward her is evident in their conversation
after Analu was raped and Fernanda had taken her back home:
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    145

Analu:  I am feeling as if I were in a prison again.


Fernanda:  Stop with that! A relationship is not a prison!
Analu:  You are suffocating me!

Fernanda’s behavior, therefore, pushes Analu toward a nervous break-


down. Analu is so tormented by the lesbian fatale’s pressure that she
flees back to São Paulo. While driving back, the close-ups of Analu’s face
are interwoven with shots of her husband and Fernanda telling her that
she cannot leave, along with other shots of them slapping her. So both
relationships have caused her psychological stress, which becomes too
much for her. Hence, in exploring Analu’s psychological drama, the film
echoes Victorian conceptions that linked women to mental breakdown as
Jermyn discusses in another context. According to Jermyn, “The psychi-
atric profession of the Victorian era perceived mental illness in women
as being inextricably linked to their feminine nature, female bodies and
reproductive functions, rather than their social context” (259). The film
repeats this old formula as Analu has a mental breakdown because of her
feelings and her need to be loved, not because of her social condition as an
oppressed woman. But the film does note that women are unhappy being
at home, especially when they lack sexual satisfaction—a staple feature
in many pornochanchadas at that time. As a result, these women repre-
sent a threat to patriarchal society: they are not busy—Analu, Solange (in
A dama do lotação), and Suzana (in A dama do Cine Shanghai) do not
work—so they have much free time to engage in “naughty” things.
By showing that the unhappily married woman wants too much (i.e.,
freedom and sexual satisfaction), the film concurs that “the woman ‘who
wants it all’ is asking for trouble” (Jermyn 253). As happens with the males
who get involved in a world of violence and danger because of their rela-
tionship with femmes fatales, Analu has to be rescued from the lesbian
fatale. She does not want to relinquish her freedom for another woman,
and this endangers her:

Analu:  You two [her husband and Fernanda] are suffocating me. I cannot
stand this prison any longer!
Fernanda:  You little cow! I am going to teach you. I am not an object that
you use and then throw away.
Analu:  I want to be myself, to do what I want and not to be suffocated.

This conversation implies that Analu did what she wanted and experi-
mented with forbidden pleasures and acts, also that she is being punished
for her infringement of the patriarchal borders (gender and sexual) as
Fernanda will not accept being “thrown away” from the married woman’s
146    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

life. It is after this, and on Analu’s escape, that Fernanda’s obsession


increases and she follows Analu to the latter’s apartment in São Paulo.
The “heterosexual” couple’s apartment (Analu and her husband’s) is the
place to reestablish patriarchal law and eradicate the abject. This happens
when Fernanda enters the place and she tells Analu why she is there: to
end her own and Analu’s lives. To avoid being killed, Analu grabs her
husband’s gun, which was (intentionally) left in the living room (the
same gun Gilberto used, earlier in the film, to threaten to kill Analu if
she left him), and shoots Fernanda dead. Analu’s killing of the lesbian
fatale mimics the patriarchal way of getting rid of the dangerous femmes
fatales—especially in film noir (concluding that only death can control
the degenerate femme)—but this also denies her involvement with this
marginalized group (lesbians) of patriarchal society. This is illustrated in
the film when the neighbors, on hearing the shooting, come to Analu’s
apartment. When they see the dead woman’s body on the floor, they start
asking Analu:

Porter:  Did you know her?


Analu:  No! I’ve never seen her in my life!
Female neighbor:  She might be a burglar!
Analu:  Yes, she wanted to rob me!

Although Analu had previously told Fernanda while she was living the
dreamlike relationship with the lesbian fatale that she would not hide her
lesbian experience from anyone, this denial of Fernanda confirms the lat-
ter’s doubt that Analu would be brave enough to do what she says. Thus,
Analu’s denial of Fernanda represents a symbolic disavowal of belonging
to or even identifying with a group (lesbians) that represents abjection for
patriarchal society.
Besides Analu’s punishment (the dangerous lesbian fatale’s threat to
kill her), she becomes a victim of her husband because after she kills
Fernanda he takes her diary from her, which apparently contains infor-
mation about the dead woman, so that he can blackmail her. He gets the
telephone seemingly to call the police and denounce Analu, which terri-
fies her. But after doing this, he takes her wedding ring from his pocket
and puts it back on her finger, suggesting that the patriarchal family, with
the male in control, has been reestablished (see figure 5.2). As a reviewer
states: “Between men’s prison and marriage’s prison, frustrated, devas-
tated, [Analu] agrees to putting the wedding ring back on” (Fama Films n.
pag.). Furthermore, this reunion of the heterosexual couple also implies
that to be a lesbian is not an identity: it is a “phase” a woman experiencing
“mental stress” and confusion (as Analu was) goes through, but one which
The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale    147

Figure 5.2 

she can leave behind to continue with the compulsory female identity that
patriarchy enforces as correct for each biological sex. Hence, by reestab-
lishing the patriarchal family, the film confirms Analu’s heterosexuality.
Therefore, destroying the lesbian fatale and reestablishing Analu as
a married heterosexual woman conforms to patriarchy’s policy of gen-
der and sexual boundaries while echoing Hart’s point that “policing the
boundaries of the body is forcefully instituted by the naturalization of het-
erosexuality” (92). This is exactly what the lesbian fatale’s dialogue con-
notes throughout the film, and it is confirmed at the end. Additionally,
this also recalls Butler’s (Gender Trouble) discussion about patriarchy’s
policing and enforcement of compulsory heterosexuality. This “policy of
boundaries” is important to understand the lesbian fatale because such a
depiction of the femme is a more-recent phenomenon in cinema. While
in the previous decades the portrayal of the overtly sexual heterosexual
femme fatale was enough to represent women’s threat to patriarchy, at
the time mostly concerned in this research the lesbian fatale is the lat-
est metamorphosis of the femme fatale in cinema. Indeed, cinema cre-
ates representations of women that symbolize a challenge to society at a
specific historical moment (e.g., the depiction of the femme fatale itself).
By doing so, it shows that the femme fatale evolves and that she is a “per-
formance” that threatens patriarchal society’s boundaries, especially
those of hegemonic gender and sexual roles. Thus, once they portray the
lesbian as dangerous and abject, the films allude to “a masculine imagi-
nary’s equation of sex and death” (Hart 108) that enforces the patriarchal
148    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

construction of the femme’s identity as fatale. Consequently, it becomes


vital that the abject femme is punished and eradicated from society.
Nevertheless, doing this does not necessarily mean the abject is elimi-
nated for good because the femme fatale, like the “undead,” keeps return-
ing to threaten patriarchy, but she does so in new forms. The femme
fatale’s insistence on coming back echoes the point McAfee makes that
what is abject is “radically excluded but never banished altogether. It hov-
ers at the periphery of one’s existence, constantly challenging one’s own
tenuous borders of selfhood” (46). Analu’s killing of Fernanda suggests
that although she removes the lesbian’s material body, she cannot get rid
of the pleasures and acts deemed abject with which she experimented and
which now play a part in the constitution of her selfhood. She does return
to her husband, but who knows until when or whether or not she will once
again experience the pleasures he fails to provide her that are important
for her subjectivity as a woman. The film confirms that it is necessary to
ostracize the abject through its “removal” of the lesbian fatale at its end,
which means that patriarchy maintains its borders. Hence, by killing the
lesbian fatale and restoring heterosexuality, Intimidades reinforces the
view that “lesbian desire is deadly” (Creed 69).
6

“Quoting” the Film-Noir


Femme Fatale in A dama do
Cine Shanghai

A s argued throughout this book, although the femme fatale has


been linked to American film noir and neo-noir, she crosses bor-
ders, and so do these film genres as they can be found in different con-
texts with their own specificities. Guilherme de Almeida Prado’s film
A dama do Cine Shanghai is the best representation of the neo-noir
genre in Brazilian cinema and the only film of that period to directly
explore the figure of the neo-noir femme fatale, as American cinema did.
Being a neo-noir, this Brazilian film is one more of those films belong-
ing to the genre that make reference to and cite 1940s and 1950s films
noirs. However, it depicts themes that are symptomatic of contemporary
male anxieties, and this “updates” the genre. Such anxieties are caus-
ally connected to the “rebirth” of the femme fatale and her challenge
to hegemonic gender and sexual roles, which give the neo-noir films a
transnational status: that is, its features are beyond context specificities.
A dama do Cine Shanghai exploits film noir’s features and “quotes” other
films but mainly Orson Welles’s film noir The Lady from Shanghai (The
Lady henceforth). But as I will argue, it nevertheless avoids merely being
a “copy” of Welles’s film and film-noir features as it refers to American
cinema production only as a way to comment on these and criticize
the repeated clichés found in film noir. It portrays a femme fatale who,
despite resembling the American ones—especially in her look (unlike
the other femmes discussed in this book), is used to reflect on the con-
struction of this character in film noir. The film also implies that she
is an imagined figure—a product of a male’s mind, or even a symbol of
an “epistemological trauma” (Doane), which is evident not only in the
Brazilian film but also in the American one it “quotes.” Hence, as I aim
150    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

to make clear throughout this chapter, such similarities show transna-


tional features that are evident in noir and neo-noir films in their depic-
tion of the femme fatale.

Orson Welles’s The Lady from Shanghai

The Lady was produced and directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote the
screenplay and acted as the main character/narrator Michael O’Hara. The
film tells the story of Elsa (Rita Hayworth), a married woman for whom
O’Hara falls. Elsa is married to the lawyer Arthur Bannister (Everett
Sloane) who is disabled and looks much older than she does. O’Hara
starts working for the couple on their yacht while they are traveling to
San Francisco via the Panama Canal. While working for them, O’Hara
meets George Grisby (Glenn Anders) who is Bannister’s law partner.
Grisby suggests that O’Hara “kills” him (Grisby) so that Grisby can flee
the country and then claim death insurance. O’Hara accepts because he
has already fallen for Elsa and needs money as he seems to believe that
she will flee with him. However, Grisby is actually murdered and O’Hara
is arrested for it. Because his lawyer Bannister discovers O’Hara’s affair
with the former’s wife (Elsa), O’Hara sees little chance of escaping con-
viction. He flees from the trial and hides in a theater in Chinatown with
Elsa. By then, Elsa already had a plan to kill her husband in a way that
O’Hara would be framed for it, but her plan fails.1
The narrative of The Lady is difficult to follow, which is in line with
film noir. According to Pippin, “No group of Hollywood films demands
more sustained effort in this regard [figuring out what is happening]
than those that have come to be designated as film noir” (218). Because
of the complex narrative, voiceover narration is a key feature in many
films noirs, although it is less significant in neo-noirs. Welles’s film is an
example of the former. In The Lady, voiceover narration is crucial for its
narrative, for various reasons: the film’s running time was cut by about
one hour from the original and Welles was forced to insert as many close-
ups as possible of Hayworth to exploit her star persona (all done in the
studio as shooting was completed before this was enforced) (Robson).
The voiceover narration by Michael O’Hara pieces the film together,
or at least tries to, and through it the audience learns about the danger
of the femme fatale in a series of flashbacks. As Telotte observes, “The
voice-over, usually introducing and accompanying a flashback to some
prior action or event, is often seen as the most characteristic noir narra-
tive strategy” (14). In addition, Telotte points out that a voice in present
time “introduces and then comments on a scene from the past, so that we
see as if through the narrator’s mind’s eye. In this way, the narrative can
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    151

insert some significant information from the past or set up a context for
present events” (15). This is clearly the case in The Lady.
O’Hara’s narration of the facts is vital and goes beyond telling a story
to the viewer about events in which he was involved. It presents the events
as a recollection of images and stories of which the narrator may or may
not have been a subject. It also shows how he tries to understand his
experience and his failure to know the femme fatale. For Kaplan, it is the
woman’s unknowability in The Lady that “provides the very impetus for
the narrative: the hero’s task is to discover the truth about the woman, a
truth that constantly evades him” (Women and Film 62). O’Hara’s failure
to know Elsa constitutes a narrative problem in itself. If his narration is
compared with the action on screen, it can be inferred that he is an unre-
liable narrator. Many aspects of the femme fatale in O’Hara’s narrative
must be a product of his imagination as he surely was not present at all the
events he conveys to the audience. As Telotte rightly observes, “Michael is
supposedly trying to account for experience, to locate a meaning or pat-
tern in its variety and ambiguity. Included in that material are numerous
scenes he could not logically have observed” (62). This is well illustrated
in various flashbacks (the whole story is itself a long flashback) as these
contradict O’Hara’s “storytelling” in many ways.
The hero’s narration, therefore, questions the extent to which his whole
story is an accurate depiction of events or rather part of his revenge against
the femme fatale not only because he fails to know her but also because she
did not love him, as the end of the film shows: she wanted to frame him for
the murder of her husband. Her behavior confirms to him that she had no
intention of having a relationship with him, whereas he says he will spend
the rest of his life trying to forget her. Furthermore, the hero’s narration
reflects the chaotic environment of the noir world in which “absolutely no
one is capable of controlling their environment, thus making each’s battle
against their fateful demises useless” (Markham n. pag.). The characters
in The Lady, including the narrator, are part of this chaotic world in which
they seem trapped and to some extent self-destructing.
From the opening of the film, O’Hara’s narrative indicates entangle-
ment and regret. For example, he informs the viewer: “If I’d known where
it would end, I’d have never let anything start” and “some people can
smell danger. Not me.” These sentences confirm what Radell asserts, the
fact that The Lady is a film in which “the end of the story is known at the
beginning” (99). Through such statements, the narrator informs the audi-
ence about his bad fate at the outset. By doing so, he sets up the way the
information about the femme fatale will be delivered to and perceived by
the audience. From the start, the latter learns that the narrator has been in
trouble and that his relationship with the femme fatale is the likely cause
152    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

of this, which is indicated, for instance, when he says “but once I’d seen
her.” However, these assertions also reveal his weakness and failure to
accept responsibility for his involvement with the femme fatale. As Pippin
observes, when characters in noirs use sentences such as “I couldn’t,”
“I had no choice,” “It was my destiny,” and “Nothing I could have done
would have changed anything” as an excuse, “we often suspect (and we are
often right) self-deceit and a lame attempt to avoid responsibility” (221).
Indeed, what the audience sees the narrator doing is presenting a story
that makes the femme fatale more dangerous than she may be. Because of
this, the spectator may doubt if she is fatale at all and wonder if this femme
is merely a figure created in the narrator’s mind because of his apparent
anxieties and feelings of rejection. O’Hara’s problematic narrative stems
from his first narration in which he states that he was “out of his mind.”
Throughout his narrative, the themes recurrent in film noir, for example,
paranoia and revenge, emerge in the film—all because of his relationship
with the femme fatale. O’Hara’s statement that he was “out of his mind”
recalls what Telotte argues about the problem of unreliability in film-noir
narratives, according to which “we find ourselves placed not in a world
within which disturbing events occur, but in a world of disturbance—a
realm conjured up precisely because a mind is troubled” (57). The voi-
ceover narrator has time to (re)construct his narrative through his recol-
lection of the femme fatale after finding out by the end of their relationship
that she had deceived him. Hence, when he starts narrating the story he
has already experienced the end of it. It is, therefore, not surprising that he
manipulates it to serve his own purposes, but this is not done impartially.
As well as the film’s narrative, the iconography of image and the visual
style also play an important role in the portrayal of Elsa as a femme fatale.
The iconography of image is constituted by the way Elsa dresses, her short
blonde hair, her makeup, and her jewelry. She also carries a gun in her hand-
bag, a prop the femme fatale in film noir uses (the “compensation” for her
“lack,” in psychoanalytical terms). Regarding the visual style, the film applies
features common in other films noirs, which according to Spicer consist of

images of the dark, night-time city, its streets damp with rain which reflects
the flashing neon signs. Its sleazy milieu of claustrophobic alleyways and
deserted docklands alternates with gaudy nightclubs and swank apart-
ments. The visual style habitually employs high contrast (chiaroscuro)
lighting, where deep, enveloping shadows are fractured by shafts of light
from a single source, and dark, claustrophobic interiors have shadowy
shapes on the walls. (4)

