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The Goodbye Kiss of the Spiderman

The bittersweet memories of the day I interviewed Hector Babenco: the Brazilian auteur of 'Pixote', 'Kiss of the Spider Woman' and 'Carandiru' - who died earlier this week - had a very painful sting, just like his movies

I was living in Rome and studying Film Studies close to Cinecitta Studios in 2007. I had quit my job and my solid career as an editor and translator in São Paulo in order to live a glamorous student life in the Italian capital. I tried my luck as a playwright in Italian, mixing cinema and theatre and using the films of Hector Babenco and Rainer Fassbinder as inspiration. I had the student accreditation for the Rome International Film Festival and I was looking forward to the talks with Francis Ford Coppola and Mike Nichols. So why not try to do my first film interview and publish it in Brazil?

I got the go ahead from a newspaper editor in São Paulo. “Yes, do it! You are surrounded by interesting actors and filmmakers”. But the case was that I only had a student accreditation, not a press one, and I couldn’t go to the specific events for press. So I decided to gatecrash into the forbidden territory, all in the name of art and cinema, of course!

Babenco went to Rome for the screening of his latest movie The Past (with Gael García Bernal), which was in the event official competition. So I entered the screening room and showed just the string of my accreditation card to the security, hiding my student photo under the coat. It worked. I was getting closer to my objective. Next step: where should I sit? Close to his Babenco’s girlfriend actress Bárbara Paz, of course. We soon became friendly and so she took me backstage, where I could finally reach my much-coveted destination: the filmmaker Hector Babenco.


Sônia Braga and Raúl Julia in ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’


At the holy grail

Babenco was very tired, exhaustion showing in his eyes. He hadn’t watched the film: “I cannot stand watching my film again. I had booked some interviews during the screening and came to the end [for the standing ovation]”. So we agreed on a phone interview the following day.

Great! I had more time to watch again Carandiru (2003) and Pixote, the Law of the Weakest (1980). I already knew everything about Kiss of the Spider Woman, the 1985 classic with Sônia Braga, William Hurt and Raúl Juliá (pictured above). Set in Brazil, the plot consisted of two prison cell inmates – a stereotypically gay man imprisoned on morality charges and a political prisoner – had intrigued me for years, triggering to study Latin American history.

I also had to find out whether there was a way of recording our call. Sadly there wasn’t. I just had to take notes on paper very fast,

Babenco sounded very happy on the telephone. He had just come from São Paulo International Film Festival, the city where he settled in 1969. Babenco was an Argentinian gaucho of Ukrainian origin naturalised Brazilian. He used to boast loud and proud: “I am Brazilian!” in Portuguese with a strong foreign accent. No one would deny it. Babenco won international acclaim telling the story of a young Brazilian boy caught up in a hellish underworld of crime and police corruption (in Pixote).

But I wrote “sounded”. Babenco changed his mood suddenly after I compared a scene in The Past to Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Both scenes showed the protagonists taking their loved one to the cinema.“Hey, I don’t remember this film! In my film it is totally the opposite! It is a moment in which the couple is happy with their kid. There is no information that establish any dialogue with Scorsese. I chose it due to the atomic rubbish, because it is trash!”. And then he exclaimed: “You don’t know how to do an interview!”


Scene from ‘Carandiru’ (2003)


The cat is out of the bag

I freaked out. It’s almost as if Babenco knew this was my first interview with a major filmmaker. So I smoothly veered the interview by changing to a less controversial topic. We spoke about the Brazilian actor Paulo Autran, who was also in The Past, nicknamed ‘Lord of the Stage’. Babenco said “Paulo Autran is a very important actor who gave his very best to his small part in my film. Before shooting Autran told me there was not such a thing as a small role”.

I corroborate to the fact that Babenco was a difficult person. He could sting like a venomous spider. His movies, likewise, can sting and kill. They expose the cruel side of Brazil no one wants to see. On the other hand, Babenco proves the necessity of bitterness in art. We cannot promote real change in our society if we are too saccharine. Good-bye, bitter Spiderman, you will be sorely missed!

You can watch the full movie Pixote, The Law of the Weakest entirely for free below:


By Maysa Monção - 15-07-2016

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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