Rafaela Camelo is a Brazilian director and screenwriter whose latest short film, Desires Of The Flesh, explores relationship between two Church-going young women.
Close-up Culture are proud to welcome Rafaela onto the website to chat about her transfixing film.
Q: ‘Desires of the Flesh’ looks at sexuality and the intense feelings of youth with a backdrop of religious iconography and ceremony. What led you to this story and a combination of these themes?
A: These are two themes that affect me a lot. Both religiosity – I grew up in a very strict Christian family – and coming-of-age are recurring themes in the stories I write.
What calls my attention in these themes is what happens when they cross each other. Someone brought up at church learns from the beginning what is wrong, what is a sin, and what happens to those who disobey. But some girls know how to use this church space, which is so repressive, to live a certain freedom.
Both the church and the school are places of discovery. I use my own sister and the stories she tells me as an example. She’s fooled around a lot at her time. The church is a place where you can leave your daughter knowing that she is safe. So, you do not have to keep an eye on her. And what do teenagers do when they are not under parental supervision? I find this ambivalence very interesting.
Q: What interested you about the washing of the feet ceremony? I must confess, I had never heard of it. But it is a strangely imitate ceremony.
A: The ceremony is very similar to what is in the film. A very theatrical dramatization of the story when Jesus Christ washed the feet of the apostles. The priest plays the role as the servant.
I read a news report in 2016 about the official release by the Vatican and authorized by Pope Francisco that allowed women to participate in the washing of the feet ceremony. And that being treated as an improvement made by a religious figure with a progressive thinking. On one hand, I can overlook it since the apostles were actually all men and there’s a certain show around the ceremony. However, it is a very literal way to understand the word of the Bible that describes that moment.
It made me think a few things. It mainly reflects this supposed danger that women represent and why they are always put in this place of sin. And let’s face it that feet are a great fetish and have a very strong sexual appeal.
Q: Your film reminded me of Julia Ducournau’s ‘Raw’ and others in the way that it captures the intense, swinging and almost primal emotions of youth. What did you want to take this youthful perspective as a filmmaker?
A: I really love this movie! What I love about teenage characters is this freshness of the discovery. Living something for the first time is a fascinating experience. I like working with emotional, obsessive characters with some characteristics that makes them no-standard. Adolescence, with all its discoveries, is a full plate for it.
Q: The relationship between Camila (Bianca Terraza) and Giovana (Pâmela Germano) is fascinating, it reminded me of Luna Carmoon’s ‘Nosebleed’ for the way it borders between sexual tension and toxicity. Can you tell us about these two characters and their relationship?
A: I was once researching on anorexia and bulimia, it was for another project. And I came across a blog of an anorexic girl. There she wrote about dating a girl who, as she described, was much thinner than she was. The girlfriend had the body the girl wanted so badly.
The blog girl talked about how turned on she got when her girlfriend’s hip bone rubbed against hers. That image got stuck in my head. How messed up can this feeling be: the girl does not understand if it is a desire to be with someone else or simply be this person.
Girls are encouraged to compete against each other, to compare themselves the whole time and to try to achieve a standard of beauty or femininity impossible to achieve. This is very exhausting. So, the relationship of the two characters in my film lies in this key of attraction and repulsion. Camila loves and hates Giovana. She is in love with Giovana, but at the same time, Giovana is a hard picture of someone that Camila can not be or even have.
Q: I was extremely impressed by Bianca Terraza and Pâmela Germano. What were they like to work with?
A: They are two young and talented actresses from Brasilia. They study performing arts at the federal university and already have a theatrical training that comes from a few years.
During the rehearsals we had some meetings with Glauber Coradesqui, who prepared them for the film. This helped us a lot setting up the scenes. The chemistry between the two actresses is very good and was something I noticed since the casting phase. We did several readings of the script and the rehearsals were based on texts written for the film. Many of the film’s intentions are subtle and based on an expression, much more than on an action. It’s a movie full of gaps. The casting and the connection between the actresses and the story were essential to make the film come true.
Q: I had a lot of fun watching the group dance scene in the church. Can you talk about that scene and putting it together?
A: This was a scene created with a friend who is a choreographer, Gustavo Letruta. And it really was very tense to record it inside a real church, with people coming and going! I find it to be the most provocative scene in the movie.
The imaginary apple the girls eat is a universal symbol of sin and disobedience. The fruit offered by Eve to Adam that took them out of paradise and represents the origin of evil and suffering, according to Christian faith. And there are those daring and provocative girls parading red lipstick in the middle of the church, as if saying, “Do you want some more of that?”
Q: ‘Desires of the Flesh’ will screen at Sundance Film Festival. Have you had any notable or fun reactions to the film so far?
A: Yes, specifically at the Mix Brasil Festival, a LGBT themed festival that took place in São Paulo last November. It was the first scene of the movie – and I was in the audience without being identified – and a woman behind me commented: “Hard, isn’t it?”. At the end of the movie, the same person said, “What the hell was that?”.
I have no idea what it meant to her. If it bothered her, if she loved or hated the movie. But I provoked her somehow and that is already a great feedback for me.
Q: Is ‘Desires of the Flesh’ a good indicator of the type of films you want to make in the future?
A: Definitely! The atmosphere of the short film, the combination of melodrama with terror and other aesthetic and thematic elements are things that I wish to explore more in future projects.
Q: What are your hopes and ambitions for 2019?
A: Follow the path of Desires Of The Flesh and continue the development of a feature film project.
I hope to be able to participate in international laboratories and mentoring with this new project. It’s called Mercy, a gothic melodrama that has religion as its backdrop. The protagonist is a kind of Frankenstein lesbian. I’m having a great time with this story and hope to be able to do it soon.