Most of these features are evident in Welles’s film and help to construct
Elsa as a treacherous and deviant femme fatale. It is through the different
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    153

elements of the visual style that this character dominates the screen. But
in this particular film, as already mentioned, the many close-up shots of
Elsa were included to exploit Hayworth’s star status rather than construct
her as a femme fatale, although they clearly contribute to this. The film
also uses the iconic cigarettes with their trails of smoke that are staple in
film noir—a cue connoting that the femme’s sexual behavior is immoral.
As is the case with other femmes, Elsa’s sexuality stands out among other
features in the film and, as Robson observes, it is “a mask which enables
her to manipulate men for her own ends” (121).
The sexual behavior of femmes fatales is prominent in most discus-
sions about them as it represents their transgression and rejection of
patriarchal law. Nevertheless, some critics do not see the femme’s use of
her sexuality as a “weapon” against patriarchy positively. For instance, in
the case of Elsa, Kaplan contends that the femme fatale “uses her sexual-
ity in the only ways available to gain her ‘independence’. It is, however, an
‘independence’ that no one can admire, since it is based on manipulation,
greed, and murder.” For Kaplan, it is an “independence that, while permit-
ting the woman freedom from the confines of family, is based on moral
degradation” (Women and Film 72). Although Kaplan is right to some
extent, one needs to remember that the femme fatale is exploiting what
she has, which is part of her performatively constituted identity. Her acts
are arguably a criticism, as those of other femmes are, of a wicked patri-
archy that leaves women few options to fight against its exploitative and
oppressive regime. Elsa’s power comes from her sexuality—it is the “gun”
that helps her to achieve her goals. Thus, she is exploiting patriarchal con-
structions of hegemonic gender and sexual roles: the male “weakness”
(i.e., the biologically born male cannot resist a “skirt”) and the female
power of seduction. In addition, in terms of criminality, she does not do
anything different from the males in the film, which means that it is not
only her but also much of society that is in degradation. Elsa is there-
fore exploiting her only way to achieve liberation for a woman belonging
to such a society at that time. As Hanson points out, “The transgressive
potential of the femme fatale in 1940s films noirs was not . . . her definition
as a sexual object, but the woman’s access to, and use of, her sexuality
as an active force, notwithstanding its containment by narrative closures
required by the Production Code” (Hollywood 166).
The noir world is a place where the characters, regardless of their bio-
logical gender, get involved in criminality, experience forbidden plea-
sures, and liberate their wild inner desires. These pleasures are, however,
often experienced outside the United States.2 They are mostly fulfilled
in “exotic lawless” countries, especially in Latin America. As Naremore
notes, “During the 1940s, noir characters visited Latin America more
154    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

often than any other foreign locale, usually because they wanted to find
relief from repression” (229). Welles’s film is just one more example of
the different films noirs in which Latin America is the place onto which
forbidden pleasures are projected and displayed. It is the region where the
characters experience their dirty pleasures; it is a kind of “porno-tropic”
(McClintock). Nevertheless, despite the fact that film noir characters go
on these journeys to the “porno-tropic” in search of releasing their inner
beasts and to try to come to terms with their anxieties, not only do they
fail to resolve their inner frustrations but they also have to return home
to resolve their problems. This return home is crucial for the film’s resolu-
tion and it is on the return that the femme fatale pays for her deviations
because in the American context she is severely punished for her attempt
to transgress patriarchal law. Elsa, for example, is killed—a punishment
that is in line with the fate of other femmes fatales in most films noirs.
Such an ending, however, changes in neo-noir film as the neo-femme
fatale tends to “get away with it,” as previously observed.

A dama do Cine Shanghai: A “Cut and Paste”


of Its American Reference?

Telotte points out that film noir is often associated with other genres (e.g.,
gangster and detective films) and that it draws on “a variety of conventions
and expectations” (9). Telotte’s statement not only reinforces the “impu-
rity” of film noir but also implies that this film genre (and by extension
possibly others) has a certain transnationality as it is recognizable in vari-
ous national cinemas in a variety of forms. Guilherme de Almeida Prado,
for example, plays with noir transnational and trans-genre possibilities in
his “reflection” about filmmaking in the Brazilian neo-noir A dama do
Cine Shanghai.
In Prado’s film, the male protagonist/narrator Lucas (Antônio
Fagundes)—an estate agent and a former boxer—goes to the Cine
Shanghai in the center of São Paulo on a “rainy, hot summer night” to
watch a “detective film.” At the cinema, he meets Suzana (Maitê Proença)
who looks like the femme-fatale protagonist of the film being screened.
Suzana is married to the mysterious and corrupt lawyer Desdino (Paulo
Villaça) who looks much older than she does and is homosexual (not
openly though). Like the clichéd male hero in film noir, Lucas falls for
Suzana and throughout the film he investigates who this mysterious
woman is. In his search, he gets involved in much trouble—the most seri-
ous is being framed for the murder of a sailor—all because of his obsession
with the femme fatale. Although Lucas is suspicious of the danger Suzana
presents, to his relief he discovers that despite Suzana being connected
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    155

to the criminal who may have killed the sailor, she is not involved in the
crime itself. Suzana, unlike Welles’s femme fatale Elsa, therefore survives
and escapes punishment, which echoes the “get-away-with-it” neo-noir
femmes—especially those of the 1990s and later.
Prado’s film was successful among Brazilian film critics. It won seven
prizes at the well-known Gramado Film Festival including best film, direc-
tor, photography, original soundtrack, cinematography, and montage, as
well as the critics’ choice. These prizes were significant for the subsequent
success of the film and in deciding the way it would finally be released to
the public. As Prado informs us in his biography (written by Oricchio),
because the film was financed by the Brazilian Government’s extinct
film company Embrafilme, the latter was holding back the release of his
film (before the Gramado Film Festival) and even considered releasing it
in only one cinema (São Paulo’s Belas Artes) for six months, because for
Embrafilme A dama do Cine Shanghai was for cinephiles. In other words,
Embrafilme did not know what to do with the film. This, for Prado, was
not surprising as according to him the interest in film noir and B film was
something that everyone suddenly became keen on at that time. As the
filmmaker puts it, film noir “was in vogue that year” (Oricchio 140).
Besides Embrafilme’s reluctance to establish a date for the release of
A dama do Cine Shanghai,3 the company wanted to release the film in
black and white. Prado argues that despite accepting Embrafilme’s quasi-
decision, the company’s intention of releasing his film in black and white
did not make much sense to him. He feared that if the company did this,
it would damage the quality of the film because, for the filmmaker, “It is
the color aspect that makes the film different because it modernizes film
noir” (Oricchio 150–51). Thus, Prado’s use of the “American” film genre
as the basis for his film caused this impasse as, in Embrafilme’s view, the
film was noir so it should be in black and white. Because of the diverg-
ing opinions, Prado and Embrafilme made an arrangement: he “would
film in color and afterwards the film copies could be released in black
and white” (Oricchio 149–50). However, as the film had much success at
the Gramado Film Festival, Embrafilme changed its position completely
and released the film not only in color but also as a commercial film.
According to the filmmaker, A dama do Cine Shanghai was his most suc-
cessful film and sold all over the world. This appeal to other parts of the
world as well as Brazil once again indicates the transnationality of film
noir and neo-noir. For instance, although for Prado the theme of his film
was not Brazilian and the film did not resemble others being produced in
Brazil at that time, the film was successful in and out of the country.
A dama do Cine Shanghai closely resembles Welles’s The Lady, but
Prado insists that his was not based on the American one. He states that
156    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

despite watching most of Welles’s films, he did not have Welles’s The
Lady in mind while writing the script. Additionally, although the title
of the film is similar to the American one, Prado says that his was only
chosen after the script was finished. He speculates that perhaps his film
“would be different if [he] had thought of the title beforehand” (Oricchio
61). The filmmaker adds that it was only after choosing the title that he
made closer and more explicit connections with Welles’s film such as
including direct “citations” of the American film in his own. He “cites,”
for example, an iconic sequence of Welles’s film in which the femme fatale
meets the hero. In the sequence, she blows the “indecent” trail of smoke
from her cigarette and this spreads across the screen. Prado connects the
two films through this as his film’s hero, Lucas, watches this sequence on
television while he is in a Japanese bar hoping that Suzana shows up (see
figures 6.1 and 6.2).
Apart from the “citations” of and references to Welles’s film, Prado’s
A dama do Cine Shanghai constitutes not only a story in itself but also a
metacinematic reflection on filmmaking and on one’s filmic experience
as a spectator. An example of the latter is how throughout the film the
filmmaker uses ways to keep the audience attentive to the fact that they
are watching a piece of art and not a portrayal of reality, even though con-
nections between the two are possible. Acknowledging his influence from
Jean-Luc Godard, Prado emphasizes that “instead of trying to make the
spectator pretend he is not watching a film,” the emphasis is on “calling
his attention to the fact that he is indeed watching a film” (Oricchio 165).
The filmmaker goes on to say that, in some way, all his films “talk exactly

Figure 6.1 
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    157

Figure 6.2 

about the difficult boundary between what is fiction and what is reality”
(Oricchio 243).
A dama do Cine Shanghai “cites” other films but provides a reflection
on the “citations” it makes in a way that recalls exactly what Prado asserts
about the filmmaking process. He observes that cinema “always lived off
recycling and renewing old ideas.” For him, citations do not “only work
for the ‘film literates.’ The most important is the idea” (Oricchio 164–65).
His film “cites” and comments on different aspects of filmmaking (e.g.,
the difficulties of making a film—especially in financial terms) as well
as on film genres. For instance, one of his characters in A dama do Cine
Shanghai mentions his dead filmmaker friend, Jorge Meliande, and com-
ments on Meliande’s struggle in making his last film, during which he
accumulated debts and even sold his own apartment to finish the film.
Another of Prado’s characters, Linus (José Lewgoy), used to be a direc-
tor of B films. A further example is when Lucas talks to Suzana about a
picture of a naked woman found at the crime scene (where the sailor was
killed) that he thinks is of her. Suzana assures him it is an actress who
looks like her but he challenges her: “Who would want a photograph of a
naked actress if we can see that every day in cinema?” It is a question that
clearly refers to the pornochanchadas.
Still regarding the international influences on A dama do Cine
Shanghai, Prado observes that although many critics pointed out numer-
ous references to different films they saw as an influence on this Brazilian
neo-noir film, he pretended he knew the films they mentioned, whereas
158    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

he had never seen most of them. The filmmaker states that what he had
seen was “repeated clichés in numerous films that [he] had watched”
(Oricchio 169). Prado’s statement confirms that he knew about the noir
genre (unlike the film-noir directors at that time) so his declaration helps
to comprehend the ways he exploits this in his neo-noir film. As Bould,
Glitre, and Tuck remind us, “Neo-noir knows its past. It knows the rules
of the game” (5). Indeed, Prado presents an array of materials to his audi-
ence but invites the latter to think about them and about filmmaking as
art. The “citations” he uses in his film are therefore a way of reflecting on
cinema as well as on film intertextuality. An example of this is a sequence
that is a likely reference to Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). From his
hotel window, Lucas sees Suzana fighting with her husband (which also
serves to convince Lucas that she leads a miserable life) and discovers that
she seems to be involved in a ménage à trois comprising her, her husband,
and his visiting toy boy.
Another important aspect of Prado’s film is that unlike many neo-noir
films he uses the voiceover narrator. His narrator plays on clichés with
which the audience is likely to be familiar. As the filmmaker observes
regarding A dama do Cine Shanghai, he wanted to make a film that “took
into consideration that the spectator is not going to the cinema for the
first time, so s/he brings from home (and from other films) a number of
preconceived ideas—the so-called dramatic clichés that all of us bring in
our subconscious” (Oricchio 164). The film comments on the difficult
narrative of film noir, illustrated in what Lucas tells the audience: “Half
of the story had already been screened and the story did not seem to be
easy to understand. I could go out to smoke, but smoking was not yet one
of my vices at that time.” The presence of a narrator in Prado’s film also
helps to solve an enigma that the film could leave open for the audience
to think about: whether or not the femme fatale killed the hero as implied
in her last scene in which after kissing Lucas she raises a knife as if going
to stab him in the back. But the audience can easily conclude she did not
kill him, because, like O’Hara in Welles’s film, Lucas is narrating a story
that happened to him in the past: “It was on one of those wet, hot summer
nights, when the heat leaves everything stuck. And you, trying to escape
from reality, go to the cinema.” A striking difference between the two
narrators is that whereas Welles’s hero avoids taking responsibility for
his involvement with the femme fatale and her “wicked” plot, the nar-
rator in Prado’s film criticizes himself for this. For instance, instead of
using the noir narrative clichés “I was out of my mind” or “If only I had
known it,” among others, to justify his “mistake,” he acknowledges his
guilt for being deceived. He tells the audience: “I apologize for interrupt-
ing the story sometimes with comments trying to justify myself. I know
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    159

that everyone finds excuses when he is taken for a fool, instead of saying:
‘What a fool I am!’”
Prado also praises the “confusing” narrative of film noir and refers to
this in his film. He explores what he says he admires in film noir: telling
a story without showing everything on screen, which he also uses to play
with the idea of film intertextuality and genre blending. As he points out,
“Although A dama was sold as an action film, if one pays attention, he will
see that nothing happens on screen . . . the full story is told through the
dialogue” (Oricchio 168). Indeed, it is through the narration that reflec-
tions on film as art, as well as on noir features, are presented. Besides
this, his film narrative is complicated by being a film within a film that
is additionally referring to other films; thus, it is a metacinematic film.
Through its enmeshed narratives, the film also leaves room for different
interpretations: while reflecting on the complex narratives within it, one
can pick up what is hanging between the different narrative layers of the
film. As Prado states, A dama do Cine Shanghai

provided a good first reading as a detective film that guaranteed its success
with the public. But I find the film better in the second reading; it is much
more entertaining. Those who go to see the film again will see another
film. I am more concerned with the second reading, which is the one I
enjoy the most. (Oricchio 158)

Moreover, Prado’s decision about making a neo-noir film using a voi-


ceover narrator and flashbacks raises questions about the unreliability of
film noir’s narrator, especially concerning the construction of the femme
fatale. Regarding film noir, Spicer argues that “flashbacks can undermine
the apparent objectivity of the images as they can question the reliability of
the narrator whose flashbacks try to make sense of a past that is rendered
as strange, threatening and unfinished” (76). The best example of this in
A dama do Cine Shanghai is a sequence at Cine Shanghai when there is a
flashback within a flashback of Lucas “seducing” Suzana. In this sequence,
he takes the inverse role of seduction that normally happens in films depict-
ing the femme fatale. He plays the irresistible one and from his seat he flirts
with Suzana, although she is sitting close to her husband. He scratches his
legs with his nails, thus repeating the feline gestures that the femme fatale
normally makes, just like Maria Cecília (see chapter 3) and Solange (see
chapter 4). He portrays himself as a Don Juan who makes Suzana have an
orgasm in the cinema just by looking at him and watching his lewd ges-
tures. However, at the end of the sequence, the audience discovers that this
flashback within his narrative is false and that he had fantasized the whole
thing based on what he sees the characters doing on screen.
160    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

