Cannes Film Festival Review: Medusa

Year: 2021
Runtime: 128 minutes
Director: Anita Rocha de Silveira
Writer: Anita Rocha de Silveira

Cast: Mari Oliveira, Lara Tremouroux, Thiago Fragoso, Joana Medeiros, Felipe Frazão, Bruna Linzmeyer, Bruna G

By Harris Dang

Set-in present-day Brazil, “Medusa” (2021) tells the story of Mariana (Mari Oliveira), a young, precise and exuberant woman who strives for perfection on her self-worth through her duties with her Christian group by day. But by night, she is a part of an all-female vigilante group who go out to the streets and beat up unsuspecting women who stray from the Christian path and the teachings of the Holy Bible.

With the uplifting stage musical stylings she participates in, her mingling with her friends (including her seemingly vain best friend Michele, played by Lara Tremoroux) about their interactions with God and attending the engaging sermons from Pastor Guilherme (Thiago Fragoso), all seems well for Mariana.

Until one day, during a nightly ambush, Mariana gets slashed in the face and is heavily scarred; leaving her in a state of depression, doubt and despair as to what her purpose in life is as well as taking notice as to what her actions do in the bigger scope of her world.

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“Medusa” is the sophomore effort from Brazilian director Anita Rocha de Silveira, who gained popular traction from her debut feature “Kill Me Please(2015); a striking look into teenage angst through the eyes of young women and their fascination for a serial killer. In the case of “Medusa”, Silveira follows the trials and tribulations of women through the guise of institutionalized religion.

Aiming for targets like bigotry, abuse, misogyny, discrimination and views of promiscuity and machismo that are brutally justified via means of religious uplift and purity; Silveira explores the horrors of such themes with dark humor (pointing out the ridiculous nature of the ultra-right conservative attitudes) and compelling visual assurance that is compellingly cine-literate and utterly powerful. From referencing cinematic influences — Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” (1960), Dario Argento’s “Suspiria” (1977) and Georges Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face” (1960) — to the stimulating cinematography by João Atala and the immersive score by Bernardo Uzeda, Silveira blends social commentary with genre aesthetics seamlessly.

That is not to say that the film is all style, no substance. Silveira’s female leads in “Medusa” are all three-dimensionally drawn and are believably driven (or held back) by circumstances that make them flawed yet sympathetic. The relationship between Mariana and Michele is worth caring for as their dynamic delivers poignancy in how much they love each other as well as how their denials and discoveries convey how true their intentions are.

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There is one brilliant sequence that is foreshadowed by Michele’s numerous YouTube videos on how to deliver the perfect Christian look and the conflicts between the two women build up to an endpoint that is beautifully understated and absolutely heartbreaking. The performances from the cast are all on point; especially from Oliveira (who displays a perfect balance of enthusiasm, torment and resolve) and especially Tremoroux (whose spirited facade hides something within that makes her character arc wonderfully felt).

Throw in an enraging and satisfying conclusion that encapsulates all the story had built up and you got yourself a winner. Drawing from real life issues through a stylish cine-literate lens, Silveira has made an engaging, powerful and vivid piece of work with “Medusa” that is sure to catch on for genre audiences. Highly recommended.

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Medusa” is screening in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

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