The Making of Medusa
Anita Rocha da Silveira pobably made MY 2022 film of the year with her second feature.
Movie begins with a woman lying, a black background. The lights that pour on her are red and green and blue. She suddenly bridges her back and begins to sway her hips. Head upside down, a hypnotic dance.
Anita Roca da Silveira says that this intro stemmed from two things. First she knows the dancer who is in this shot, and with her she devised a ritualistic dance that would look like a jumping spider mating parade. The other thing being that in her second feature, Anita wanted to talk about the power of images, how they are everywhere in our lives.
This is why, as the woman dances upside down, the camera is backing away, away. Revealing to the audience the whole of her body, the entire hypnotic nature of the dance. Until we finally zoom out of a cell phone. A young woman is watching what could be the artside of TikTok.
Soon, she’ll be hunted down by a group of girls wearing white masks. Faceless vigilantes. They’ll beat her, they’ll force her to acknowledge she’s a whore but more importantly they’ll film her. They’ll film her blood and her cries and her admission.
This is Medusa.
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In 2015, Anita Rocha da Silveira read a newspaper about a group of girl banding and attacking another women because they thought she was too pretty, that she exposed herself too much on social network. The group decided to take the matter in their own hands and beat and shaved the culprit’s hair off. For clout. A week or so after the event, another group of teenager attacked another girl, scarred her, to try and make her ugly. They filmed the ordeal, the lesson. Women who don’t follow the rules, they get hurt.
This reminded the filmmaker of the myth of Medusa. How a priestess raped by Poseidon was then shunned and turned into a monster by Athena. Women trying to control other women’s body. Anita thinks it’s the patriarchy, that it embedded itself so well in the culture, even women will deter other women from acting out.
She claims she takes forever in writing script, throwing ideas around, tryna find what sticks. Watching Medusa, it’s really not a surprise since the movie seems to slither in between genre.
A group of girls, fostered in a very special church, attack other girl in the streets for clout, but one day, one of them gets scarred. This flaw is what will take her on a journey towards human beings, those outside the Church circle.
Being scarred forcing one to have empahty for others was also inspired by a Greek myth, the one of Chiron, says the filmmaker.
Anita says her passion for cinema certainly came from her mother, a math teacher who used to show her movie with subtitles while reading them aloud but it’s the deat of one of her closest friend that really turned her into a director. She first made a movie for 200$ which garnered enough attention that she was able to produce another. Which finally led to her first feature Mate Me por Favor.
There used to be this grant in Brazil, which granted any movie able to enter a festival a $300,000 prize. Mate Me por Favor was screened in Venice and while the grant might not cover a whole budget, it was still a good start.
Throughout her career and even before the production of the movie, Anita claimed she witnessed the rise of the far-right. What with their influencers in Brazil being really hyped, making production-worthy videos explaining to the youth how to behave, how to be a good Christian how to be a good Brazilian. Anita says there existed a Brazilian YouTuber who claimed her goal was to destruct feminism. Her reputation was wide enough that she ven got elected but when she claimed to have been harassed by some right wing suit, all the far-right turn on her.
While in her first flick, she had tried to picture a group of teenager which looked like her, Anita now wanted to speak of the Other. Of those that surrounds themselves with their peer until they consider the outisde world an enemy. She wanted to talk of values, of lifes and lust and churches who have politcal power and faith and women controlling other women’s body.
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Bolsonaro never prevented anyone from making a movie in Brazil, claims Anita. He just prevented every grand from ever being donated. Luckily, while Medusa had problems with production companies, it seduced not one but two television channels. Garnering in the endeavor a budget slightly shy of one million.
Anita was not scared. She’d shot a film for $200, she could do it.
For the lead she chose an actress with whom she had already worked but for most of the girl which comprises the lead role, she tried casting, by posting on facebook or in acting classes. To create a feeling of belonging, she trained the girls to sing for hours. One of the more interesting aspects of Medusa is that it’s a musical. Part musical, part drama, part horror. Medusa is a bit of everything.
For the songs, since they didn’t have a budget, Anita wrote Christian lyrics to add on melody old enough they had become public domain. The fact that the girl covers House of the Rising Sun makes her smile. The speeches, though, were all lifted from existing discourse she found on the internet.
They had 28 days to shoot and a government refusing to give the last part of the money it had pledged to a filmmaker. Nonetheless, Anita had decided with her director of photography that they should shoot with colors on set. On Mate Me Por Favor, the duo had chosen to add the colors in post-production and this had disconcerted them in the end.
The colors, it was, to Anita, Medusa is some sort of an homage to Suspiria. She claims she was influenced by De Palma, Bava, but the Argento classic she lifted chunks of dialogs from. This use of colors helps create an otherworldly feeling, thinks the filmmaker, and on this Jennifer Reeder would agree. Of course, it’s also because she wanted her movie to be the confrontation of green and red. Gren because it’s the color of hope and of Medusa, and red because it represents blood.
Anita claims the far-right doesn’t know her movie exists. Theaters were in a tight spot in Brazil even before the pandemic, but nowadays, Spider-Man represents 85% of the market.
Whether it’ll get a release on the silver screen in its native country, Anita Rocha da Silveira’s second feature made it to Cannes. She’s thinking of a third film, this one not talking about a group of people, she claims. I guess she doesn’t count on the money the government owes her, for her first or second feature.
Maybe she’ll go international.