Lucas’s mimicry of the male character’s acts on screen thus challenges


the reliability of the narrator in the film as well as the information about
the femme fatale he delivers to the viewer. Consequently, as in Welles’s
film, it is difficult to believe the hero’s narrative without questioning it
because it presents a biased view of women. One sees in such a narrative
a personal account that has been imagined from preformed ideas about
women, especially those portrayed as femmes fatales. For Telotte, “In
championing the personal voice and the consciousness it denotes, . . . these
narratives fundamentally underscore the individual’s function as a mir-
ror and measure of his culture” (17). As one can see from the neo-noir A
dama do Cine Shanghai, applying Telotte’s statement to Lucas’s narrative
is rather dangerous, especially in its construction of the femme fatale as a
representation of women’s sexuality within a specific culture. The same is
true in film noir, as The Lady illustrates.
An important difference between A dama do Cine Shanghai and other
neo-noir films is that the latter removes the voiceover narrator, which
means that the audience sees the action and therefore has its own inter-
pretations. Even if the neo-noir film’s narrative controls the depiction of
the femme fatale in some aspects, it establishes a different relationship
with the viewer. It mostly leaves it up to the viewer to decide what to make
of her behavior, which is indicated by the mostly absent prejudgment of
the voiceover that was common in film noir. Because it keeps the voi-
ceover narrator, Prado’s film goes against this new tendency in neo-noir
and this influences the construction of the femme fatale in the film. For
instance, in the film’s opening, as in Welles’s, the narrator reveals that
he has been in trouble because of his involvement with the femme fatale
before the viewer has even seen her. So the voiceover narrator immedi-
ately influences the viewer to read the femme through the hero’s account
of her. But this is an aspect of film noir that Prado’s film explores yet
simultaneously criticizes. That is, it uses the voiceover narration to show
the narrator’s unreliability, which therefore invites the audience to think
about and even question what is delivered in the film.
Besides referring to noir narrative, Prado’s film explores the uses of the
point-of-view shot—illustrated, for example, in the already mentioned
sequence at Cine Shanghai. This type of shot is important in film noir as
it is used to construct the femme fatale and present her to the audience,
which again indicates that she is constructed through performativity
rather than being a born identity. Thus, she is more often constructed from
the male point of view (the “male gaze”) as this is a by-product of the male
character’s narrative. But A dama do Cine Shanghai marks every point
of view “as potentially detached, distanced, alienated” (Telotte 14–15),
like Welles’s film does. By doing so, the film’s visual style undermines
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    161

the hero’s narrative. For instance, in the Cine Shanghai sequence, which
is presented through Lucas’s point of view, the audience sees the femme
fatale having an orgasm; but the film narrative contradicts Lucas’s point
of view as it shows that while he was creating his “dirty” fantasies about
Suzana—which mimic the male character’s acts in the film they are
watching—she was probably bored by the film because, as the audience
discovers, she had fallen asleep.
The point-of-view shot in this sequence and in many others through-
out the film shows the ways in which Lucas tries to convince himself
and the audience that Suzana is in love with him. Furthermore, it shows
that his narrative is a product of his imagination and his own cinematic
experience (i.e., mimicking what he sees on the cinema screen). The latter
is also denoted by the similarities between Prado’s characters’ acts and
looks and those of the characters on the cinema screen. By using such
intertextuality, the film calls the viewers’ attention to the unreliability
of the narrative and the point of view, especially in the construction and
portrayal of the femme fatale. This is considerably important for seeing
the similarities and contrasts between the femme fatale in A dama do
Cine Shanghai and the one in The Lady.
The femme fatale in Prado’s film indeed resembles the one in Welles’s
and they share various features. A key one, which is “a mainstay of film
noir” (Snyder 163), is that both are married to older rich men who are
powerful (both men are lawyers) but corrupt. Marrying older husbands
is key for the films’ portrayal of the femmes fatales’ sexuality as these men
are portrayed either as physically infirm (in Welles’s film) or as homo-
sexual (in Prado’s film). Because of this, the femmes are portrayed as
sexually frustrated women who are desperate to find “real” men to satiate
their sexual needs. But this results in the women being deemed perverts
and attracting condemnation from patriarchal society.
Prado’s film, nevertheless, “updates” the femme fatale, places her in
the context of the time his film was made (especially by portraying the
husband as homosexual), and exploits and criticizes the “clichéd” por-
trayal of the character in film noir. For instance, in the film synopsis,
Suzana is described as a seductive woman but we see that her acts are
rather passive, which supports the argument that her fatality is more
imagined by the male hero than a result of her actual behavior. She imi-
tates the black widow from film noir as she plots to kill her husband, but
this seems more a test for Lucas (to see the extent she can dominate him)
rather than her real intention. In other words, although she complains
about her miserable existence, as Elsa does in Welles’s film, her married
life is not as bad as she tells the hero. Her plotting also seems to be a prod-
uct of the male’s imagination and his desire that the femme fatale gets rid
162    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

of her husband who he sees as an impediment to his relationship with the


woman. Furthermore, this is a reference the film makes to a film-noir
cliché because Suzana plots the murder, but her act simply copies what
the femme fatale in the film being played at Cine Shanghai does. Thus,
while portraying this Brazilian character, Prado deconstructs the notion
of the femme fatale as a dangerous and seductive woman who is the
cause of male destruction. This is evident in his film’s failure to provide
an opposition to the “bad” woman, unlike film noir. She is constructed
independently and not as the opposite of the “good” woman, even if such
standards (good and bad women) are ingrained in patriarchal society’s
consciousness, and to an extent the audience’s.
A dama do Cine Shanghai retains the idea of noir being a male world as
the femme fatale is the only main female character who has contact with
the corrupt men, and she is immersed in the “dirty system” and crimi-
nality. The film’s portrayal of the urban space mirrors the noir city. It is
“an emphatically masculine world, concentrating on male ambitions and
lusts,” which highlights “their fears and paranoias” (Spicer 6). Corruption
is illustrated in A dama do Cine Shanghai through the crimes people
associated with the law commit. An example of this is when Suzana tries
to have Lucas kill her husband and she assures him that there would be
no consequence if he did so. The conversation between the two goes as
follows:

Lucas:  Your husband is not an ordinary person to be just forgotten in the


police report.
Suzana:  I assure you that there would not be any investigation. My hus-
band is a lawyer. To investigate his life and businesses would be danger-
ous for many important people—people who have far too many reasons
to want the case whitewashed. Do this for me [kill her husband] and I
will be yours forever.

Hence, the femme pushes patriarchal boundaries and shows she is


aware of the dirty and corrupt world surrounding her, which she exploits
for her own benefit. Her power derives from her manipulation, but the
iconography of image and the visual style are also significant in the por-
trayal of this Brazilian neo-noir femme fatale. One important visual fea-
ture that stands out in this film, which also mirrors other neo-noir films,
is its use of colors—an element that differentiates neo-noir from film
noir. From its opening, A dama do Cine Shanghai explores an array of
colors and neon signs. This reflects the point Glitre argues about the use
of excessive colors in neo-noir, which, for the author, are “associated with
morally dangerous locations, especially those spaces where seductions,
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    163

conspiracies and crimes take place, such as bars, clubs and alleyways” (19).
In Prado’s film, excessive colors are used in Cine Shanghai, the Japanese
bar, and other key places where seduction and the hero’s engagement in
criminality take place.
The use of colors in neo-noir plays an important role in the construc-
tion of the femme fatale as this differentiates her from previous femmes.
Suzana, like other neo-noir femmes, mostly dresses in one color at a time,
which shows that the role the iconography of image plays in the depiction
of the femme fatale on screen has evolved from the previous decades. For
Glitre, the neo-noir femme “is most often associated with a ‘monochrome’
look, signalling her emotional control and single-mindedness” (20). Glitre
adds that whereas chiaroscuro lighting “helped express the ambivalence of
the classic noir world,” in neo-noir, “colour shapes a different moral uni-
verse” (21). Indeed, such features are explored in A dama do Cine Shanghai,
but Prado seems to do this subconsciously. As he says in his biography, he
wanted to film in color as he thought it was better, but this does not indi-
cate that he does it for the purpose of composing the iconography of image
and the visual style in relation to the femme fatale. Nevertheless, the use of
colors is important in his film. Suzana usually wears a single color in each
sequence and is portrayed as an elegant and confident woman. She often
wears dark colors and these vary according to the events in each scene. For
instance, in a seduction scene outside Cine Shanghai, she wears dark red
clothes, whereas near the end of the film, when Lucas seems convinced of
her innocence, she wears white from head to toe.
Similar to what other neo-noir films do, A dama do Cine Shanghai’s
use of colors, as Glitre argues in relation to American noir, “although
breaking with classic realism and Technicolor aesthetics, remains quite
conventional: colour is associated with danger and the Other, as some-
thing to be feared” (26). Through the film’s use of color, the femme fatale
is confirmed to be dangerous and treacherous: she is someone not to be
trusted. Although the audience knows that the hero escaped being mur-
dered by the femme, the ending of the film is left open. That is, in the
femme fatale’s final sequence of the film, she raises a knife as if she were
going to stab Lucas in the back, inviting the audience to decide whether
or not she will do it.4

Dealing with Sexuality and Gender in the


Brazilian Neo-Noir Film

A dama do Cine Shanghai, being a neo-noir film, develops and “updates”


the ways film noir depicted sexuality and gender. Some of these, however,
164    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

echo the clichés of films noirs made in the decades preceding the Brazilian
film, which Prado uses as a reference. The way sexuality is depicted is key
to differentiate neo-noir from noir films because in the former sexual
acts are more explicit. As Schwartz observes, with the new kind of noir
film, “there is a greater freedom in showing male and female nudity,
especially women’s exposed breasts and erect nipples” (53). A number of
neo-noir films blur the borders between pornography/erotic films and
mainstream production. These films exploit what was in vogue at the
time (i.e., [s]exploitation and hardcore pornographic films); in doing
so, they become more appealing. They use sexual content to cater for
audiences, especially considering the new modes of film distribution,
changes in censorship, and the “permissive” context in which the films
were made. However, despite the context of Brazilian cinema produc-
tion being quite “hot” at the time (i.e., a considerable number of erotic
and hardcore films were being made, especially the latter), Prado does
not exploit this in A dama do Cine Shanghai. In this film, some scenes
do show sexual acts in a more explicit way, but these are mostly quite
soft—unlike many international neo-noirs. Whereas numerous neo-noir
films portray the femme fatale’s sexuality as transgressive and show that
she is involved in new sexual practices that patriarchal society fiercely
condemns (such as S/M, public sex, and taking drugs while having sex),
Suzana is “well-behaved” in comparison. The sexual content presented
to the viewer is a product of the male hero’s imagination as all the flash-
backs of Suzana’s lewd acts are his fantasies, not her real behavior. The
only “bad” thing she does that challenges patriarchy is betray her hus-
band. However, this is justified (from a patriarchal point of view) because
her husband is homosexual.
The depiction of homosexuality in A dama do Cine Shanghai is a key
difference between Prado’s and Welles’s films, which was helped by the
change in censorship and context specificity. According to Naremore,
“The Production Code of the 1940s [in the United States] explicitly for-
bade the depiction of homosexuals” (221). Such a prohibition connotes
that homosexuals were seen as the femmes fatales, that is, deviants from
hegemonic gender roles who challenged the patriarchal status quo. But
whereas the femme fatale, despite being seen as a corrupted and cor-
ruptive representation of woman, is allowed in the films—to maintain
the hegemonic gender and sexual roles patriarchy reinforces—homo-
sexual characters are not, at least openly. It would be too much for the
viewer of that time to accept the homosexual characters in noir films,
which explains why they were not the focus of the films. On the other
hand, homosexuals populate the neo-noir world, perhaps because they
gained more visibility since the sexual revolution and the gay and lesbian
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    165

movements of the time. For example, the lesbian fatale is a key figure in
neo-noir films, as already discussed.
Homosexuality in A dama do Cine Shanghai is explored in different
ways. Two key examples are the married gay man (“in the closet”) and the
transvestite Lana (Miguel Falabella). In its depiction of gays, the film plays
on the stereotypes constructed and maintained in the patriarchal imagi-
nary but without making a judgment on them. For example, at different
moments it shows Suzana’s husband using a fan to cool himself, Suzana
suggesting that he buys a “lilac” lamp for his new apartment (a color asso-
ciated with homosexuals in Brazilian popular culture, as in many other
countries) and Lana using her cut-throat razorblade to defend herself
against Lucas and a younger (rent) boy, among other features that evoke
homosexuality in the film. Lana’s presence in the film, although brief, is
very significant. She reveals to Lucas that she was in a relationship with
a drug dealer and that he liked her, which reminds one of the relation-
ship between João and Renatinho in Madame Satã. She explains to him:
“There are people who like it, if you know what I mean.” Hence, the film
simultaneously plays on yet challenges stereotypes—for example, by por-
traying Suzana’s husband and the drug dealer, who are both symbols of
hegemonic masculinity, as homosexuals. By doing so, it shows that gen-
der and sexuality are not fixed categories as traditionally thought. Like
the femme fatale’s identity, they are “performatively constituted.”
Also important to note is the fact that the femme fatale is married to
an older homosexual. By being in a heterosexual marriage, both Suzana
and her husband answer society’s demands for hegemonic coupling, but,
in practice, they do not relinquish their own sexual and gender identities:
she is a sexual predator (at least in the narrator’s mind) and he is an older
gay man who likes young boys but hides this by “being with” a beautiful
younger woman. It is clear that the two are aware of each other’s lifestyle.
Nevertheless, because they act out the heterosexual identities that society
assigns to them, they keep the hegemonic gender and sexual roles in place
(in society’s eyes) and this stops patriarchal society punishing them.
In contrast, the film constructs Lucas as a patriarchal masculine model
but at the same time implies that such a model is a stereotype of mascu-
linity. From the beginning of the film, he is portrayed as an irresistible
macho who women want and venerate, including the femme fatale (this is
in his mind—evident in his narrative). He is a former boxer and his apart-
ment is decorated with pictures of naked women (there are even some on
his kitchen table), so the implication is that he likes women too much.
He constantly tries to be the one in control and believes that Suzana has
fallen for him from the first time she saw him at Cine Shanghai. However,
throughout the film and through Lucas’s narrative, the audience sees a
166    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

male who is madly in love with the femme fatale and tries at all costs to
find out whether or not she loves him. He seems psychologically unstable
and perturbed not only because of his obsession with her but also because
of his paranoia about whether or not she is hiding something from him. In
his view, Suzana is a woman and a “woman is always a woman!” Because
of this, he adds, “I could not know for sure whether or not she was hiding
something from me.”
Like O’Hara in The Lady, Lucas wants to flee with the femme fatale
and have a future with her. However, Suzana, being a new femme fatale,
does not want to compromise herself and her “independence.” She tells
him: “I do not like to think about the future. It is a kind of agreement I
made with myself.” Suzana seems rather comfortable in her (open) rela-
tionship, even though she plays the victim to Lucas. Her husband is a law-
yer and, most importantly, he is rich. The neo-noir femme fatale (except
for the bunny-boiler type) wants to live in the now and is not interested in
relationships or love. Moreover, the men she normally gets involved with
sexually often belong to a lower social class than hers, so anything beyond
sex seems rather unlikely for her—men are merely her sexual playthings.
She not only demands satisfaction but she also likes money and inde-
pendence, which these men, such as Lucas in A dama do Cine Shanghai,
cannot provide her. Similar to her “neo-sisters,” Suzana wants money
and sexual satisfaction, and she manages to get both by using Lucas for
sex while being married to the rich older man. In addition, and perhaps
most significantly, Suzana escapes punishment for her transgressions,
which recalls the point Williams makes. The author observes that the
femme fatale is “a handy genre trope which has continued to sell—the
covert pleasures women have found in the 1940s punished femme fatale
have mutated into the overt saleability of the 1990s get-away-with-it ver-
sion” (qtd. in Hanson, Hollywood 170). This is the key difference between
the neo-noir femmes (e.g., Suzana) and the noir femmes fatales. Thus,
because many of the femmes fatales survive in neo-noir films, this genre
endorses their acts and the males are the ones criticized or punished for
their weaknesses, as illustrated in A dama do Cine Shanghai’s depiction
of the Brazilian neo-noir femme fatale.
Therefore, by exploring the new tendencies present in neo-noir and
revisiting film noir, A dama do Cine Shanghai provides reflections on
these film genres and shows that although both are considered quintes-
sentially American, they cross the American borders and exist in other
national cinemas. That is, the film plays on themes that surpass context
specificity such as sexuality, gender, social class, and corruption. But as
the Brazilian film shows, these features can easily reflect specificities of a
particular culture without becoming simply a “cut and paste” of American
“Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale    167

films. In the particular case of the portrayal of the femme fatale in A


dama do Cine Shanghai (and by extension in other films), one can infer
that wherever there is gender and other inequalities in society as well as
“men and women involved in crime and seduction” (Schwartz xiii), the
femme fatale will continue to exist in the social imaginary. Different por-
trayals of her show that this figure evolves and reflects the context and
time in which she lives, which indicates once again that her identity is
performatively constituted, as Suzana and the other Brazilian femmes
fatales discussed in this book demonstrate.
Conclusion

