In 2013, I befriended a Brazilian woman named Ana. I met her through my film discussion group. We became instant friends and then she introduced me to her friends. Eventually, I felt like an honorary Brazilian. It was so much fun to watch the World Cup in 2015, even though behind the scenes, a lot of corruption was happening in that country. These new friends of mine were strong, independent and beautiful women. Even though I don’t speak Portuguese, I felt like we spoke the same language. We were women who were trying to build our lives and live in that life. When Trump was elected in 2016, my friend Ana seemed to take the news the hardest, although all of us were extremely depressed and shocked about the outcome. I knew that Ana was fearing being sent back to her country because of the new immigration laws that were rumored to happen. But there seemed to be more to her fears, and it wasn’t until this past week that l I understood why. My eyes were opened when I watched the 2019 documentary “The Edge of Democracy”, directed by Petra Costa. The film takes you through 30 years of the political evolution and turmoil of Brazil. It is bleak, and a hard watch, but an important one. What is happening in Brazil now could have been us if Trump continued his presidency.
This is why the feature “Medusa” is so refreshing and empowering. The film is directed by Anita Rocha Da Silveira. In this film, she ties together the story of the mythological tale about Medusa with Brazil’s present day. The story of the film was birthed from a news story in Brazil about a group of women who got together and beat up a woman who was seen as promiscuous. That story became the seed of something revolutionary. The ending, without giving anything away, makes you want to scream and fight. I was honored to speak with the director about “Medusa”, and I’m so grateful for this film, opening in theaters in LA and NYC today and expands nationwide over the next month. Check your local listings!
How did you come to this film, and can you talk about the evolution of bringing the myth of “Medusa” and reality together?
Around 2015 the news broke out about a group of women who got together to beat on another woman who they believed to be promiscuous. It was important to this group that they cut her hair and her face, to make the girl look ugly. The girl they targeted had some neurological problems, and this is why the story made the news in Brazil. Some weeks later I read a similar news story, but in another city. I did my research after that, finding similar cases all over the country. It had a lot to do with social media, and how the girl they targeted was presenting herself on social platforms. And that made me think of the Greek myth about Medusa because she was punished because of her loss of purity. In one version I read, she was raped, and in another she just had sex. That got me thinking, how does a myth that has been around thousands of years resonate with today’s society? I decided to write this film to explore that.
Can you talk about the use of colors in this film, specifically the red and green?
“Medusa” is my second feature. I have worked with the same DP, João Atala, for my first feature (“Kill Me Please”) and now my second. “Kill Me Please” was both of our first features, and we were afraid to be daring with the use of color in that film. We added colors in the gradients, instead of bringing colored lights on set. So I decided for “Medusa” we would add the color to the film on the set. I thought, ‘let’s do it how the filmmakers did it in the 1970s.’ Our inspiration came from Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” because of the bold use of colors used on set. The colors in his film are constantly changing, bringing us to a fantasy version of reality. We decided to use both red and green in the film. The green reminded me of Medusa and the snakes from her head. And red because it is the color of blood and life. Like “Suspiria” the colors used in the film are constantly changing. We used a lot of other colors in-between the green and red, like blue, purple, and pink. We used all of these colors to construct this universe that balanced the fantasy element with reality.
Can you talk about the use of music and dance in this film?
What motivated the music and the dance in the film was the mix of genres. It’s a horror film, a fantasy film, a comedy, and there are musical aspects to it too. I had a lot of songs planned out for the film. Some of the songs we re-recorded to save some money, like with “The House of the Rising Sun”. For the girls in the choir, the rehearsal was very important to the process.
For the opening dance scene, I got together with an actress who was very flexible as she’s very active in doing yoga and can handle the more difficult positions. Our inspiration for that scene was a tarantula, or something like a spider. I wanted to start her in an upside position, and have her do things that remind us of a spider. That was our starting point.
Then the dance in the hospital was improvised by the actors. The actor who plays the head nurse [Joana Medeiros] brought a lot of things to the table, and I had her lead the movements of that scene. She brought it, and I was so pleased with how it turned out.
I feel there is a new genre emerging within a genre in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Women are tired of being silenced. You can see this through “Promising Young Woman” and recent films like “Resurrection” and “Fresh”. What are your thoughts of this manifestation, and how your film fits in?
I think our ending shows that manifestation. I was inspired to show that through the paintings I saw of Medusa. In the paintings, she is screaming. In the 1970s, feminists wrote a lot about Medusa. According to the text, the scream was releasing pain and anger. Medusa is not afraid, she’s pissed off. So I tried to incorporate that at the end of the film. The women scream a collective scream to release their pain and their anger. The scream is what ties these women together. They are not all best friends, but they come together to fight against the patriarchy. So for me, the screaming is a way to reconnect with that image of Medusa. Their screams are a way for them to start over, to release this pain that has gone back several generations which can help women for future generations.
I love the quote that is in the film, “Nobody really wakes up, and nobody really dies” and the choice of having Mari work in a coma hospital.
When I started writing the script in Brazil, it was 2013. Since then a lot has happened in Brazil, the impeachment of our previous president (Dilma Rousseff) and the rise of Bolsonaro. My friends and I wanted to fight back, but we didn’t know how. A lot of people felt numb, almost paralyzed. If we went to the streets, we could get beaten up. The media is no help as they are more right winged and support Bolsonaro. My friends and I did not know what to do as every year it seems to get worse. We’re all just sitting at our homes watching our country fall apart. That’s why all those coma patients are sleeping, and we don’t know why they are in a coma. They don’t know if they are going to die or not.
What’s something you’ve learned as a filmmaker that you can share with our readers?
Times are changing so much now, but my advice is stick to your guns. For example, I was very excited about the idea of mixing genres. Not everyone shared my excitement until they saw the film materialize. And they were like, “that works!”
Our casting process was similar. I wrote this film for Mari [Mari Oliveira]. But a lot of people did not want me to cast her. And I was not going to compromise on that since I wrote the film for her and always had Mari in mind.
I’m so glad you had her play the leading role. She was amazing. What do you hope people see in your film?
I don’t know if “see” is the right word. I hope a lot of people “feel” energized and they can leave the movie theater with some fire. I want people to feel more invigorated, and I hope the film provokes some reflections. But mostly I want people to feel energized, and be like, “let’s fight.”