As we enter the third year of a global pandemic—one that has taken so much from us without offering the space to properly grieve our losses—what has become clearer than ever is the continued expendability of certain lives, certain bodies, certain expectations of well-being. The fact that the viability of industry and capital retains greater urgency and importance than the lives of those whose bodies and minds ensure its means of production (never mind the violent realities of its staging) has never felt more brutally evident.
Cinema and industry
Cinema is no exception to this. For some, film continues to offer a welcome means to dissociate from our world as it stands right now; for others, a distressing reminder of its brutalities. Instead of a cinema that advances, at any costs, its interests as both private and state enterprises, we must demand one that genuinely reflects back to us our past, present, and futures, not just in its onscreen narratives but in its material structures and modes of relation. We must ask ourselves, our collaborators, our communities: what might this kind of ethical cinema—one that doesn’t ask us to deny our lives and their current conditions—look like right now?
We must ask ourselves, our collaborators, our communities: what might this kind of ethical cinema—one that doesn’t ask us to deny our lives and their current conditions—look like right now?
With TRÊS TIGRES TRISTES (Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter) Brazilian filmmaker Gustavo Vinagre offers us a study in such possibilities, an attempt to destabilize the machinations of industry that continue to grind on in spite of—and often at the expense of—the most marginalized. By way of a surreal yet grounded glimpse at a day in the life of three young queer folks and others in their shared orbit, what Vinagre offers with his newest film is a commitment to the liberatory capacities of fantastic futures as well as an honest if uncanny assessment of our present, with an affirming compassion for those living through it.
Renting a small flat in São Paulo, student Isabella and sex worker Pedro (known also as Babyface) inhabit their space with the kind of concomitant intimacy that comes from not just shared housing, but their experiences of marginality. While Isabella studies in the kitchen for an exam she hopes will lead to an unexciting if stable career, the sound of sensual moans makes their way into the room. In the bedroom, Pedro lustfully moves their body in front of their webcam, with the casino-esque sound of viewers offering their digital tips likewise permeating the sonic space of the apartment. Both Isabella and Pedro move and speak with a tired familiarity of the claims that capitalism has made on their lives.
State hypocrisies are revealed in the seemingly innocuous cityscape, marking clearly those it deems expendable and denying them the luxuries of safety, comfort, and remembrance, as well as even the privilege of narrative.
So too does Pedro’s nephew, Jonata. Having explored and exhausted all accessible means of treatment for HIV in his home of São Lourenço and the surrounding state, he makes the trip to São Paulo. As they wander the city ahead of Jonata’s appointment, the trio both witness and reflect on the ways that unjust historiographies and inhumane allocations of resources have shaped the world around them with a discriminatory hand. State hypocrisies are revealed in the seemingly innocuous cityscape, marking clearly those it deems expendable and denying them the luxuries of safety, comfort, and remembrance, as well as even the privilege of narrative.
Realizing imagined worlds
In a world where even rest can be monetized (Pedro themself sleeps with their webcam on) where can we find freedom from the demands of capital? TRÊS TIGRES TRISTES contemplates not only the end of this world as it currently exists, but the imaginings of new and different ones. Instead of a world that circumscribes its beings to regimes of time and history determined by racial capitalism, the film posits radical remembrance of those which have been conveniently forgotten as a means to fracture our current oppressive realities. Here, truth is communal, embodied, and, at times, even orgiastic. Vinagre asks of us: how might pleasure, how might presentness in our bodies, how might non-transactional care or desire act as a liberatory practice? How can we disrupt the co-option of our bodies and psyches for purposes of capital and, in doing so, reject the state-inflicted psychic confusion that serves to deny and obfuscate the truth of our existences?
Vinagre asks of us: how might pleasure, how might presentness in our bodies, how might non-transactional care or desire act as a liberatory practice?
Magical realism, as well as the playful deployment of whimsical videogame and digital aesthetics bend and stretch the seams of the film’s reality, eventually developing into full-on surrealistic ruptures of narrative and a total breakdown of erotic hierarchy. What was once pictured in glimpses becomes a full rebirth of worlds. “Crapitalism,” as Vinagre names it, gives way to a state of being which is communal, intergenerational, and, above all, ever-shifting. Indeed, it is this dedication to fluidity, to the phantasmagorical—all in the trust of the subjective—which underlies the film’s radical mutability.
TRÊS TIGRES TRISTES beckons us with an inversion of the trusting proverb: “A new world is impossible and that’s where we’re headed.” And it does so without empty nihilism, instead activating and amplifying our shared capacity for rapture and bliss. It reminds us that our otherworldliness, our ability to imagine otherwise, is exactly where queer futures must lie.
Sarah-Tai Black is a critic, programmer, and curator from Toronto/Treaty 13 Territory.