Pedágio: A Critic to the Mothers who smoke from the “gay cure” religious flames

By Jessica van der Boor

Directed by Carolina Markowicz, Pedágio is the story of a mother who can’t seem to come to terms with her son being gay. It showcases the neocolonial religious presence that profits from Brazil's poor communities, selling a “gay cure” in the name of an implied Brazilian traditional family that the film denounces. A drama, mixed with theft action and humour, that uses a quasi-camp background to reveal the crapulous ridiculousness of the local church’s practices.

In the Brazilian city of Cubatão, a country town in the state of São Paulo, Suellen (Maeve Jenkins) is ashamed of her son Tiquinho (Kauan Alvarenga). In his pink-coloured room, lighted by what his mother describes as “swinger clubs disco balls,” the 17-year-old boy records videos dubbing to his favourite Black American female artists of the 50s-60s—music introduced to him by Suellen’s former employee. At Suellen’s current workplace, a toll station, her colleague comments on how she needs to “fix” her son. Her WhatsApp groups are fomented by ridiculing Tiquinho’s videos. Tiquinho’s self-expression needs to stop, no matter the fact that he goes to school, works night shifts, and sells beauty products through his videos to get an extra income. His sexuality seems to be a bigger problem.

Tiquinho rightfully brings power to his dubbed words, to the intersectionality that it is his being, and the words of the American singers resonate through him. Tiquinho reflects a new self-assured generation of a Brazilian queer youth who is no longer full of shame. The shame now has been forced on the family, shoved by the neo-colonial force we may call the religious groups that have parasitized the country. Meanwhile, the church feels no shame, but rather, it sees opportunity. Suellen is desperate, she wants to afford a treatment to “cure” her son of his sexuality, making her embrace a life of burglary, influenced by her boyfriend Arauto (Thomas Aquino). Together, they embark in robbing the ostentatious cars that go through her toll station. It is not Jenkins’ and Aquino’s first work together, and they are always a force of nature. Subtlety that reveals much. Brazilian films manages to speak a lot through the power of portraying everyday life, through the complexity of the simplicity, and director Carolina Markowicz wittingly accomplishes this.

“After they turn eighteen, it is much harder to remove Satan.” That’s what they say to convince Suellen that she needs to enrol Tiquinho in the “gay cure” course that costs 2,000 Brazilian Real (roughly, two times the monthly minimum wage). The landscape of the film says much with only the tumbling of the big industrial plants. In a working-class town, the sky is being beaten alive by the flames of materials I wouldn’t be able to name. Here, hell is the place created by men. The place once green is burning with false morals, sold virtues, and Suellen smokes from these flames. The religious smoke is as camp as one can imagine. A gigantic sculpture of an unclothed mermaid lays outside the church grounds. Inside, the walls are neon coloured, like an aquarium. If there is a shark, it is the Pastor, a gringo Portuguese man (Isac Graça) who claims to have found a special cure for homosexuality. In one of the assignments, Tiquinho needs to transform a clay-made genitalia into the opposite sex’s one. It’s bizarre, and then revolting. 

It is not a film that delves deep into the consequences that these kinds of treatments have for marginalized queer youth in Brazil, but it is one that well discusses the mechanisms which trap parents on false morality. Markowicz celebrates queer youth that will not back down, gay kids who continue to find love in the least accepting places. The director foregrounds the adolescents that beg their parents to come home from the religious flame that consumes itself by capitalizing on discrimination. Even when mothers still refuse to use the word gay, the film mouths these letters on behalf of all the kids who continue to spell it. 

Seen at Movies That Matter festival, on March 26, 2024

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