T hrough its interdisciplinary and thematic analysis of the femme


fatale in a sample of Brazilian films, this book sought to provide new
ways to understand depictions of this figure in cinema, particularly those
that have been overlooked—not only in Brazil but also in other national
­cinemas—so that features connected to her identity that have been taken
for granted and consequently ignored are revealed. It engaged with a
sample of six films that differ from each other in various ways (mainly
in terms of aesthetics, themes, genres, and budgets) to show the multifac-
eted ways the femme fatale has been imagined and portrayed in Brazilian
cinema. To do so, this study explored a variety of representations of such
a figure (black, slave, Caucasian, homosexual, married, and teenage) to
propose possibilities for engaging with different types of femme fatale.
This also aimed to deconstruct the imaginary surrounding this character
that is propagated in popular culture and in cinematic representations—
that she is a Caucasian woman (especially the deadly sexy blonde)—even
if the different types share some common features.
Therefore, this book read the femme fatale as a performance that
threatens and challenges borders established under patriarchy instead of
focusing mainly on her look. By doing so, it has shown that it is prob-
lematic to think about the femme fatale in various national cinemas as
a “critical transmission” of Hollywood, as this seems to suggest that the
femme fatale is a modified copy of the American one. Such a “transmis-
sion” is evident in the common words that are used in discussions about
her outside American cinema: rework, adapt, and transmit, for example.
In addition, considering her as a transmission of American cinema sug-
gests that the figure would not exist if she were not identified in the latter.
Such a link would, thus, imply that all transgressive women’s identities
in different contexts are reworked from American models, which is not
the case: the femme fatale is no different. She represents a given soci-
ety’s views of female transgression, but this does not need to be connected
to American cinema, despite the latter’s importance in film studies.
Moreover, this attempt to relate such representations to American cin-
ema is not always productive and helps instead to push films outside this
170    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

context to a subaltern position, which consequently means that the non-


American femmes fatales are not cultural types but copies adapted to the
context where a particular film is made.
This book explored three main aspects in connection to her perfor-
mance: the iconography of image, the visual style, and the language the
characters use in the films, especially the femme fatale. All these features
worked in heterogeneous ways depending on the film being analyzed,
which again results from the differences among the representations of
the Brazilian femme fatale. They also indicate that although this char-
acter can be seen as a “universal archetype,” especially by being “an
anxiety pointer, a figure who processes and displays cultural concerns
through popular film” (Stables, qtd. in Hanson 169), she can be neither
represented nor understood as a single and definite type that encom-
passes different cultures. As this study showed by looking at a sample of
Brazil’s vast cinematic production, even within a single national cinema,
one cannot define a fixed representation of the femme fatale—even visu-
ally speaking, let alone performatively. This demonstrated that each film
can present a different perspective to understand such a complex figure
and that she is not a character with a single identity that is able to repre-
sent a multiracial and multicultural country such as Brazil in its entirety.
Such a variety of identities of the femme reflects the country’s filmmak-
ing in general, which “has produced complex, nuanced and greatly varied
images of the nation and its citizens” (McDonald 18). Hence, this book
demonstrated that deconstructing the notion of “look” as the defining
feature of the femme fatale and engaging with her performance instead
(although the look is also important, particularly in the case of cinematic
representations) helps to uncover different guises in which she may have
appeared on screen.
As was the case with the multifaceted analysis, the use of an interdisci-
plinary framework was also very important. It helped to expand the scope
of representations of the femme fatale and analyze each particular type on
its own merits, yet it also connected each to the others to identify where
they converge. Not only did this show the different facets of such repre-
sentations, but it also provided information about the context in which
each is placed. The latter was achieved by relating the representation of
the femme fatale on screen to its sociocultural and historical contexts, as
a way of revealing what such a representation informs us about Brazilian
society and culture regarding various issues—the main ones being race,
gender, sexuality, and social class. This study explored these through
engaging separately with each representation of the femme fatale in rela-
tion to a main issue in each thematic chapter, as these are important for
each representation within the Brazilian context. For instance, Xica da
Conclusion    171

Silva’s blackness reflects her subaltern social position (a slave), as was the
case with the black male homosexual João/Madame Satã. On the other
hand, their race contrasts with those of the other femmes fatales discussed
in the remaining chapters who are at least mixed race and belong at least
to the middle class. Thus, these types of Brazilian “femmes” fatales show
that this character does not have to be Caucasian; neither does she have
to conform to conventional beauty as propagated through the cinematic
representations of the Euro-American femmes.
A further aspect that the analysis of such a heterogeneous sample
of films from different genres (e.g., historical/biographical, neo-noir,
drama, (s)exploitation, and thriller, to name a few)1 showed is that the
depiction of the femme fatale is not and does not need to be stuck in a
specific film genre such as film noir. She is present in various types of
films, which indicates that the problem is not that depictions of her in
certain national cinemas and genres are absent; instead, the problem lies
in the way of identifying her as a femme fatale. As the thematic chap-
ters demonstrated, the figure can appear in films that are taken as “seri-
ous works of art”—particularly those that “quote” Hollywood aesthetics
(e.g., the Brazilian neo-noir A dama do Cine Shanghai), films that engage
with the historical past of the country (e.g., Xica da Silva), and indeed the
looked-down-on films deemed pornochanchadas (e.g., As intimidades de
Analu e Fernanda). Moreover, the analysis suggests that the connection of
the femme fatale to distinct film genres, for example, film noir and neo-
noir, has indeed not been very productive so far in identifying the various
types of representations of this figure. This is also strongly indicated to be
the reason why no substantial body of research has been carried out about
this figure in different national cinemas, including Brazil’s. However, as
demonstrated in this book, the femme fatale is not a figure that belongs
to a particular film genre but instead is rather a by-product that derives
from different sources. This potentially contributes to her “unknowabil-
ity” and the anxieties this generates.
The sample of films analyzed also demonstrates that regardless of each
film’s genre or status as a “serious film” or “only a (s)exploitation film,”
they provide us with information about the sociocultural and histori-
cal contexts in which they were produced (e.g., Brazil’s) and show that a
film’s aesthetic quality does not necessarily reduce its importance as a
register of a period within a national film production. This is demon-
strated by the fact that the films provide, from different perspectives,
information about several issues in Brazil. For instance, Xica da Silva
engages with the historical figure from the colonial time but at the same
time touches on traces of the colonial period, especially regarding race
relations that have remained in the country since then, and it touches
172    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

on the stereotypical perception of blacks as “sex machines.” The same is


true with Madame Satã, which although addressing issues about Rio de
Janeiro in the 1930s, still reflects the society of the time mostly concerned
in this study as well as from the time the film was actually made (the early
2000s), especially regarding violence against homosexuals, which is still
a serious problem in contemporary Brazil. These two films’ engagement
with different historical periods also helps to show the “atemporality” of
the femme fatale, which has been the case of representations of her in
neo-noir film. Furthermore, the analysis of the femme fatale in Madame
Satã—which ignored the biologically born gender and concentrated on
performativity—indicated a new way of uncovering representations of the
figure. The film plays with imaginaries about hegemonic binaries (e.g.,
malandro/bicha, gay/straight) and shows that these are performatively
constituted identities. This also applies to various binaries explored in the
other films discussed in the book, which question the very notions related
to specific binaries such as black/white, gay/straight, virgin/whore, good/
bad women, and private/public spaces.
Concerning issues such as female sexuality and pleasure, these are evi-
dent in all the films discussed in the book but particularly in Bonitinha
mas ordinária and A dama do lotação (both films are adaptations of
Nelson Rodrigues’s works). However, they do not address these issues in
the conventional way the film critics of that time would prefer; instead,
they explore types of pleasures that patriarchal society considers perver-
sions and strongly condemns, which earned them the accusation of being
mere “rich versions” of pornochanchadas, that is, they had no value in
the critics’ opinion. These are illustrated especially in Cecília’s pleasure
in being raped in Bonitinha mas ordinária and Solange’s engagement in
public sex in A dama do lotação. Although such pleasures are seen as sick-
ening by many, one cannot ignore that, despite the fact that these seemed
to have been portrayed by both films mostly for titillation (i.e., to please
the heterosexual male audience), there are indeed women, as well as men,
who find pleasure in what is considered unconventional, whether society
accepts it or not. To reject the notion that someone finds his/her pleasure
in such practices is to deny that person’s subjectivity.
Subjectivities are, as the word itself clearly says, “subjective,” which
means that, concerning sexuality, each human being is allowed to find his
or her own sexual pleasure in various things, such as fetish or “radical”
sexual acts (e.g., S/M, public sex, leather, fisting, watersports, bondage,
and other practices, particularly among male homosexuals). The diffi-
culty of seeing subjectivity in masochistic practices arguably stems from
the fact that the notion of masochism, and of sadism, is conceived within
a patriarchal economy, especially regarding the powerful/powerless
Conclusion    173

dichotomous relations it insists on. That is, the views on and condemna-
tion of masochism, which have been echoed in many academic works, are
based on and sound like a repetition of patriarchal definitions of sexual-
ity and pleasure: what one can do or what one cannot do, which pleasure
is acceptable and which is not. The problem such views represent is that
the same critics of patriarchy’s power and domination over societies who
refuse to accept such practices as sources of pleasure for someone are
merely mirroring patriarchal definitions of pleasure.
Hence, to argue that these femmes fatales do not find pleasure in the
practices they are engaged in and to see such practices only as oppressive
and exploitative instead of trying to understand the roles they play in the
femmes fatales’ subjectivities is to define these women’s pleasures accord-
ing to patriarchal views. Nevertheless, as pointed out in the Introduction
chapter, these films do leave room for different readings and could be
considered either progressive or conservative texts. For example, the kill-
ing of the femme fatale in film noir is considered a conservative way to
reestablish patriarchal power while her leading role on the same films
has been celebrated as an achievement and an indication of her agency
(Kaplan, Women in Film). Either way, the disruption she causes to patri-
archal society is evident. Moreover, the controversies some of the films
discussed in this book may generate are because they touch on the subject
of sex, which often causes a furor among film audiences and theorists
alike. The reception of films that have sexual content, particularly when it
is depicted openly, is likely to contain accusations of the films exploiting
and objectifying women or indeed criticisms that they are of “bad qual-
ity.” As Krzywinska (Sex) rightly points out, reactions to watching sex in
films vary considerably. For instance, despite As intimidades de Analu e
Fernanda—which is deemed to be a pornochanchada—having its titillat-
ing sequences, it does provide information about gender and sexuality
in Brazil at that time. Although the lesbian fatale in the film acquires
behavior that is considered stereotypical, especially regarding violence,
it still offers views about lesbians that were and still are, to some extent,
present in Brazilian society. Besides this, the film presents features related
to the femme fatale, especially the lesbian as a bunny boiler, which would
appear only later on in American cinema, for example.2 This film, as well
as Bonitinha mas ordinária, also illustrates the carnivalesque temporality
of power that some femmes fatales have. Both characters meet the end
that is common to the femme fatale in film noir: they are killed instead
of prospering like the neo-noir femme mostly does. This is particularly
interesting in the case of Bonitinha mas ordinária as the teenage femme
fatale, Maria Cecília, hides her true identity and dies without society
knowing who she really is. On the other hand, the femme fatale Solange
174    The “Femme” Fatale in Brazilian Cinema

in A dama do lotação is open about her “dirty” sexual acts and her chal-
lenges to patriarchal power, as is the new femme in neo-noir but, as often
happens with the latter, this Brazilian femme survives—it is her “sucker”
husband who is destroyed.
The connection between the femme fatale and the context in which
the film is made is also clear in the last film analyzed, A dama do Cine
Shanghai, regardless of the fact that the film seems at first just a “cut
and paste” of the American film to which it “refers.” It gives informa-
tion about the Brazilian context of its time, mainly through its depiction
of corruption, exploitation, the characters’ sexuality and violence, or its
own metacinematic reflection about Brazilian filmmaking of that period.
The film in many ways explores features that despite being comparable to
those in other contexts, such as the femme fatale’s look (e.g., the Caucasian
femme), also questions these without taking them as definite.
Hence, depictions of the femme fatale in Brazilian cinema, or more
accurately femmes fatales, show that although these diverse types of
femmes have similarities with other international ones—mostly through
their performance—they also contrast with them, especially regarding
their look. The points raised in the book nevertheless suggest possible
transnational features in such a representation if the femme fatale is
understood in terms of performativity, particularly regarding the anxi-
eties she causes for patriarchal society (especially at time of “masculin-
ity crisis”). This is indicated by her constant presence in cinema at some
specific periods, which makes her contemporary to the time in which she
is portrayed. Moreover, this provides information about the connection
between her portrayal and the sociocultural and historical contexts in
which she is placed, independent of geographic location, which again indi-
cates that such a character has transnational characteristics. Therefore, it
is important to develop new ways that will be useful in finding and theo-
rizing new types of femmes fatales in other contexts, as the book has tried
to do. As Hanson points out, femmes fatales “always prompt questions,
and for critics there’s nothing more engaging, or seductive, than that”
(The Big Seduction 225). Indeed, she develops over time, which means
that analyses of her must also do the same.
Notes

Introduction

1. For example, Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone) in Basic Instinct (1993) is


commonly labeled a femme fatale but the characters played by actor Pam
Grier in various blaxploitation films are not. Mainon and Ursini’s study is an
exception to the latter.
2. Foster (Gender and Society) is one of the few exceptions that have engaged
explicitly with gender and sexuality in Brazilian cinema. More recently,
although not focusing primarily on gender and sexuality, Conde and Marsh
have provided insights into women’s experience(s) of and changes in gender
roles in Brazil in the twentieth century. In her work on cinema, writing, and
modernity in Rio de Janeiro during the early decades of the twentieth cen-
tury, Conde writes a chapter on cinema’s female spectatorship, discussing
middle-class women’s new social roles after the First World War. The author
informs us how women came to occupy the public spaces, unlike in the past
when they were mostly confined to the private space: the home. The author
argues that cinema was part of the Brazilian “modernity project” (and there-
fore an aspect of the consumerist culture that developed at that time) in which
women played a crucial role. For instance, Conde observes that women were
the majority of Brazilian filmgoers. Concerning Marsh’s study, it looks at how
Brazilian female filmmakers’ audiovisual work from the 1960s onward chal-
lenged the institutional power that limited women while promoting under-
standings of gender, female sexuality, and women’s role in the country during
limited political and civil freedom (i.e., the military dictatorship). She claims
that their work during the dictatorship contributed to “the reformulation of
sexual, cultural, and political citizenship in Brazil” (3).
3. The English translations of the Portuguese film titles will be in italics if they
have been released in English or translated by other researchers. Otherwise,
they will be my translations.
4. For example, in 2011 there were 266 murders of homosexuals in Brazil in
homophobic crimes, but this number rose to 338 in 2012. Furthermore, such
statistics only include cases that were openly discussed—the actual ­numbers
could be much higher, particularly in cases in which the victim was not openly
gay. For more information on this, see Grupo Gay da Bahia at www.ggb.org.br.
176    Notes

5. However, her control of the camera in this case should be understood in


terms of how the camera focuses on the characters, not how the director
positions a camera to give the actors the space on which the camera focuses.
That is, it might be better understood in terms of visual presentation rather
than in the filmmaking process itself.
6. Sexual practices presented in neo-noir films depicting the femme fatale
include sadomasochism (S/M henceforth), sexual violence, drug taking
while having sex, and lesbian sex. The last of these, although serving mostly
to titillate the heterosexual male audience, especially in sexploitation films,
also indicates anxieties regarding changes of hegemonic gender and sexual
roles.
7. This is developed in chapter 2.
8. This was because of the creation of the Ato Institucional 5, AI5 (Institutional
Act Number 5), which removed any political rights of civilians, allowed strict
censorship of art production, and gave the president full power.
9. For a detailed historical coverage of this period, in English, see Fausto and
Skidmore.
10. This was the department that carried out torture against subversives.
11. As I have observed elsewhere, this expression in English approximates to the
term “old maid.” It means that a woman is unlucky in love and still single
long after the age people “normally” marry (Da Silva).
12. See Schwartz for an extensive list of more than 600 neo-noir films.
13. Whether or not film noir constitutes a genre is a contentious point. For
example, some of the critics’ definitions of this group of films include genre,
style, theme, mood, form, texture, and cycle (Bould, Glitre, and Tuck). Spicer
argues that film noir has been defined as “a movement, a visual style, a
prevailing mood or tone, a period, or as a transgeneric phenomenon” (24).
Despite these debates, it is important to remember what Schwartz points out:
that “no American director during that period ever used the word ‘noir,’ nor
did he or she set out to create a style or genre. It was the French critics who
applied the term ‘noir’ to this group of films that shared a similar photo-
graphic, artistic, and thematic style” (ix). Because of this, Schwartz argues
that film noir is not a genre but an “unconscious stylistic movement” (ix).
Regardless, this study shares the view that film noir is a genre.
14. For a discussion of the sexual revolution, see Weeks (Sexuality). For a critique
of the sexual revolution from a feminist perspective, see Jeffreys.
15. For discussions on the femme fatale in other contexts see the follow-
ing authors: Barba; Bell; Bergfelder; Davies; Hershfield; Murphy; Powrie;
Vincendeau; Wager; and Wood (Italian Film).
16. Concerning the presence of the lesbian, Orr argues that the context of pro-
duction facilitated this in neo-noir as sexuality was not portrayed openly
in the 1940s noir films because of the Studio Code. Phillips observes that
both “adultery and homosexuality would be forbidden by the 1934 code” (31).
Nevertheless, the lesbian fatale became prominent in neo-noir.
17. Of course this relationship the films create between lesbianism and violence
is very problematic and stereotypical because a lesbian identity does not
Notes    177

make a woman violent, as is constructed in patriarchal society’s imaginary.


