By Jordan Cronk in the May-June 2020 Issue
Following a number of short documentaries and hybrid experiments, Brazilian director Gustavo Vinagre has embarked on a series of feature-length portrait films focused on fringe figures in the queer and outsider arts communities. Told in their subjects’ own words, these extended interview–based films, conceptualized in a manner that recalls Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason (1967), casually work to disrupt notions of gender, sexuality, and storytelling. Vinagre’s latest, Divinely Evil, centers on 74-year-old Wilma Azevedo, Brazil’s “queen of sadomasochistic literature.” In two subtly contrasting conversations, Azevedo (real name Edivina Ribeiro) tells of her rise to fame in the erotic art world, her experiences as a dominatrix, and the frequently harrowing relationships that fueled her writing. Seated in the background is Wanda (Juliane Elting), a young actress set to play Azevedo in an upcoming film, who stokes Azevedo’s memories through readings of old articles and fan letters that explicitly outline their writers’ innermost fantasies. Accompanying the narrative are closely cropped images of vintage erotica and photos of Azevedo engaged in various S&M practices, looking more like crime scene pictures than evidence of even the most debased desires. What emerges by the end is a double vision of an indivisible identity—one that, much like its protagonist, collapses the boundaries between pain and pleasure, fantasy and reality, the accepted and the obscene.
Jordan Cronk is a critic and programmer based in Los Angeles. He runs Acropolis Cinema, a screening series for experimental and undistributed films, and is a member of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.