Ze Celso says he was born a cineaste and becomes a diabolic femme fatale in cinema

In Horacio, the director of the Oficina (Workshop) interprets his first protagonist, a gay gang leader of cigarette smugglers in the Bixiga.

Naief Haddad

SÃO PAULO “I was born a cineaste,” says one of the most consecrated names in Brazilian theater.

“In Araraquara, in the interior of São Paulo [where I spent my childhood], I went to the cinema every day. My plays have a link to the films of Italian directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Luciano Visconti, and the Russians such as Serguei Eisenstein and others,” says Ze Celso Martinez Correa, 82, director and actor of the Teatro Oficina (Workshop Theater).

He has lived theater intensely since the end of the 1950s, but made very few films during this period. After participating in feature films such as A Caminho das Indias (The Route of the Indians) (1979) and Arid Movie (2005), Ze Celso reencounters cinema and, for the first time, assumes the lead role.

In Horacio, which is arriving now in cinemas, he plays the title character, the head of a gang of cigarette smugglers.

He lives in a strange apartment in the neighborhood of Bixiga, in São Paulo, together with his daughter Petula (Maria Luisa Mendonça) and his hitman Milton (Marcelo Drummond). When he realizes that the police are close to capturing him, Horacio plans to escape to Paraguay.

“Ze brings a radical turbulence to the character. His gestures, for example. The way that he touches Milton, and the way he looks at him. Horacio and the other characters are moved by drives”, states Mathias Mangin who is making his debut in directing a feature film.

The film is, in various ways, a tribute to the Workshop. Almost all of the scenes of Horacio were shot in the Bixiga, where the theater founded by Lina Bo Bardi is located.

Besides Ze Celso, there are other actors linked to the company such as Drummond, Sylvia Prado and Ricardo Bittencourt. Maria Luisa is not part of the group, even though she was invited to act in Cacilda. She couldn’t accept because she already had other commitments at the time.

Despite all this theatrical baggage, the interpretations do not follow a theater-like style, which in general is more expansive. “It doesn’t fall in the trap of filmed theater,” says Mangin.

It also isn’t realist as we are often used to seeing in the cinema. “The cast was able to act freely, with improvisations, as happens in the theater,” he states.

Even though there are fun moments in the film, the director didn’t want to make Horacio into a farce. In truth, I sought to make it a tragicomedy a la the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1996) and No Country for Old Men (2007). The unexpected reactions of the characters serve as a constant counterpoint, which prevents the film from becoming too serious or perhaps excessively humorous.

An inspiration for the gay cigarette smuggler played by Ze Celso was Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In the film by Billy Wilder, Desmond is a silent film star in decline.

But the Horacio of Ze Celso goes beyond the decadent air of Desmond. He is more impetuous and irreverent.

His scenes with Petula (Maria Luisa) are among the best moments in the film. Mangin, in fact, was surprised with the quickness that these actors constructed a strange father and daughter relationship. They had little time to prepare – the film was shot in just 20 days and cost R$ 600 thousand.

Nothing pays for the price, however, of seeing Ze Celso as a diabolical femme fatale.