On the other hand, this is clearly the intention of the films of the period: to
portray lesbianism as a negative aspect of a woman’s identity, which func-
tions as a kind of “backlash” against lesbians.
18. Two examples of these in Brazil are Masculino . . . até certo ponto (Male . . . Up
to Some Extent, 1986) and Estou com AIDS (I Have Got AIDS, 1986). In an
international context, see the episode After It Happened from the American
television series Midnight Caller (1988) and Killing the Right People—an
­episode of the series Designing Women (1987).
19. For more information on representations of the prostitute as a femme fatale,
see Bade.
20. For a discussion of multiculturalism in Brazilian cinema, see Stam (Tropical).
21. For more information on Hari, see Shipman.
22. The term “class” in this case means “a social category sharing a common set of
subjectively salient attributes within a system of stratification” (Wright 14).
23. Pollution in this case refers to the femme fatale’s acts that challenge “social
morality”; the latter is understood in Foucaultian terms as “a set of values and
rules of action that are recommended to individuals through the intermedi-
ary of various prescriptive agencies such as the family (in one of its roles),
educational institutions, churches, and so forth” (Foucault, The Use 25).

1  The Black Femme Fatale in Xica da Silva

1. For a detailed study of this historical character, whose name was originally
spelt Chica da Silva, see Furtado.
2. All the translations from Portuguese are mine unless indicated otherwise.
3. Since the late 1960s when the Brazilian sexploitation film (pornochanchadas)
appeared, this word has become a derogative way to refer to other films that
are not considered to be of “good quality” or address any content related to
sex in a more explicit or perhaps “tasteless” way. For a discussion of porno-
chanchada, see Abreu and Dennison (Sex and the Generals).
4. Cinema-novo director Glauber Rocha wrote a manifesto titled An Aesthetics
of Hunger. Xavier (Allegories) provides an important analysis of cinema-novo
aesthetics.
5. This was one of the first movements that attempted to end Portuguese colo-
nial rule in Brazil. For more details on this, see Perrin and Skidmore.
6. Public sex will be discussed in detail in chapter 4.
7. This applies to the film only—the historical character Chica is said to have
had as many as 14 children with João Fernandes (Dennison and Shaw;
Johnson, Carnivalesque).
8. Rape was a titillating sadomasochistic feature used in many (s)exploitation
and pornographic films in the period mostly concerned in this book, espe-
cially in pornochanchada, WIP, and rape-revenge films. These films targeted
mostly heterosexual men as their main audience. For more information on
this, see Da Silva.
178    Notes

9. Tate’s proposal of beauty performativity derives from Butler’s (Gender


Trouble) conception of gender as performative.
10. This has been something that appears in different reviews of the film as no
one gets to know exactly what she does. For an example of this, see Oliveira.
11. There is no doubt that Xica has control over her sexuality, but the different
ways in which the film portrays her sexual identity could suggest (on a super-
ficial level) an objectification of the slave’s body and sexuality. An example of
this is in the film’s theme song, which repeats the refrain “Xica da, Xica da”
(Xica “gives out”). The word da can be a conjugation of the verb dar (to give)
and the contraction of the preposition de (of) plus the definite article a (the),
which is part of different surnames such as da Silva. The film plays with the
word da from Xica’s surname to connote sexual passivity, but this strongly
indicates a male-biased construction of her sexuality because Xica’s acts in
the film show that she does not “give out.” On the contrary, she devours the
males, who are scared of her domineering and castrating sexuality, but she is
not scared of theirs.
12. An exception is Yee’s study, which discusses a “dark” femme fatale in French
Indochina.
13. An example is Mainon and Ursini’s book about the femme fatale in cinema.
Very few of their “most unforgettable lethal ladies” are nonwhite.
14. His wife was left behind in Portugal.
15. Dona (Mrs.) is a term mostly used to address a married woman. It shows a
degree of social respect toward such a woman. In this case, Xica’s appropria-
tion of a word that surely would be applied only to white women at that time
is very significant as it shows that she is imposing herself as a woman that the
colonial society must respect.
16. In this research, cannibalism (or cannibalistic) refers to the understanding of
the term as used by modernist Brazilian writers in the 1920s and reappropri-
ated later in cinema novo in the 1960s. The use of cannibalism came from the
radical movement Antropofagia that Oswald de Andrade, Tarsila do Amaral,
and Raul Bopp created. This movement took a critical approach to primitiv-
ism and rather than rejecting or imitating foreign culture it symbolically,
like the native indigenous population, “devoured” foreign culture—took
the best it could from it, without losing its own national cultural identity.
Cannibalism became a cultural movement as well as an ideology in Brazil
(Campos, qtd. in Stam, Tropical). For a discussion on Brazilian cultural can-
nibalism, see Bellei.
17. There is a similar scene touching on whiteness in another film of the same
year: Aleluia Gretchen (Hallelujah Gretchen, 1976). For an analysis of this
film, see Stam (Tropical).
18. In this study, Fanon deploys a psychoanalytical framework to discuss the
struggle black people face while living in a “white country,” which for him
derives from dependency on the “mother country” (i.e., the colonizer—in the
case of Fanon’s study, the French) and black people’s feeling of inadequacy in
such a “white context.”
19. This “gravy” is prepared with vinegar and the blood of poultry.
Notes    179

2  The Femme Fatale’s “Troubled” Gender in Madame Satã

* An early version of parts of this chapter was published as “Troubling the Femme
Fatale Gender in the Brazilian film Madame Satã (2002).” Latin American Issues
and Challenges. Ed. Lara Naciamento and Gustavo Sousa. New York: Nova
Publishers, 2009. 81–95. It has been included here by the kind permission of Nova
Science Publishers, Inc.
1. This nickname is derived from the American film Madam Satan (1930) that
was playing in Brazil at the time. According to Green (O Pasquim), João
would have worn a costume at the homosexuals’ carnival fancy-dress com-
petition, called Desfile dos caçadores de veados (The Faggot Hunters’ Parade),
that made him resemble the main female character of the American film.
2. The word performativity will be used in this chapter to refer to gender or
sex, whereas the word performance will be related to João’s act on stage as an
artist.
3. The name Tabu (in English “taboo”) does not seem to have been chosen ran-
domly. It strongly indicates criticism of the established patriarchal norms
that the film clearly challenges.
4. This is a slang word that was commonly used among homosexuals but which
has become popular and is recurrent in recent soap operas. Rede Globo’s
soap opera Caras e bocas (literally, Faces and Mouths, 2009–2010) is an
example of this. Another variation developed for the term is bofe escândalo
or bofescândalo (literally, “scandal straight-acting man”), which means that
a man is very attractive.
5. WIP film is a very good example of this. For a discussion on this topic, see Da
Silva.
6. This was a weekly tabloid newspaper of the 1960s/1970s that presented views
opposing the military regime. It was considerably critical of homosexual-
ity and feminists and was extremely misogynistic (the feminists called its
male editors and contributors “chauvinist pigs”); despite this, it interviewed
João/Madame Satã in 1971. In this interview, Green (O Pasquim) argues, João
acquired the status of a “counterculture icon.”
7. For further discussions of race in the film, see Leu and L. Shaw.
8. See chapter 1.
9. This sequence is potentially based on an incident involving the real-life João.
He killed a policeman for a similar homophobic attack that the character
suffered from the drunkard in the film. For more details on this killing, see
Green (O Pasquim).
10. The word Carioca refers to people or things from the capital city Rio de Janeiro.
11. The so-called whitening project became government policy and was aimed
at literally whitening the nation’s population by encouraging the immigra-
tion of white Europeans into Brazil. The policy was based on racist theories
that deemed the black race unable to transform the country into a powerful
nation. In 1912, for instance, João B. Lacerda, a Brazilian physician, scien-
tist, and director of the National Museum, calculated that in 2012 the black
180    Notes

population in Brazil would be zero percent of the country’s total population


while the mulattoes would represent only three percent (Skidmore, qtd. in
Stepan 155). In adopting such a policy, the government expected to “purify”
the Brazilian race by banishing the black race from the country.
12. Tijuca is a district of Rio de Janeiro—the capital city of the state Rio de Janeiro.
13. It is interesting how João adapts the story Vitória uses in her performance
to a new context. The story he narrates while rehearsing in front of a mir-
ror takes place in China where the Brazilian character Jamacy fights a mon-
strous shark. The story he creates goes as follows:
There lived in wonderful China, a brute and cruel shark that turned
into dust whatever it bit. To calm the beast down, the Chinese sacri-
ficed seven wild pussycats every day that it ate before sunset. With
the desire to put an end to this cruelty there came Jamacy, a goddess
of Tijuca Forest. She ran through the woods and flew over the hills.
And Jamacy turned into a gentle golden puma of delicious taste. She
fought with the shark for a thousand and one nights. After much
struggle, the glorious Jamacy and the furious shark were so hurt that
we couldn’t tell them apart. And in the end, they became one and the
same creature.
In Bussinger’s understanding, the fact that João recites the story in front of
a mirror suggests that he is reciting it about and to himself. In the author’s
interpretation, the aggressive and ferocious shark represents João, the macho,
who cannot be easily contained; the gentle puma is João, the muse, who is
seductive and courageous, and represents a romantic ideal.
14. This also illustrates the point Parker makes that the homosexual “tends to
be at least partially ostracized, finding employment only in highly marginal
lines of work or in jobs traditionally reserved for women” (52).
15. An example of this occurs in Basic Instinct in a nightclub sequence where
Catherine Tramell, her female partner, and other people are in the toilet tak-
ing drugs and having group sex.
16. As Stam explains, “Capoeira was born out of the desire of slaves to defend
themselves against better-armed captors . . . slaves camouflaged it by practic-
ing it with drums and music, as if it were ‘merely’ a samba” (Tropical 308).
Capoeira is commonly practiced in contemporary Brazil, has expanded to
other countries, and has turned into a symbol of Brazilian culture.
17. This is developed in chapter 4.
18. Even if Laurita was not a prostitute, she would surely be considered one at
that time in Brazil for being a single mother.
19. For instance, during World War I, the American Army, in an attempt to
educate its soldiers about the dangers of getting involved with prostitutes,
printed in one of its “sexual education” materials that “a German bullet [was]
cleaner than a whore” (Brandt 377).
20. The first case of AIDS in Brazil was found in this very year, 1982. At that
time, the disease was associated with rich gay males as these were accused of
catching it in Europe or in the United States where they would have been on
holiday (Green, More Love).
Notes    181

3  Social Class and the Virgin/Whore Dichotomy in


Bonitinha mas ordinária

1. This play was first adapted for the cinema in 1963 (this version is unfortu-
nately unavailable) and was adapted once again in 2010, but released in 2013.
2. This is, of course, a key element in the film that attracts much condemnation
of the femme fatale as it was seen as an act of perversion, which is well illus-
trated in one of the federal police’s censorship reports of the film. The female
censor writes that the rape was “prepared for Maria Cecília’s satisfaction; a
rich girl that got pleasure from such sick practices” (Parecer 5776 1). Although
this is the Government’s censorship body, one can see that the comment
sounds very much like the censor’s personal opinion.
3. For example, those discussed in chapters 4 and 5.
4. He says: “Nowadays, no one gives a damn about a cabaço (‘cherry,’ i.e.,
hymen). And what’s more, there is a doctor’s surgery in which a woman can
leave more virgin than when she went in. He is the Pitanguy of pussies.” (Ivo
Pitanguy is a famous Brazilian plastic surgeon.) This was one of the sen-
tences censored at the time of the release of the film. The cuts were included
in the film again from 1986 (see Parecer 0463/479/480).
5. An example of this in recent Brazilian films includes the maid marrying a
famous foreign musician in O casamento de Louise (Louise’s Wedding, 2001).
This is quite an obsession in various soap operas. In them, there are female
characters whose objective in life is to find a rich husband. Examples of these
are the characters Adriana, Amanda, Clara, Natalie L’amour, and Valdirene in
Rede Globo’s soap operas Salsa e merengue (Salsa and Merengue, ­1996–1997),
Ti-ti-ti, Passione (Passion, 2010–2011), Insensato coração (“Foolish Heart,”
2011), and Amor à vida (“Love for Life,” 2013–2014), respectively, to cite a few.
6. It goes without saying that this is rather old fashioned given that the play was
written in the early second half of the twentieth century.
7. The word Mineiro refers to someone who originates from the state of Minas
Gerais.
8. Edgar uses this phrase to say that he was not going to marry Maria Cecília
because of Heitor’s money. He uses it for the first time in the film when he is told
to marry Cecília. It becomes a motif and is also spoken by other characters. The
phrase was a joke Rodrigues made but he attributed to his friend from Minas
Gerais, the journalist and writer Otto Lara Resende, which Rodrigues used in a
few short stories he wrote. But Resende always denied authorship of the joke.
9. Peixoto is married to Maria Cecília’s older sister but, as already pointed out, he
is also in love with the young femme fatale. Apparently, his wife has as many
lovers as she wants and he accepts being a cuckold for the sake of the money he
has access to by being married to a woman who belongs to the dominant class.
10. As in English, the word in Portuguese should be “dog” for the masculine but
Maria Cecília uses the term “male bitch,” which does not exist in Portuguese
dictionaries. Unlike in English, the word “bitch” in Portuguese has strong
sexual connotations and is used as a synonym for “slut” or “whore.”
182    Notes

11. Considering rape as a forced sexual act against the will of one of the persons
involved, this scene cannot count as a rape, at least for the femme fatale, as
she wants the “rape role-play.” If one party is uneasy with this sexual act, it is
surely the males—not her.
12. In Brazil, a woman’s behavior prior to a rape is, although not in the law, very
often taken into consideration before deciding whether she is a “real” victim
of rape or if she was “asking for it.” For a detailed discussion on this subject,
especially in the law, see An Americas Watch Report. For changes in Brazil’s
federal law in recent years regarding penalties for violence against women,
see the most updated law created in 2006—the so-called Lei Maria da Penha
(Maria da Penha Law).
13. For example, this was constantly replicated in many films among the hun-
dreds of pornochanchadas that were produced in the 1970s. In them, the
working-class women were frequently represented as maids and secretaries.
14. This is the case on the film poster and DVD cover of Basic Instinct as Catherine
Tramell scratches Nick (Michael Douglas) on his back. In addition, in Body
of Evidence the femme fatale Rebecca Carlson leaves marks of her “claws” on
her male counterpart’s back, which are found by the latter’s wife. It is a way
the new femme fatale compromises her partners: she leaves evidence of her
sadomasochistic “treatment” of men to be noticed, seemingly on purpose.
15. It is important to emphasize that the film maintains the tone of the play in this
regard. De Araújo argues that Rodrigues constructs characters, mainly females,
who are “full of desires that are socially unacceptable and unconfessable in a
modern Brazil of the 1940s, 50s and 60s” (n. pag.). It shows that female sexuality
that does not conform to hegemonic sexual roles dictated to women—although
there had been advances in this by the time the film was made when compared
with the period the play concerns—is still taboo and condemned by society.

