Deputy Events Editor and Senior Staff Writer Julia Tolda attended the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures’ first screening of Fall 2022, Madalena (2021). TW: transphobia. 

Under an oppressive blue sky, among the bright green soy fields, viewers are faced with the body of a trans woman. But while from its opening scene Madalena (2021) might seem to be a movie about death, Madiano Marcheti’s first feature film is actually a story about life, about resistance, about resilience.

Set in Mato Grosso do Sul, a state in the midwestern region of Brazil, Madalena follows three young people forced to confront violence which ravages the country, personified by the titular character’s fate: Madalena’s coworker Luziane (Natália Mazarim), the man who finds her body Cristiano (Rafael de Bona), and her best friend Bianca (Pâmella Yulle).   

Their city is dominated by grain monoculture, which destroys nature and creates sharp social divides, but also by what Marcheti called a “domestication of life”, of circumstances. The characters are trapped between countryside ennui and big city dreams, stuck in a life with no spontaneity nor communication, forced to conform with heteronormativity. While the first two thirds of the movie focus on cis-hetero characters, who navigate Madalena’s death with silence or anger, the final third focuses on queer grief and queer joy. The film is a culmination of this polyphony, of resistance and submission, of the many ways one can exist within an oppressive society.  

After the screening, Columbia University’s Professor João Nemi Neto facilitated a conversation with the director, who talked about the six years that culminated on the release of Madalena. Originally meant to be directly inspired by Marcheti’s experiences as a gay man growing up in the Brazilian midwest, over the course of his research, the story transformed. Madalena was no longer a film that explored sexuality, but instead, gender.

Marcheti highlighted the importance of having trans people incorporated throughout the making of the film, not only on scene but also behind the cameras, working in the script, photography, costuming. He remarked, specifically, the advice of Helena Vieira (a trans-feminist researcher and writer) in writing on queer grief and the need for hopefulness, spontaneity in the dialogues between the queer characters.

Madalena is a painful reminder of the violence suffered by trans people in Brazil, which also allows viewers glimpses of hope amidst tragedy. In grief, the characters find community. In death, they celebrate life. Among the soy fields, there are forest parks, in which people and nature can resist domestication.

Madalena film poster via Columbia University.