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Fresh From Rotterdam Film Festival: ‘Madalena’ Reviewed

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

by Billie Walker (@billierwalker)

We welcome the second delivery of films straight from IFFR and Billie Walker, this time with a Brazilian gothic drama in tow
Still: Madalena (2021)

Madalena directed by Madiano Marcheti, is a Brazilian drama telling the story of the murder of a trans woman through the perspectives of people as they discover the tragedy.

As much as it is important that trans joy is represented as often as trauma, it is still pertinent that this film has come out of Brazil, the country with the highest rate of murder of trans people in the world.

Although dubbed as drama, the film follows a more American Gothic narrative, fixating on haunting grief and guilt. It is set in agricultural Dourados with spookily vast farming land bodies that can be lost in. American Gothic often tells the tale of the blood spilled on its ground and much like the horrific tales of black death and trauma at the hands of imperialists in the United States, the trans person is an obvious victim for colonising western forces.


Further fitting the genre, the horror comes from knowing what has happened here whilst viewing the everyday acts that continue to take place after the event. In also showing the body only in the beginning, its horror lingers under the surface of the viewer’s eyelids and it is the ethereal figure of the victim in her living glory that is shown throughout.

Madalena often nods to the supernatural and extra-terrestrial with its rustling crops, bright lights and eerie surveillance from above which hints at The X-Files, the sci-fi extension of American Gothic. We know that countries are built on the gravesites of their victims and yet they are filled with unmarked graves with mysteries unsolved whether it be alien, supernatural or historical.

The film's range of perspectives add to the film’s suspense and sense of injustice as we are forced to watch all the wrong people learn of Madalena’s disappearance before those that deserve to know. The indifference in a cisgender friend’s reaction to her absence shows a lack of understanding of what the disappearance implies.

When we are finally introduced to Madalena’s close trans friends, we have built up a great deal of outrage over the loss of life and only now get to be privy to these women’s experience. It is a beautiful yet tragic representation of queer grief. Shown in the unsaid by reading between the quips made at each other's expense, there is a visible chasm left by their missing friend.

In pieces that centre murder, the solving of the crime is quite often at the forefront. Although Madalena is a gripping watch with a satisfying end, it focuses more on the murderer than the murdered. Marcheti’s work however is strong in its refusal to focus on the crime, by doing so highlighting this as not just the action of an individual but a systemic issue giving rise to many victims, undeserving of such a horrible fate. The takeaway is not to focus on a single event in a small town but to highlight the unjust way trans lives are treated across the world.


Billie Walker is a London-based writer who enjoys Campari-based drinks as bitter as she is. There will always be a horror film on her laptop and feta in the fridge. She devours books as frequently as salty cheeses. See more of her work here


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