The Batman and Robin 1960s TV series was probably one of the campest pop products mass media has ever churned out. Although younger generations know Batman as the dark, glum hero with a painful past, back then he was a riotous, colourful and shrieking creature .
Fast forward to Brazilian cinema, 2014. The aging gay superheros live in a trailer in a post-apocalyptic world. Welcome to Batguano, one of the dirtiest, most daring and off-kilter films to come out of Brazil in recent years.
It has none of the favela, violence and social themes that populate most of mainstream and indie movies in the country. The director Tavinho Teixeira plays a very sexy Robin. The Boy Wonder has an added moustache, which makes him look older.
Batguano is a very authorial film made possible with the support from regional arts grants. Tavinho is based in João Pessoa, the capital of the impoverished Northeastern state of Paraíba. The director also got a bank loan to cover the remaining budget demands. In total, the film cost just R$100K, or about £17K. It was shot over 12 days inside a warehouse in Mamanguape in Paraíba. Tavinho casted veteran actor Everaldo Pontes to play the ageing, one-armed Batman.
The film kicks off with a cruising scene in an outdoors plantation, firmly in the realms of the tropics. It then moves indoors to an elaborate setting where the couple spends their days watching television. They sit next to a trailer inside what seems like an abandoned film studio. It feels like Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) starred by two cartoonish Norma Desmonds (the ageing and forgotten film star in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, from 1950).
The world has been devastated by a pest spread through the bat and human faeces (“guano” means manure in the native South American language Quechua). Humans are leaving cities and going back the countryside in a bid to survive. Meanwhile, the pair hope for cash they may get from auctioning Batman’s severed arm. They spend their days in this state of suspended living, feeding on memories, irony and each other’s company.
Alternating between bitterness, humour and melancholy, Batguano is a film about ageing. Using a disabled superhero with a sardonic sidekick is a very effective concept to get close to the reality of advanced age and the accompanying feelings of obsolescence, nihilism and cynicism. Aging is the real apocalypse.
The film climaxes when Batman and Robin get into a car to drive around the city. In the best of old Hollywood style, the illusion of movement is created through a backdrop projection of street scenes. The result is beautiful and riveting, an ode to cinema as the dream factory, the escape route that we desperately need sometimes. Amidst the debris of post-industrial civilization, Batguano is teeming with hope, poetry, humour and a very human touch.
Batguano is an exponent of Brazilian marginal cinema, but it has hardly been showcased outside the country. DMovies selected it as one of “the dirtiest Brazilian films of the past 10 years”. It’s not too late for the flying mammal to spread its wings across the Atlantic.