Saturday, August 14, 2010

Crazy Brazilians: The Last Madness

Though we are never explicitly told what went wrong in Danilo Porto’s last production, we know it happened during a simulated hanging. Obviously, that would not be an opportune time for technical difficulties. It took a toll on Porto as well. After a breakdown, he finds himself checked into a friend’s sanatorium for a little “rest” in Cris D’Amato’s The Last Madness, now available on DVD.

Though not exactly mad, Porto has several unhealthy obsessions, most notably with Goethe’s Werther and Motta Coqeiro, the subject of his ill-fated production. Though little about Coquiero is available in English (at least online), he is evidently quite well known in Brazil as a historic symbol of injustice. A wealthy landowner, he is thought to have been wrongly executed as a result of his wife’s duplicitous scheming.

Though the emperor could have commuted his sentence, he refused to avoid charges of class favoritism. Indeed, Coqueiro very definitely seems to be a victim of class warfare. He was also most likely innocent. His case is thought to have ended capital punishment in Brazil, though some historians apparently dispute such claims. There are also hints Coquiero’s tragic life holds additional significance for Porto, even before his stage meltdown.

Thanks to the support of his friend and former lover, Dr. Márcia, Porto rebounds. He puts the moves on the “just-friends” girlfriend of an out-patient and even starts teaching a drama class at the sanatorium. Then he has the bright idea to stage a revised version of his Motta Coquiero play with his students. Right, put a bunch of mental patients in a play that ends with a hanging, what could go wrong with that?

Actually, the big shocking conclusion is not the obvious twist one might expect. Madness does not play games with objective reality either, though at times one might wonder. Unquestionably though, it presents a darkly fatalistic vision of humanity. While D’Amato’s direction is about on-par with above average TV-movies, he makes shrewd use of the Motta Coquiero story to evoke a sense of ancient deceit that continues to haunt the present.

As Porto, Eduardo Moscovis is pretty intense and rather convincing acting crazy and acting with crazies. Of course, the supporting cast of mental patients are a colorfully diverse lot. While you might not hire the actors for your production of the Motta Coqueiro story, they are more or less adequate to the job in Madness. Milena Toscano in particularly, has some uncomfortably creepy moments as the nuthouse femme fatale.

Madness is a small film, yet it is surprisingly ambitious. A decent rental if not an instant classic, it is more memorable than at least half the films that wash in and out of art house theaters each week. It is now available on DVD from Pathfinder Entertainment.