by Douglas Messerli
Daniel Castilhos (teleplay and director) Meninos Tristes (Blue Boys) / 2016 [45 minutes]
One of the numerous television mini-series about social and political issues that appear in Brazil and many other South American countries, Meninos Tristes, in 4 short sessions, revisited the commonplace theme of schoolboy bullying for mostly gay boys. As the regular ready of my essay / reviews will know this is one of the hundreds I have written about over they years, as well as one of the most extreme and tragic in its ramifications.
If the casual reader might wonder why this subject is repeated in so many films, I would immediately suggest that it is not an issue of popularity but of the continued need to educate and hopefully change a situation that is evidently getting worse as the LGBTQ community finds its international voice. The bullies of every society seem to get more terrorized in their homophobic fog than they were decades ago when one simply whispered such issues, the poor gay being left alone without any knowledge that he or she was not entirely alone.
And this work subtly asserts, moreover, that homophobia itself often stems from the fear of those who are themselves unable to accept their own nascent desires, proving to themselves that they could not possible be gay by hating others who they suspect of being or are openly queer.
In movie after movie, young gay men are beaten and terrorized every time they walk down the hall or walk home after school. But Blue Boys reveals, like many others, that the terror often doesn’t end there. In the case of the handsome Andre (Vinicius Machado), he is not only attacked at school and elsewhere by Marco (Luiz Kumer) and his fellow thugs, but at home must face a religious righteous mother, Olga (Suely Pinheiro) who, swayed by the uneducated counseling of her pastor, makes things worse for the boy, who has already made clear that he is being tortured at school. Moreover, Castilhos has written in an almost campy monster of a sister, Priscila (Renata Selmo) who is nearly as hostile to homosexuality as Andre’s classmates and as about much empathy as she might have for cockroach; she’d be happier if someone would just come and get it out of her way. I wonder if there is any hidden meaning in the fact that she is busy throughout much of the film reading Harry Potter?
Like most 17-year old closeted gay boys, Andre has a best female friend Manuela (Ana Victoria Camargo) who is there for Andre as some of his worst minutes, but in the end she seems more concerned about the decorations she’s planning for the school prom.
And compared with most such boys in this situation, Andre certainly does have problems. Beyond the threats and the incomprehension of his situation at home, Andre is truly attacked, this time with a baseball bat, escaping only before it is about to be used. His fears lead him to attempt suicide through an overdose of pills. Fortunately his mother returns home from church in time to demand her daughter call 911, who stands there for a while before doing so, as if she’d prefer not to be bothered.
This film, like some others, also includes an openly gay boy, Diego (Arthur Paz) who is not only friendly to Andre, but is determined to get him into his bed and make him is boyfriend. And it is his comments that help finally to get the terrified and pouting Andre to realize that he too has the right to love and even have sex. Indeed, the most pleasant moments in this film are when the two boys finally do get together and almost fall in love, Andre, even at those moments, fearing what might happen in the future.
And with good reason. Worried for her son, Olga is plotting with her spiritual leader how to move the family off to Brasilia for service in the church, hoping to involve Andre—who is clearly a nonbeliever who refuses to even church—in a closer relationship with God that might save him from his abnormal desires. She may think of the move as simply a beneficial involvement in community, but underneath the soothing words of her pastor we can small the walls of a gay conversion camp.
But the worse is yet to come. After their love-making, when Andre leaves Diego, Marco, evidently having planned a sexual outing with Diego, rapes him before beating and knifing him to death. After his caring teacher Mariana (Cheri Vivan) and his mother gentle report the news to him, Andre asks for some time alone and going upstairs opens a drawer wherein his mother evidently keeps a gun. At the last moment of the film, we hear it go off.
The last 5-minute segment begins 9 months later, during which time, apparently, a very much changed Andre—now bearded with tatts—has been locked away in an asylum, evidently for his own protection. We watch him in the shower, fighting fiercely with an imaginary revenant of Marco, the doctors quickly putting him under sedation.
Another 3 months pass, and a more serene Andre is about to be released in another week as the doctor tells him that today is visiting day, and his mother will be with him for breakfast. The movie ends there, and one can interpret it easily as the beginning of a new life of which Andre speaks, or alas, a repeat of the old if his mother has not yet come to realize her own culpability. Presumably Andre has learned how to forgive her and put to rest all the other real ghosts.
When I was visiting the Soviet Union during its very last days in 1991, my poet friend Arkadii Dragomoschenko told me that in Russia the word for gay boys was the Russian equivalent of the words “blue boys.” I wanted to tell him that in such a culture, much like that of Putin’s Russia and the current situations in Poland, Hungary, The Philippines, Egypt and numerous other African nations, and in other countries around the world such a description was certainly appropriate given the condition of both their spiritual and physical beings.
Los Angeles, September 22, 2022
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2022).