4  The Fetish “Dirt” as “Social Pollution”: The Married


Femme Fatale in A dama do lotação

1. This was one way underground cinema produced in Brazil in the late 1960s
and early 1970s was referred to. It plays with the pronunciation of the English
word by Portuguese speakers. For a discussion of this genre in Brazil, see
Stam (On the Margins).
2. Embrafilme was the Government’s film regulator, producer, and distributor
at the time of the film’s release.
3. See the Introduction chapter.
4. This was a common feature in other films—for instance, in Brazilian porno-
chanchadas, especially in the 1970s.
5. Dennison and Shaw argue that some elements in this Brazilian film make it
seem like a parody of Buñuel’s Belle de Jour; one example of this is the scene
in which Solange makes her first advances to Carlinhos’s closest friend in a
nightclub.
6. Motels in Brazil are predominantly used for sexual encounters.
Notes    183

7. Examples of references to betrayal in films of the same period in Brazil


include A mulher de todos (The Woman of Everyone, 1970), Amor e traição
(Love and Betrayal, 1974), Contos eróticos (Erotic Tales, 1977), Dona Flor e
seus dois maridos, Mulher objeto, Ninguém segura essas mulheres (No One
Can Hold Back These Women, 1975), O clube das infiéis (The Unfaithful
Females’ Club, 1975), O vale dos amantes (The Lovers’ Valley, 1982), and Os
galhos do casamento (The “Horns” of Marriage, 1978). Examples in films of
the same time in an international context include the British films Suburban
Wives (1972) and the confessions series (especially Confessions of a Window
Cleaner, 1974, and Confessions of a Driving Instructor, 1976).
8. Brazilian pornochanchadas, the British confessions series, and WIP film
are good examples of film genres that have been accused of using images of
women mostly for titillation.
9. This scene is remarkable as it demonstrates that more women are becoming
dominating and the “tough” males who batter women are becoming scared
of even touching the women as they are unsure of what may happen to them.
A great example of this, albeit in another film genre, occurs in rape-revenge
films. The victims, who are subjected to atrocious treatment by males, strike
back in deadly ways that were previously unseen in (World) cinema. See, for
example, the international films Baise Moi (Fuck Me, 2000), Bandit Queen
(1994), I Spit on Your Grave (1978), and Monster (2003). In the Brazilian con-
text, one finds some examples in WIP films such as A prisão (Bare behind
Bars, 1980)  and Escola penal de meninas violentadas (Penal School for
Violated Girls, 1977).
10. This dialogue also indicates development in the portrayal of and the lan-
guage used by the femme fatale when compared with the traditional ones
in film noir. However, most importantly, it predates the kind of language
and behavior that femmes fatales would adopt from the late 1980s onward,
mainly in American films.
11. As already pointed out in this book, this was also the case in Brazilian cin-
ema at the time.
12. See Parker for a discussion about this.
13. This was a common feature in other films that portray (suspicious) betrayed
husbands in Brazilian cinema at the time.
14. Although this does not happen with Solange in the film, same-sex relations is
another characteristic of radical sex that challenges hegemonic gender roles
and is constantly repeated in contemporary femme-fatale films. It became a
staple of the genre, especially from the 1990s onward.
15. Catherine Tramell uses this line in Basic Instinct.

5  The “Abject” Lesbian Fatale in As intimidades de


Analu e Fernanda

1. In a review of the film, Carneiro argues that “José Miziara, moving among
genres, makes a great drama, an erotic romance, using lesbian love as its
184    Notes

theme.” For a discussion about genre blending in cinema with (neo)noir film,
see Bould, Glitre, and Tuck.
2. This is a common feature of many softcore thrillers in the 1970s and 1980s in
different national cinemas, but it was also present in similar films from the
1990s and 2000s. See Andrews for more information on this.
3. This idea of a male coming between two women (a single one and a mar-
ried one defying her husband’s authority) in a relationship is also illustrated
in other films. For example, in the well-known American film Thelma and
Louise (1991), a man causes the eponymous two women to fall out with each
other, although in this film a lesbian relationship is only suggested. Thelma
and Louise has also been included in studies about the femme fatale in
American cinema.
4. An example of this in American neo-noir occurs in Basic Instinct in a scene
in which Nick watches Catherine Tramell having sex with her girlfriend.
5. The line “I am a total fucking bitch” is used by Bridget Gregory in The Last
Seduction. See Schubart for an interesting study on the “super bitches” in
cinema.
6. For more information on this, see Da Silva; McCaughey and King; Rapaport;
and Schubart, especially Chapter 3 for the last of these.
7. Similar lines are used by many of the neo-noir femmes fatales in American
cinema. For instance, some scholars researching American cinema state that
such lines derive from Fatal Attraction (1987) in which the femme fatale
tells her male counterpart: “I won’t allow you to treat me like some slut you
can just bang a few times then throw in the garbage.” But as this chapter
shows, Intimidades predates this American film. For a discussion about Fatal
Attraction and other erotic thrillers, see Williams.
8. The “bunny boiler” is an exception to this. This term comes from the famous
scene in Fatal Attraction in which the femme fatale boils the bunny of her
male lover’s daughter out of revenge for being dumped by him. Williams
argues that the “bunny boiler” “has become synonymous with a certain kind
of aggressive female” (171)—the one that avenges the male who leaves her.
For Williams, Fatal Attraction is “the grandmother of the erotic thriller as
revenge tragedy” (171).
9. For more information on this, see Moreno.
10. This is particularly suggested in sexploitation films such as Intimidades
itself.
11. This is implied in Fernanda’s lines in response to Analu’s “discovery” of the
“new world”: “But there is another world. A world based only on love. A place
where people are not catalogued as men or women. A place where it does not
matter who and what the person is. The only thing that matters is that they
love each other.”
12. This also occurs in the American film The Last Seduction. Similar to what
happens in Intimidades, in this film Bridget Gregory enters a bar after she
had been driving for a long time to escape her husband. She tries to buy a
drink, but she is demanding and ultimately rude (“For fuck’s sake! Who’s a
girl gotta suck around here to get a drink?”), so the barman refuses to serve
Notes    185

her. But a man—her future victim—steps in to buy her the drink and he uses
the opportunity to chat her up. Similar examples (in American cinema) can
be found in Thelma and Louise and One Night at McCool’s (2001).
13. This reference to Gary Cooper as the archetype of Hollywood masculinity
is interesting, and it coincidently also occurs in Madame Satã. In the latter,
there is a sequence in which João asks Laurita who she saw in him when she
looks at him. She replies by comparing him to Gary Cooper.

6  “Quoting” the Film-Noir Femme Fatale in


A dama do Cine Shanghai

1. For detailed information about the film including production, reception,


and casting, among other aspects, see Robson.
2. For a detailed account of this topic, see Naremore.
3. It is a coincidence but Welles’s The Lady also had its release postponed for a
while in America. It was even released in other countries before its American
release. See Robson for more information on this.
4. A similar (subjective) ending is used in the American film Basic Instinct.
Its ending is constantly debated in different studies about the film. See, for
instance, Stables.

Conclusion

1. As previously discussed, it is difficult to single out these films under a defi-


nite genre as some of them could be and have been classified in various ways.
For instance, As intimidades de Analu e Fernanda has been described as a
drama, thriller, pornochanchada, and detective story, among others.
2. However, it is important to highlight that “bunny boilers” in American cin-
ema were portrayed as heterosexual femmes fatales.
Filmography

Brazilian Films

Aleluia Gretchen (Hallelujah Gretchen). Dir. Sylvio Back, 1976.


Amor e traição (Love and Betrayal). Dir. Pedro Camargo, 1974.
Ariela. Dir. John Herbert, 1980.
Bonitinha mas ordinária (Pretty but Slutty). Dir. Braz Chediak, 1981.
O casamento de Louise (Louise’s Wedding). Dir. Betse de Paula, 2001.
O clube das infiéis (The Unfaithful Females’ Club). Dir. Cláudio Cunha, 1975.
Como era gostoso o meu francês (How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman). Dir.
Nelson Pereira dos Santos, 1971.
Como esquecer (How to Forget). Dir. Malu de Martino, 2010.
Contos eróticos (Erotic Tales). Dir. Joaquim Pedro de Andrade, Eduardo Escorel,
Roberto Palmari, and Roberto Santos, 1977.
A dama do Cine Shanghai (The Lady from the Shanghai Cinema). Dir. Guilherme
de Almeida Prado, 1987.
A dama do lotação (Lady on the Bus). Dir. Neville D’Almeida, 1978.
Do começo ao fim (From Beginning to End). Dir. Aluízio Abranches, 2009.
Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands). Dir. Bruno
Barreto, 1976.
Escola penal de meninas violentadas (Penal School for Violated Girls). Dir.
Antônio Meliade, 1977.
Estou com AIDS (I Have Got AIDS). Dir. David Cardoso, 1986.
Os galhos do casamento (The “Horns” of Marriage). Dir. Sérgio Toledo, 1978.
Giselle. Dir. Victor di Mello, 1980.
As intimidades de Analu e Fernanda (Analu and Fernanda’s Intimacies). Dir. José
Miziara, 1980.
As intimidades de duas mulheres, Vera e Helena (Two Women’s Intimacies: Vera
and Helena). Dir. Mozeal Silveira, 1980.
Madame Satã. Dir. Karïm Ainouz, 2002.
Masculino . . . até certo ponto (Male . . . Up to an Extent). Dir. Wilson Rodrigues, 1986.
A mulher de todos (The Woman of Everyone). Dir. Rogério Sganzerla, 1970.
Mulher objeto (Woman as Object). Dir. Sílvio de Abreu, 1981.
Ninguém segura essas mulheres (No One Can Hold back These Women). Dir.
Anselmo Duarte, 1975.
A prisão (Bare behind Bars). Dir. Osvaldo de Oliveira, 1980.
A Rainha Diaba (Devil Queen). Dir. Antônio Carlos da Fontoura, 1974.
188    Filmography

Sofia e Anita (Sofia and Anita). Dir. Carlos Alberto Almeida, 1980.
O vale dos amantes (The Lovers’ Valley). Dir. Tony Rabatoni, 1982.
Xica da Silva. Dir. Carlos Diegues, 1976.

International Films

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Dir. Stephan Elliott, 1994.
The Babysitter. Dir. Guy Ferland, 1995.
Baise Moi (Fuck Me). Dir. Coralie and Virginie Despentes, 2000.
Bandit Queen. Dir. Shekhar Kapur, 1994.
Basic Instinct. Dir. Paul Verhoeven, 1992.
Belle de Jour. Dir. Luis Buñuel, 1967.
Body of Evidence. Dir. Uli Edel, 1993.
Confessions of a Driving Instructor. Dir. Norman Cohen, 1976.
Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Dir. Val Guest, 1974.
The Crush. Dir. Alan Shapiro, 1993.
Devil in a Blue Dress. Dir. Carl Franklin, 1995.
Fatal Attraction. Dir. Adrian Lyne, 1987.
Hard Candy. Dir. David Slade, 2005.
I Spit on Your Grave. Dir. Meir Zarchi, 1978.
Jennifer’s Body. Dir. Karyn Kusama, 2009.
The Lady from Shanghai. Dir. Orson Welles, 1948.
The Last Seduction. Dir. John Dahl, 1994.
El lugar sin límites (The Place without Limits). Dir. Arturo Ripstein, 1978.
Madam Satan. Dir. Cecil B. De Mille, 1930.
Mini’s First Time. Dir. Nick Guthe, 2006.
Monster. Dir. Patty Jenkins, 2003.
One Night at McCool’s. Dir. Harald Zwart, 2001.
Poison Ivy. Dir. Katt Shea, 1992.
Poison Ivy 2. Dir. Anne Goursaud, 1996.
Rear Window. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1954.
Suburban Wives. Dir. Derek Ford, 1972.
Thelma and Louise. Dir. Ridley Scott, 1991.

TV Series and Soap Operas

“After It Happened.” Midnight Caller. NBC, 1988. Television.


Amor à vida (“Love for Life”). Rede Globo, 2013–2014. Television.
Caras e bocas (“Faces and Mouths”). Rede Globo, 2009–2010. Television.
Insensato coração (“Foolish Heart”). Rede Globo, 2011. Television.
“Killing the Right People.” Designing Women. CBS, 1987. Television.
Passione (Passion). Rede Globo, 2010–2011. Television.
Salsa e merengue (Salsa and Merengue). Rede Globo, 1996–1997. Television.
Ti-ti-ti (“Gossip”). Rede Globo, 2010–2011. Television.
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Index

abertura política, 6, 100 androcentric ideology, 79


see distensão política androgynous character, 52
abjection, 127–30 anonymity, 103, 114
abject, the, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131 Antropofagia, 178n16
body waste, 128, 130 Arabian Nights, The, 58
as exclusion or taboo, 128 Arena, Rodolfo, 32
menstrual blood, 128 Ariela, 127
urine, 128 articulated categories, 37
abortion, 6 gender, race, and class as, 37
adaptations, 77 artistic life, 57
adultery, 12, 111, 176n16 asexual femme fatale, 101
Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the asexuality, 100
Desert, The, 54 atemporality, 3, 16, 172
aesthetic quality, 171 avacalhação, 23
Aesthetics of Hunger, An, 178n4
affection, 114, 133 B film, 30, 155, 157
After It Happened, 177n18 Babysitter, The, 73
agency, 9, 11–15, 92, 121, 123 backlash, 13, 14, 111, 177n17
denial of, 13 Baise Moi, 183n9
indication of, 12 Bakhtin, Mikhail M., 29, 30, 35, 55
question of, 12, 43 Bandit Queen, 183n9
AI5 (Ato Institucional 5), 176n8 Bare behind Bars, 183n9
political rights of civilians, 176n8 see A prisão
AIDS, 9, 16, 67, 69–71, 180n20 Barreto, Bruno, 98
Ainouz, Karïm, 47, 52, 64 Basic Instinct, 17, 180n15, 182n14,
Aleluia Gretchen, 178n17 184n4, 185n4
Amaral, Tarsila do, 178n16 Bataille, Georges, 120
American femme fatale, 8, 170 Bauraqui, Flávio, 48
American society, 7 beauty, 2, 25, 34, 86, 171
American softcore thrillers, 111 as culturally intelligible, 34
Amor à vida, 181n5 as effect of discourses, 34
Amor e traição, 183n7 as performative, 34, 178n9
Anders, Glenn, 150 Beauvoir, Simone de, 56
Andrade, Joaquim Pedro de, 44 Belle de Jour, 98, 99, 182n5
Andrade, Oswald de, 178n16 Bhabha, Homi K., 40, 41, 42
202    Index

bicha, 48–51, 52, 56, 63 Brazilian culture, 49, 140, 180n16


bigamy, 52 model of masculinity and
big-budget erotic thrillers, 111 femininity in, 57
binaries, 48, 61, 172 Brazilian Emmanuelle, 98
binary categorizations, 61 Brazilian female filmmakers, 175n2
binary frame, 53 Brazilian modernity project, 175n2
binary pair, 56 Brazilian readers, 76
biographical films, 171 Brazilian society
biological body, 48, 53, 54, 56, 61, 129 Brazil’s patriarchal society, 6
biologically born bodies, 56 colonial, 129
biological destiny, 5 conservative, 64, 91
biological gender, 17, 70, 153 contemporary, 4
bisexuality, 29, 67, 131 crises of patriarchal, 92
bitch, 81, 131, 181n10, 184n5 margins of, on the, 40
calculating, 10 modern, 76
cold, 110 patriarchal Brazilian society, 7, 17,
cold manipulative, 10 49, 92, 113, 127
black beauty, 34 view of gay and black people, 3
black body, 21, 34, 38, 39 Brazilians’ sexuality, 49
black femme fatale breadwinner, 90
fears of, 38 British cinema, 100
as sexual degenerate, 27, 32 brothel, 48, 92
as sexually insatiable “other,” 27 quasi-brothel, 77
shameless, 27 budgets, 169
black homosexual male bunny boiler, 133, 184n8, 185n2
protagonist, 16 (conclusion)
Black Skin, White Masks, 43 bunny-boiler type, 166
see Frantz Fanon lesbian as, 144, 173
black widow, 97, 107, 109, 123, 161 Buñuel, Luis, 99, 182n5
blackness, 37–8, 42, 51, 171 Butler, Judith, 5, 53–7, 60, 66, 141, 142
associated with degeneration, 37
“authentic,” 63 cannibalism, 16, 28, 42–4, 178n16
and constitution of identity, 16 black femme fatale’s, 42
film noir’s relationship with, 21 Brazilian cultural, 178n16
blaxploitation films, 175n1 cannibalistic mimicry, 41
Body of Evidence, 10, 15, 17, 120, cannibalistic other’, 27
182n14 as cultural movement, 178n16
bofe, 49, 50, 63, 68 as ideology, 178n16
bofe escândalo (or bofescândalo), sex and, 42
179n4 capitalism, failure of, 80
bonecas, 66 capitalist class exploitation, 92
Bopp, Raul, 178n16 capitalist economic crises, 8
box-office success, 4, 23, 98 capoeira, 63, 180n16
Braga, Sônia, 97, 99 as symbol of Brazilian culture,
Brasília Film Festival, 23 180n16
brasilidade, 11 Caras e bocas, 179n4
Index    203

