REVIEW: Obscuro Barroco

by George Paschos

In a society that’s sinking, transformation is the only way forward. “Obscuro Barroco”, the latest documentary by director/visual artist Evangelia Kranioti, a natural continuation of her debut film “Exotica, Erotica, Etc.” and her exploration of human desire, is all about the essence of transformation, opting for an impressionistic depiction of Rio de Janeiro. The city engulfs two extremes, Apollonian light and Dionysian darkness, just like ancient Greek tragedy. These two extremes are what what Luana Muniz chooses to focus on, the emblematic trans activist who came to the forefront thanks to her continued battle for human rights within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond. The hypnotic texture of the film enhances the viewer’s sense of journeying through the subconscious of the Brazilian capital, only to arrive at a conscious reality were division and heteronormativity reign supreme.

The documentary starts with a sequence of images from natural and industrial environments, ushering the audience into the central subject matter of the film, which is none other than contrasting realities within the same city, separated by sex, social standing, age and lifestyle. The slow moving camera quickly switches to a frantic documentation of the carnival and the endless exploration of the fluid boundaries of identity, which can often lead from heaven to hell, with purgatory waiting at the end. 

“Obscuro Barroco” instigates a dialogue with the magic realism of Latin American literature, more specifically Clarice Lispector’s writing, pondering the subject of transformation in a poetic, abstract manner. If there’s one thing this film succeeds in, it’s showcasing the deeply hypocritical aspects of Rio de Janeiro, a city that is vastly tolerant of transformation during the carnival, yet refuses to accept otherness in real life. Moving between a dreamlike fantasy and the tough, often violent, reality, the city simply refuses to incorporate people who have redefined their identities, escaping the boundaries of their own biological bodies.

Capturing nocturnal images to express her own mindset, director Evangelia Kranioti spends the duration of the film seeking rays of light that cut through the darkness. This constant dialogue between light and shadow, the artificially lit city and the dusty corners of the human psyche, creates a baroque mosaic that oscillates between a work of art and a celebration of otherness. Meanwhile, the leading lady toys with the camera instigating a fiery flirtation that blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction even more.

“At the end of the carnival, all that’s left is a transvestite in costume on the side of the street,” she says at the end, summing up “Obscuro Barocco” in a single sentence. This idiosyncratic piece by Evangelia Kranioti exacerbates the need to look behind the pretty picture and shed light on the ailing aspects of human society that insists on perpetuating heteronormative stereotypes. The unforgettable Muniz, who passed away shortly after the film was completed, is the perfect expression of this ironic contradiction that goes a lot further than the Brazilian capital.


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