By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 7/12/22 – Gustavo Vinagre, a creative and prolific young Brazilian director, scored the Teddy Award at this year’s Berlinale with his Three Tidy Tigers Tie a Tie Tighter (Portuguese: Três Tigres Tristes), a journey of three young gay friends through a not-too-distant future in São Paulo. Jonata and Isabella live in the working-class suburbs of São Paulo and Jonata’s nephew Pedro comes to visit them for a couple of days. These “three tidy tigers” each attempt to make their way in a world that’s been harshly affected by rampant capitalism and a pandemic which a disease threatens infects the brain and impairs memories. The film rejects a conventional narrative structure, preferring to take an approach that is much more experimental, but carefully avoiding becoming alienating, which could be fatal to a film so intent on pushing boundaries, attempting to make sense of the natural absurdities associated with everyday life. The screens at the Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood on Saturday, July 16, at 3:34 PM. If you cannot make it to the theatrical screening, consider viewing the film online with Outfest Streaming beginning on Monday, July 19, from 8:00 AM.
The São Paulo we see in a dystopian future is not so very far from the present. A virus is circulating, one that mainly attacks the brain and the ability to remember. The imaginary state (which is Brazil) has forgotten its past marked by colonialism, slavery, and dictatorship – desperately awaiting some indeterminate “Golden Phase.” Of course, the pandemic in the film seems akin to the current COVID crisis. As Gustavo Vinagre explains, “This is a movie about memory. It is very important that we do not forget the way in which Bolsonaro made fun of the pandemic when in Brazil we already had 600,000 deaths. He made people doubt the vaccine and recommended fake medications. We do not forget the way he talked about black people and people of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The three young queer people – Jonata, Isabella a Pedro – wearing pandemic masks and constantly spraying themselves with disinfectant. Isabella (played by Isbaella Pereira) is in the crowded apartment studying online for a university entrance exam. Jonata (played by Jonata Vieiera) spends his time online as Baby Face offering sexual foreplay to paying customers and feeling lost since the death of his male lover. Pedro (played by Pedro Ribeiro) arrives in São Porto after a long bus ride to visit an HIV clinic where he can get his medications. Pedro has an interest in performing in drag and is excited to see a YouTube star who gives lessons on make-up. They plan to visit an elderly gay man Omar (Everaldo Pontes) who is a client of Jonata, who also is an artist and gives him a drawing he did of two gay men (which represent Jonata & his lost lover).
Eventually they visit an old woman named Mirta (Cida Moreira) who runs an antique shop and she has an incredible memory of objects and furniture in her shop – to the extent that she can tell the story of each object. Mirta invited the three young people to tea, which seems to have some hallucinogenic quality and soon we are transported magically into Mirta’s other world, that of an old-fashioned revue where she provides piano accompaniment to an androgynous singer. The room is occupied to both living and deceased people who the three young ones recognize in a scene where time stands still.
This film centered around the trials and tribulations of these young queer individuals is an ambitious and peculiar comedy by Gustavo Vinagre, which is just as wonderfully evocative as its alliterative title, expressing the sense of playfulness that the director bases the narrative around. The film tells the story of three young queer people in São Paulo. They spend roughly a day together traversing the bustling streets of a city they feel they can conquer, if they can muster up the confidence to emerge from the shadows in which they have found sanctuary from a hostile world that does not understand their experiences.
Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is a revelatory entry into the sphere of contemporary queer cinema, particularly in how it presents the challenges faced by the main characters. There is a tendency for contemporary films on the subject of queerness to be both severe and comprehensive, often structured around characters that are assured in their identity for the most part. This film does it slightly differently, presenting us with a trio of protagonists who are not entirely sure of who they are yet, and are searching for their identities through trial and error, simply venturing out into the world and discovering what works best by interacting with those around them
Vinagre constructed a film that aims to redefine queerness from a modern perspective, playing into the discovery that, contrary to popular belief, identity is malleable and ever-changing. This is reflected in the film’s very easygoing tone, where we witness these friends set out into their neighborhood over the course of a few hours, interacting with those they encounter, and gaining invaluable life experiences simply through being present. This ultimately makes the more serious conversations embedded in the film even more poignant, since the journey to get to that particular point has been so complex, layered with meaning that can only be drawn from an engaging and insightful understanding of issues surrounding identity within the LGBTQIA+ community, which serves as the foundation for this enthralling film.
Considering the subject matter of Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter, it is hardly surprising that the film is just as queer as its characters when it comes to execution. Even the most cursory glance at the director’s previous work will make it abundantly clear that he is not someone who aligns himself with conventions, instead choosing to pursue more off-kilter stories of eccentric personalities, and infusing them with a sense of reality (rather than the other way around, which is far more standard). The film is produced along the ambiguous lines of magical realism, combining gritty stories of the social and cultural surroundings with a more abstract method of storytelling. This culminates in a stream-of-consciousness approach to the narrative, whereby the film functions as a series of episodic moments in the day-to-day rituals of these characters, vivid tableaux of their working-class malaise, which stands in stark contrast to their unapologetic queerness.
It is in this approach that Vinagre adds a level of gently absurd humor, placing these characters in bizarre situations that stretch the limits of reality in favor of a more illogical but nonetheless captivating style of storytelling. It may be perpetually off-the-wall in terms of its sensibilities, but Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is always sincere, touching on some very serious issues through the lens of earnest comedy. The intersections between the internal journeys of these characters and broader subjects relating to the queer community, whether it be institutionalized homophobia or the HIV/AIDS crisis, add to the deeply melancholic sensations that punctuate this outlandish surrealist adventure, which manages to say more about the experiences of queer youth through its bizarre narrative methods than nearly any other film on these subjects in recent years.
Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter proves that a film can easily be provocative without coming across as insensitive or exploitative. The key to this success comes in the realization that there is method to the madness – Vinagre does not set off to simply shatter every notion of plausibility when telling the story of three wayward youths without having some kind of structure, which is reflected in the quieter moments. We are constantly reminded through the interactions of these characters about the insatiable importance of friendship, especially amongst a community that is often made to feel isolated from the outside world.
Vinagre is a well-known avant-garde filmmaker in Brazil. His more recent films include God Has AIDS (Deus Tem AIDS, 2021), Fucking Different São Paulo (2010), A Rosa Azul de Novalis (2019) and Vil, Má (2020). Ultimately, Three Tidy Tigers Tied a Tie Tighter is a touching manifesto on the nature of youth, as filtered through the perspective of one of the most promising young directors working in cinema today, and someone whose perspective is not only fascinating but invaluable, especially when combining the unhinged artistry of his absurdist vision with the genuine compassion he infuses into every frame of this astonishing testament to the simple joys of being young, wild and free.