carnivalesque costumes, 41 colonial cultural matrix, 40


carnivalesque inversion, 55 colonial elite, 27, 31, 32, 36, 39, 43
carnivalesque, the, 29–30, 35, 173 anxiety for, 26
Cartaxo, Marcelia, 48 mockery of, 40, 41
casamento de Louise, O, 181n5 white, 45
castration, 28, 107 colonial period, 24, 40, 171
metaphorical, 61 colonial sexual order, 38
threat of, 28 colonial social disruption, 34
castratrixes, 8, 14, 140 colonial social order, 16, 29
categorization, 61, 68, 141 colonial society, 29, 36, 38, 45, 178n15
Catholicism, 88 Brazil’s, 15
Catholic Church, 6 control over, 25
Church, the, 30 paternalistic, 37
Caucasian Euro-American femmes patriarchal, 28, 31
fatales, 38 prestigious place in, 25
Caucasian femmes fatales, 22, 25, racist, 16
34, 174 subaltern position within, 35, 42
censorship, 12, 24, 75, 176n8 symbol of otherness in, 44
18 classification, 18, 75, 126 threat to, 24, 25
changes in, 164 white, 30, 32, 34
heyday of, 75 color in neo-noir film, 162–3
influence on film classification, 126 monochrome look, 163
Chagas, Walmor, 22 Technicolor aesthetics, 163
chastity, 88, 102 commercial film, 155
chauvinist pigs, 179n6 communist enemy, 70
Chediak, Braz, 73, 75, 76, 77, 88 communist “penetration,” 70
chiaroscuro lighting, 152, 163 Como era gostoso o meu francês, 27
Chicago International Film Festival, 47 Como esquecer, 52
childish personality, 83 Confessions of a Driving Instructor,
Christian Bible, 136 183n7
cigarette, 61, 62, 64, 107, 144, 156 Confessions of a Window Cleaner, 183n7
absence of, 87 confessions series, 183n7
iconic, 153 consumerism, 40, 45
cinema novo, 23, 178n16 cannibalistic, 44
cinema-novo aesthetics, 177n4 contemporary anxieties, 7
cinema-novo filmmakers, 23 male anxieties, 149
cinema-novo films, 23 contínuo, ex-, 80
cinematic experience, 161 Contos eróticos, 183n7
citations, 156–8 Cooper, Gary, 143
classic femme fatale, 10 as archetype of Hollywood
claustrophobia, 8, 137 masculinity, 185n13
cleanliness, 120, 129 counterculture icon, 179n6
clube das infiéis, O, 183n7 Creed, Barbara, 28, 127–32, 135, 136, 148
cold femme fatale, 103, 122 criminality, 7, 129, 140, 153, 162, 163
Cold War, 7 critical transmission of Hollywood,
colonial context, 25, 26, 39, 42, 45 19, 169
204    Index

crônica, 99 distensão política, 6


crook, 66 Do começo ao fim, 52
as symbol of hegemonic Doane, Mary Ann, 1, 7, 14, 27, 33
masculinity, 66 domestic chores, 104
cross-dressing, 54, 57, 65 dominant ideology, 99
Crush, The, 73 dominatrix, 38, 107, 109
cultural codes, 53 Dona Flor e seus dois maridos, 98,
cultural inscriptions, 53 183n7
cultural intelligibility, 34 DOPS (Department of Social and
cut-throat razorblade, 61, 165 Political Order), 6
Douglas, Mary, 18, 64, 105, 106, 107, 120
D’Almeida, Neville, 97, 99, 101 Douglas, Michael, 182n14
DaMatta, Roberto, 29, 36, 37, 113, 114 drag queen, 48, 54, 57, 66
danger-beliefs, 107 drug taking, 63, 131
dark femme fatale, 178n12 while having sex, 176n6
daughters of patriarchy, 132, 136 dutiful housewife, 103
daughters of postfeminism, 73 Dworkin, Andrea, 13
decency codes, 99
degeneration, 37, 76, 80, 142 economic exchange, 78
delinquency, 140 economic power, 77, 78, 80, 82, 90
Deneuve, Catherine, 99 as trigger of amorality and
Desfile dos caçadores de veados, 179n1 corruption, 76
Designing Women, 177n18 effeminate homosexual, 68
detective films, 154, 159 effeminate man, 69
detective story, 185n1 (conclusion) as a synonym for sexual passivity, 51
deviant condition, 67 elite, 23, 32, 58, 81, 91
deviations, 18, 76, 92, 132, 154 sexual excesses of, 77
Devil in a Blue Dress, 22 social disintegration of, 77
devilish teenage femme fatale, 82–8 see colonial elite
devil’s gateway, 28 Elke Maravilha, 32
devoradora, la, 42 Embrafilme, 98, 155, 182n2
dichotomous pair, 17, 32, 38 embranqueamento, 40
dichotomy empowerment, 15
“good girl” and “bad girl,” 93 black femme fatale’s, 25
lady/whore fusion, 89 enfranchisement letter, 22, 42
master/slave, 25 epistemological trauma
public/private, 50 femme fatale as, 7, 149
sex/violence, 75 erotic films, 164
virgin/whore, 17, 27, 88–95, 172 erotic thrillers, 8, 111, 184n7
dictatorial regimes, 70 Escola penal de meninas violentadas,
Diegues, Carlos, 22 183n9
direct-to-video films, 8 ESG (Escola Superior de Guerra), 70
dirt, 17, 18, 115, 119, 120 Estou com AIDS, 177n18
dirty acts, 80, 97, 102, 118 Euro-American femmes, 171
as fetish, 105–12 European colonial metropolis, 45
disintegrations, social/personal, 8 European colonizers, 26, 28
Index    205

Eve, 136 femininity, 41, 59, 61, 102, 139


daughter of, 136 constructed, 60
existential crisis, 137 mimicry of, 60
exotic lawless countries, 153 parody of, 54
exoticism, 26, 38 reiteration of, 60
of the femme fatale, 26 woman’s rights to, 140
imperialist, 26 feminism, 111
antipornography, 14
Fagundes, Antônio, 154 black, 13–14
Falabella, Miguel, 165 in Brazil, 7
fallen woman, 91 lesbian, 14
Faludi, Susan, 13, 111 second-wave, 13, 14
families, 6, 9, 92, 94 feminist agenda, 14
family feminist film theorists, 12
in bourgeois society, 17 feminists, 13, 14, 179n6
disintegration of, 76, 77 American feminists of color, 37
dysfunctional, 64 antipornography, 99
as a failed or near-failing “man-haters,” 134
institution, 76 femme fatale
relationships, 92 attempts to control the, 12
traditional, 66, 76, 138 bearer of sexual diseases, 106
family planning, 6 beyond American film noir, 4
Fanon, Frantz, 43, 178n18 cause of anxieties, 16
fatality, 16, 102, 107, 161 concerns about female
Fausto, Boris, 176n9 domination, 37
feelings of rejection, 152 definitions of, 1–2, 4, 9
feline claws, 89, 114 destruction of the, 12
feline gestures, 159 in European and American
female agency, 92 cinemas, 5
and the femme fatale, 11–15 feline nature of, 61–2
female characters, 10, 12, 93, 102, 181n5 as an imagined figure, 149
female criminal, 13, 131 ingénue type of, 104
female sexual killer, 140 neglecting of her racial identity, 37
female sexuality in other contexts, 75, 174, 176n15
aggressive expression of, 131 as parody of femininity, 58
as destructive, unbridled and performatively constituted
unhealthy, 101 identity of, 2
as intrinsically diseased, 69 performing the, 61–6
masculine view of, 113 as product of a male’s mind, 149
patriarchal hypocrisy toward, 99 “rebirth” of, 6, 149
patriarchal males’ fantasy about, 25 revenge against, 151
unrestrained, 27 as sexually frustrated women, 161
female spectatorship, 175n2 as a smokescreen, 24
female subjectivities, 12, 13 transgressive potential of, 153
female wickedness, 11 unknowability of, 151, 171
feminine temptation, 136 voracious sexual appetite of, 101
206    Index

Festival of Biarritz, 47 illicit sexual encounters, 68, 69


fetishism multiple partners, 67, 68
fetish object, 108 in public spaces, 67
fetishism is directly linked to in public toilets, 67, 68
castration anxiety, 107 risky sexual encounters, 68
fetishization of women, 108 sauna, 68
fidelity, 93 transgression of “polite” sexual
film distribution, 164 activity, 68
film genres, 2, 4, 7, 15, 171 unsafe sex, 16, 68
international film genres, 19 see also public sex
women in different, 131 gay-magazines, 74
see under specific names gaze
film intertextuality, 158, 159 audience’s, 4
film literates, 157 hero’s, 4
film noir indication of anxiety, 108
American, 4, 12, 21, 134, 149 male, 58, 108, 160
chaotic environment in, 151 male gaze in reverse, 32
feminist criticism of, 12 male spectators’, 34
“impurity” of, 154 paranoid, 135
perilous and shadowy streets of, 84 gender
as a transgeneric phenomenon, and biological sex, 53, 61
176n13 equality, 6, 99
financial independence, 123 as a performative construct, 53–61
Fiorentino, Linda, 10 public performativity of, 51
Fisher, Vera, 80 and racial boundaries, 38
foreign femmes fatales, 15 and sexual politics, 6
foreignness, 21 gender performativity, 5, 48, 53–61,
Foucault, Michel, 31, 102, 177n23 63, 64, 65
French Indochina, 178n12 theatrical permissiveness of, 55
Freud, Sigmund, 10, 107 as a threat to patriarchy, 47
Freyre, Gilberto, 28, 40 see Judith Butler
frigid femme fatale, 100, 101 gender politics, 127
frigidity, 97, 100–2, 104 gender traitors, 70
as challenge to masculinity, 101 gendered bodies, 56, 134
genre blending, 159, 184n1
galhos do casamento, Os, 183n7 girl-on-girl action, 133
gangster films, 154 Giselle, 127
Garbo, Greta, 21 Godard, Jean-Luc, 156
gay and lesbian rights, 6 goddess of Tijuca Forest, 60, 180n13
gay men, 16, 70 Gold Hugo, 47
gay sex Gonçalves, Ênio, 125
anonymous sex, 68 good white woman, 27
barebacking, 67, 68 grã-fina, 73
cottaging, 68 Gramado Film Festival, 155
cruising, 67, 68, 69 GRID (gay-related
gay men and death, 70 immunodeficiency), 69
Index    207

Grier, Pam, 175n1 ideology of whitening, 44


Grupo Gay da Bahia, 175n4 immigration, 179n11
guerrilla warfare, 6 immorality, 114, 115, 128
guilty pleasure, 76 immoral acts, 36
guinea pigs, 101, 110 immoral contagion, 86, 109, 116
in-between space, 115, 116
Hard Candy, 73 incest, 52, 76
hardcore pornographic films, 164 incestuous relationship, 52
Hari, Mata, 12 Inconfidência Mineira, 26
Hayworth, Rita, 15, 21, 150, 153 infidelity, 75, 121, 122, 137, 140
hegemonic sexual roles, 29, 50, 103, fear of betrayal, 113
129, 182n15 marital, 115
heteronormativity, 52, 56 risks of, 111
challenges to, 56 and women’s empowerment, 111
heterosexual male audience, 109, 112, innocence, 73, 74, 77, 83, 87, 163
114, 131, 172, 176n6 innocent devilish femme fatale, 17
heterosexuality, 119, 125, 134, 141, Insensato coração, 181n5
142, 148 intimidades de duas mulheres,
compulsory, 147 Vera e Helena, As, 127
naturalization of, 147 inversion of power
historical films, 171 see power inversion
historical truth, 24 Irigary, Luce, 78
Hitchcock, Alfred, 158
HIV, 16, 67, 70, 71 Jennifer’s Body, 73
homosexuals as the main source of, 9 Jewish joke, 10
Hobsbawm, Eric J., 17, 78
homophobia Kaplan, E. Ann, 12, 38, 136, 151, 153,
in Brazil, 175n4 173
homophobic attack, 55, 179n9 Killing the Right People, 177n18
homophobic crimes, 4 kindness as a masquerade, 132
homophobic signifying knife, 51, 139, 158, 163
economy, 64 penknife, 86, 133, 142
violence against homosexuals, 172 Kristeva, Julia, 18, 127–8, 130, 132,
homosexual characters, 3, 133, 164 135, 136
homosexuality Kroeber, Carlos, 77
Brazilian perceptions of, 16, 52
as an expression of perversions, 70 lack, 42, 152
as fatality, 16 compensation for, 152
patriarchal views of, 67 of fulfilling sex, 111, 127
polluted status in society, 64 of a phallus, 42
horror film, 86 of racial equality, 42
hotel de alta rotatividade, 115 of sexual satisfaction, 145
hypersexuality, 27 lady, 88, 89, 105, 106
Lady from Shanghai, The, 18,
I Spit on Your Grave, 183n9 149, 150–4, 166, 185n3
iconography of image, 4 (chapter 6)
208    Index

language, 4–5 limp fairy, 67


cross-dressing through, 65 linguistic failure, 61
effect on “victims,” 35 loneliness, 132
obscene, 131 loss of capital, 78
valorization of the obscene lottery jackpot, 86
through, 29, 35 lugar sin límites, El, 54
verbal acuity, 4, 5 luta armada, 6
Lapa neighborhood, 47, 48 see guerrilla warfare
Last Seduction, The, 10, 17, 120,
184n5, 184n12 machão, 49, 50, 51
Latin America, 70, 153, 154 macho performativity, 63
Latin American woman’s as a device to seduce, 63
sensuality, 99 macho-orientated cultures, 54
Lei Maria da Penha, 182n12 Mackinnon, Catharine A., 13
lesbian Madam Satan, 179n1
butch, 135 made-for-cable films, 8
experimenting, 128, 130 Madonna, 10
lesbian sex, 127, 130, 176n6 Maia, Nuno Leal, 98
lesbian sexuality, 141 malandro, 48, 49, 53, 57, 61, 66
perception of violent women as, 140 as homme fatal, 51
psychopathic, 133 male
seen as masculinized women, 131 as avenger of damaged honor, 122
lesbian characters, 49 fallen, 115, 121
lesbian fatale, 130–6 as guardian of female sexual
and jealousy, 126, 140, 144 morality, 105
as metamorphosis of the femme stereotypical patriarchal, 52
fatale, 147 male anxiety, 3, 12, 75, 101, 107
related to violence and aggression, male crises, 8
125 see crises of masculinity
as social abject, 18, 135 male fantasy, 10, 28
violent behaviour of, 18, 131, 139, male neurosis, 110, 113
143, 144 male pleasure, 14, 15, 108, 114
lesbianism, 126, 127, 133, 135, male spectator, 33, 34, 58
177n17 man-eater, 1, 92
in Brazil, 140 manhunting, 68, 102, 109, 122
and criminality, 140 marginality, 57
negative social perception of, 144 marginalizations, 56
patriarchal perceptions of, 134 Maria, Márcia, 125
stereotypical perceptions of, 131 Marques, Felipe, 48
and violence, 18, 140, 176n17 marriage
lesbiphobia, 135 married woman’s sexual role, 98
lesbiphobic behaviour, 139 monogamous, 102
lesbiphobic terms, 135 patriarchal society and, 17
Lewgoy, José, 157 sex before, 93
Lilith, 136 unhappily married woman, 145
Lima, Altair, 27 Marxist ideas, 80
Index    209

