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Drained (O Cheiro do Ralo)

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth - the politics of sex and of pawning are not always this straight-forward

In a twisted tale of domination, Brazilian veteran Selton Mello portrays Lourenço, a pawn shop owner who plays power games with poor locals. All goes well, until the buttocks of a sexy woman and a reeking drain in the toilet trigger him to lose control.

Drained is a very dirty – even scatological – movie that compels the viewer to love and to hate their cinema experience. It is a modern translation of what French writer Roland Barthes defined as “text of bliss” in his book ‘The Pleasure of the Text’. In his words, “the text that imposes a state of loss, the text that discomforts (perhaps to the point of a certain boredom), unsettles the reader’s historical, cultural, psychological assumptions, the consistency of his tastes, values, memories (…)”. This is also applicable to cinema, and particularly visible in Dhalia’s film, and not just because of the rancid and unpleasant smell coming from the drain.

The cinematography is set in a dirty São Paulo. The Brazilian metropolis is grey, the colour of anhedonia, the colour of motionlessness, and also the colour of monotony and depression. Lourenço’s behaviour and appearance are repulsive. The greasy hair, his lack of sensibility, his sense of Brazilian sarcasm – an inventive response to the conformism to capitalist laws.

The soundtrack provides a subversive dive into the garbage and trash taste of the lower middle class. Taking the pop dancer and singer Tiazinha and transforming her into a Latin Olivia Newton-John is a good example. Let’s get physical!

The characters make up a vast ensemble of flat types: the sexy waitress, the music box owner, the violinist, etc. The actors Alice Braga, Milhem Cortaz and Silvia Lourenço were relatively unknown at the time the film was launched and have since become more established.

Lourenço has a perverse obsession with fake body parts (a glass eye, a wooden leg) and all the tiny and irrelevant objects he deals (old currency notes, a revolver). They are the dirtiest aspect of the film, which recalls E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale ‘The Sandman’ and its hidden images. It was the first examples in the history of literature when a man was infatuated with a doll. Dolls are not women; men are not robots.

In Drained, the protagonist falls in love with a woman’s derriere instead. He is not even able to say her name and recognise her face! The synecdoche is crucial in understanding the decaying system to which the Lourenço belongs, as well as his disturbed vision of love and lust.

The Brazilian movie has similarities with Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983), because it delves with men turning into machines, and with Perfume: the Story of a Murderer (Tom Tykwer, 2006), because it portrays the search for the perfect scent.

Ultimately, Drained is a tribute to the imperfections of life and the hidden beauty of ordinary objects. It`s time to open your heart, embrace the dirty smells and “the feeling of things”, Lourenço urges at the end of the film.

This filthy movie has received international praise and it is widely available in many countries. It won the Best Latin American Film Award (FEPRASCI) and was presented at Sundance Film Festival in 2007. DMovies selected it as one of the 16 dirtiest Brazilian films of the past 10 years.


By Maysa Monção - 02-03-2016

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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