masculinity motel, 103, 109, 110, 115, 116, 182n6


“authentic,” 63 mother figure, 18
crises of, 8, 17, 98, 174 Motta, Zezé, 22
culturally constructed, 51 movements
failure of, 95 gay/lesbian, 3, 5, 9
fallen, 45 feminist, 5, 6, 13
hegemonic, 27, 50, 61, 66, 95, 165 feminist struggle, 13
masculinization, 9 mulata do balacochê, 60
Masculino. . . até certo ponto, 177n18 mulatto essentialism, 40
masochism, 28, 122, 172, 173 mulatto woman, 28, 40
masochistic behaviour, 122 mulattoes, 180n11
masochistic desire, 36, 91 mulher de todos, A, 183n7
masochistic pleasure, 25 Mulher objeto, 101, 127, 183n7
maternal penis, 108 multiculturalism
maternal qualities, 93 in Brazilian cinema, 177n20
matriarchal family, 82 multicultural society, 11, 170
ménage à trois, 158 Mulvey, Laura, 32, 42, 108, 114, 121
mental state myth, 24
mental breakdown, 145 and the femme fatale, 24
mental disturbance, 134 see vagina dentata
mental illness, 90, 145
mental stress, 146 narcissism, 114
nervous breakdown, 145 narcissistic nature, 122
psychological stress, 145 narrator’s mind, 150, 152, 165
metacinematic film, 18, 159 national authenticity, 60
metacinematic reflection, 156 national cinemas, 2, 8, 19, 154, 171,
michê, 68 184n2
Midnight Caller, 177n18 femme fatale in other, 176n15
military dictatorship in Brazil, 6–7, 75 naturalized idealization, 142
end of the, 6 neon signs, 152, 162
military government, 6 neo-noir (or new-noir) films
most violent period of, 75 in Brazilian cinema, 18, 149
mimicry, 40–2, 45, 59, 60, 63, 64 definition of, 7–8
as cannibalistic, 40, 42 femme fatale in, 8–9
colonial discourse and, 40 femme fatale’s language in, 5, 183n10
as mockery, 40 second cycle of, the, 8
Mini’s First Time, 73 three key areas introduced into, 64
Miziara, José, 125, 126, 132, 183n1 time tensions of, 3
modernist Brazilian writers, 178n16 neo-noir femme fatale, 10, 11, 29, 121,
molho pardo, 43 149, 162
Monarchy, 30 neo-sisters, 166
Monster, 183n9 Nercessian, Stepan, 26
Moraes, Milton, 74 new femme fatale, 5, 8, 9, 10, 14
moral degradation, 153 new woman, 108, 110
moral hypocrisy, 100 sexuality of the, 122
moral pollution, 105 Ninguém segura essas mulheres, 183n7
210    Index

noir femme fatale, 1, 11, 15, 16, 28, 30 patriarchal rule, 15, 29
noir film, 7, 18, 105, 164, 176n16 patriarchal society
see also film noir attitude toward difference, 138
noir narrative, 160 institutions’ moral codes, 76
clichés, 158 patriarchal trap, 143
strategy, 150 patriarchal violence, 9, 56
unreliability in, 152 patriarchal womanizers, 99, 137
non-Caucasian femmes fatales, 15 patriarchy
normative politics, 56 definitions of sexuality and
northeastern migrant, 56 pleasure, 173
nudity, 77, 164 exploitative and oppressive
nymphomaniac, 99, 101, 107 regime, 153
patriarchal social order, 18
objectification, 12, 14, 43, 92, 99, 178n11 support of patriarchal domination, 10
obsession, 8, 133, 146, 154, 166 pederasts, 50, 55
camera’s, 108 pedophilia, 76
with female betrayal, 103 Peeping Tom, 108, 131
One Night at McCool’s, 185n12 Peixoto, Floriano, 61
oppressed woman Pereio, Paulo César, 103
social condition of, 145 perfect Subject, 10
ostracism, 142 peripheral sexualities, 67
Otto Lara Resende, 181n8 Perlongher, Nestór, 49, 68
Otto Lara Rezende, 76 phallic gun, 122
phallic object, 50
palimpsestic body, 135 phallic woman, the, 28
paranoias, 8, 152, 162, 166 phantasmatic idealization, 141
parodic films, 40 phobia, 39, 56, 128, 135
parodic repetition, 59 a self-defense mechanism, 139
Pasquim, O, 50 toward drag queens, 54
Passione, 181n5 see homophobia; lesbiphobia
passive subjects, 15 physical performance, 65
patriarchal control, 91, 103, 106, pimp, 48, 66, 114
123, 130 Pitanguy, Ivo, 181n4
patriarchal discourse, 58, 64, 93, 132 plastic surgeon, 77, 79, 181n4
echo of, 64 playwright, 74, 76, 90, 98
mimicry of, 63 see Nelson Rodrigues
patriarchal economy, 172 point-of-view shot, 160, 161
patriarchal law Poison Ivy 2, 73
challenge to, 4, 7, 12, 115, 120 Poison Ivy, 73
rejection of, 153 political and cultural intersections, 56
transgression of, 6, 92, 106, 112, 154 polluting person, 106, 107
patriarchal oppression, 136 popular culture, 12, 110, 116, 120, 169
patriarchal order, 10, 109 femme fatale in, 1, 107
patriarchal power porn’ vogue, 126
fall of, 77 pornochanchadas, 2, 3, 4, 177n3, 182n13
fragility of, 80 disguised, 23
Index    211

intellectualized, 98 public sex, 17, 67, 68, 116–21, 129


luxurious, 98 bathhouse, 115
pornographic films, 87, 92, 98, 164, Brazilian law regarding, 118
177n8 in a car, 115
pornography, 12, 13, 164 contested territory, 115
see antipornography feminists dark and deserted alley, 115
porno-tropics, 154 new femme fatale and, 62
Africa and America as, 26 on public transport, 17, 98, 116
postfeminism, 13 risk of being caught, 116
as a contentious term, 13 sex in a cemetery, 90, 117
postfeminist discourse, 13, 14 sexual acts outdoors, 113
postfeminist era, 9, 12, 121, 122, 123, 133 punishment
postfeminist period, 14 by death, 81
see postfeminist era male destruction, 162
potential slut, 91 symbolic killing of the male, 121–3
power inversion, 29, 30, 59 puppet, 77
Prado, Guilherme de Almeida, 149, purity, 77, 88, 109, 117, 154
154–64 puta comunista, 6
prisão, A, 183n9
prison, 57, 66, 72, 90, 146 race
see WIP Brazil as a racial democracy, 40
private detectives, 103, 115 in Brazilian cinema, 22
procreation, 47, 102, 111, 114, 133, 138 Brazil’s racial project, 40
Production Code, 153 motivates evil, 22
1934 code, 176n16 noir’s minimum focus on, 22
of the 1940s (in the United States), 164 race relations, 40, 171
depiction of homosexuals and, 164 racial abject, 129
Proença, Maitê, 154 racial anxieties, 16
promiscuity, 22, 69, 99, 137 racial identity in Brazil, 39
prostitute (female), 16, 69, 180n18, racialised sexuality, 27
180n19 racism, 22, 39, 41, 44, 59
as a femme fatale, 9, 177n19 racist reactions, 39
as source of STDs, 9, 69, 106 racist theories, 179n11
prostitution, 90, 92 radical sex, 17, 119–20, 123, 172, 183n14
psycho-femmes, 133, 134 radical sexual practices, 17
psychologist, 101 Rainha Diaba, A, 71
public and private performances, 59 Ramos, Helena, 101, 125
public and the private spaces, 112–16 Ramos, Lázaro, 48
boundaries between, 112 rape, 34, 74, 77, 181n2, 182n11, 182n12
the city as a male territory, 115 gang-rape, 77
the home, 92, 104, 109, 119, 121, 175n2 as a “patriarchal tool,” 87
laws of consumption and desire, 114 as perversion, 181
private realm, 50 rape role-play, 182n11
private space, 50, 51, 59, 175n2 as sexual fantasy, 74, 85, 91
private sphere, 112 as titillation, 177n8
public domain, 50 victim of, 73, 77, 83, 144, 182n12
212    Index

rape-revenge films, 8, 177n8, 183n9 sex radical, 119, 120, 121, 122
Rear Window, 158 see also radical sex
reassertion of control, 123 sexploitation films, 2, 30, 108, 120, 176n6
Rede Globo, 52, 179n4, 181n5 educative aspect of, 138
redemocratization, 6 sexual advances, 36, 88, 109, 116
reiterations, 60 sexual and social subversions, 35
Renaissance European travelers, 26 sexual arrangements, 5
repellent body, 135 sexual autonomy, 111
respectable patriarchal housewife, 91 sexual danger, 21, 28
revenge, 8, 128, 135, 151, 152, sexual domination, 50, 131
184n8 sexual education, 180n19
revenge tragedy, 184n8 sexual experimentation, dominant
rite of passage, 109 class’s, 77
Rocha, Glauber, 23, 177n4 sexual fluids, 106
Rodriguean female characters, 102 sexual frustration, 113
Rodrigues, Nelson, 74–8 sexual insecurity, 113
role inversion, 144 sexual objects, 12, 153
sexual playthings, 27, 38, 86, 103, 166
S/M (sadomasochism), 15, 35, 109, sexual power, 15, 26, 34, 42, 116
131, 164, 172 sexual practices, 5, 16, 64, 66, 70, 164
sadomasochistic desires, 79, 85 sexual predator, 106, 165
sadomasochistic fantasies, 34 sexual revolution, 5, 7, 110, 114, 134,
sadism, 172 176n14
Salsa e merengue, 181n5 postsexual revolution, 75
samba, 180n16 sexual transgression, 39
same-sex relationship, 66 sexual violence, 74, 80, 176n6
Santos, João Francisco dos, 47, 71 sexualities and pleasures, perverse,
Santos, Lucélia, 73 66–71
São Paulo’s Belas Artes, 155 sexuality
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 144 as an active force, 153
satirical films, 40 commodified, 15
scapegoat, 8, 69 countercultural expressions, 70
Scheherazade, 58 domineering and castrating, 178n11
scopophilic object, 121 independence through, 153
scoundrels, 74, 99 in neo-noir film, 164
seductive objects, 140 against patriarchy, 153
sensuality and violence, 34 risks of, 70
serial killer, 70, 74 threatening, 38
sertão, 23 unrestrained, 82
sex sexy white femmes fatales, 21
without commitment, 110 Sganzerla, Rogério, 23
as dirty, 37, 64, 77, 85, 93, 129 shameless femme fatale, 122, 131
and family disorganization, 77 shot/reverse shot, 144
indoors, 113 as a common editing pattern, 35
and slavery, 31 Silva, Adalberto, 32
see procreation; public sex Silva, Chica da, 177n1
Index    213

single mother, 66, 180n18 Stone, Sharon, 175n1


Skidmore, Thomas E., 176n9, 177n5, striptease
180n11 aggressive, 32
skin color, 37, 42, 58 public, 109
as sign of inferiority, 39, 41 social inversion through, 41
Sloane, Everett, 150 Studio Code, 176n16
soap operas, 15, 52, 78, 179n4, 181n5 see Production Code
social abject, 18, 135 subaltern condition, 38
see lesbian fatale subjectivities, 11, 12, 13, 14, 172, 173
social anxieties, 17, 69 submission, 31
social class lack of, 34
ascendance through marriage, 78 suburban middle class, 90
class boundaries, 91 Suburban Wives, 183n7
class exploitation, 73, 82, 90, 92 subversive warfare, 70
class status, 83, 90, 94 sucker-partners, 10, 121, 174
destabilization of, 88–95 suicide, 71, 133
modern bourgeois society’s super bitches, 184n5
ideology, 81 symbolic borders, 129
relations, 82 symbolic disavowal, 146
see under social class types symbolic order, 128, 135
social conventions, 55 syphilis, 9, 69, 70
social fetish, 105 the cure for, 69
social inversion, 24, 25, 31, 41 as a punishment for sexual
social ladder, 94 deviants, 69
social morality, 177n23
social performance, 53 taboo, 3, 74, 76, 120, 126, 128
social pollution, 18, 64, 106, 107, 125 teacher, 80, 82
agent of, 109 textual eradication, 123
femme fatale’s “polluting status,” 109 the law of the father, 14
see Douglas theater audiences, 76
social relations, dichotomous, 67 theatrical and nontheatrical
social uncleanliness, 129 domains, 54
socioeconomic power, 78 on and off stage, 55
Sofia e Anita, 127 theatrical conventions, 55
softcore heroines, 111, 112 theatrical realm, 55
softcore thrillers, 111, 184n2 Thelma and Louise, 184n3, 185n12
spicy tales, 26 thriller, 125, 126, 171, 185n1
STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), (conclusion)
9, 67, 68, 69 titillation, 3, 85, 126, 172, 183n8
stereotype, 1, 10, 132, 144 titillating behaviour, 114
of black men, 75 titillation device, 15
of black people, 40 Ti-ti-ti, 52, 181n5
blacks as sex machines, 172 traditional femme fatale, 1
of homosexuals, 49, 165 trail of smoke, 61, 156
of masculinity, 165 trans-genre possibilities, 154
sexist, 10 transgressive acts, 106, 116, 118
214    Index

transgressive woman, 7 virginity, 7, 73, 76, 94


hypersexually active, 14 female, 88
into “unconventional” sex, 14 loss of, 77, 79, 90, 92, 93, 102
transnationality, 154, 155 virgines intactae, 78
of film noir and neo-noir, 18, 149, visual pleasure, 109, 114, 131
150, 155 visual style, 4, 34, 83, 114, 160
transnational characteristics, voiceover narration, 160
8, 174 key feature in films noirs, 150
transvestism, 29, 54 reliability of the narrator, 18, 159, 160
TV Globo unreliability of film noir’s narrator,
see Rede Globo 159
voracious native woman, 27
udigrudi, 97
ultimate femme fatale, 1 wedding ring, 65, 146
ultra femme fatale, 1 Welles, Orson, 18, 149–64,
undead, the, 148 185n3(chapter 6)
underground cinema, 182n1 white culture’s fears, 38
universal archetype, 170 white married woman, 28
unreliable narrator, 151 as the “prudish” conformer, 32
unsafe sex, 16, 68 whiteness, 37, 39, 42, 178n17
urban space, 103, 115, 162 whitening project, 179n11
whore, 55, 79, 88, 180n19, 181n10
vagabunda, 88, 92 honest woman’s attraction to, 105
vagabundagem, 90 wife
vagina dentata, 27–8 frigid, 113, 104
the myth of, 27 impossible, 104
vale dos amantes, O, 183n7 Wilker, José, 23, 78
vampire femme fatale, 117, 121 WIP (Women in Prison) Film, 3,
vampirism, 116–18 177n8, 179n5, 183n8, 183n9
cross, 117 witch, 128
exorcism, 117 witchcraft, 128
gravestones, 117 witch-hunting, 128
mouth movements, 117 women
representation of the vamp, 116 aggressive, 131, 136, 138, 140
supernatural being, 117 assertive and independent, 110
tropical reincarnation, 118 bad, 13, 17, 88, 97, 162, 172
vampire, 107, 116, 117, 118 black colonial, 28
Vespucci, Amerigo, 27 as castrated, 28
Victorian capitalist culture, 77 as castrators, 28
Victorian moralism, 70 as a constant threat, 75
Villaça, Paulo, 154 corrupted, 10
Vinícius, Marcus, 26 demonic, 138
Virgin Mary, 88, 104, 114 “deviant” and “loose,” 87
virgin/whore dichotomy as direita, 92
see dichotomy as eternal victims, 13
Index    215

exchange of, 78 as temptation, 136


good and bad, 17, 73, 88, 97, 162 traditional married, 65
as good and maternal, 13 women-plus-property, 78
good girls and wives, 15 women’s liberation, 99, 131
heterosexual Caucasian, 1 women of color, 22
honor of, 80 sexual contact with, 26
independent, 110, 130, 134 violent, 21
innocent marrying-type, 93 women’s agency, 13
liberated, 111 women’s subjectivity, 13
mediating role of, 113 working class, 75, 78, 81, 82, 90
nurturing, 104, 105 working-class girls, 77, 93
outcast, 137 working-class men, 79, 81, 101
to “pass,” or be seen as, 54 working-class women, 88, 94, 182n13
promiscuous, 102 World-cinema femmes fatales, 100
as sexualized threat, 75
sexually “dangerous,” 1 young femmes fatales, 73, 83, 87
subjugation of, 113
subversive sexualized, 104 Žižek, Slavoj, 9, 10, 87, 121