My Own Private Hell (Inferninho) premiered at Rotterdam and is the cooperative collaboration between a Brazilian film collective and a theatre group. Initially designed as a play, the project morphed into a potential TV series before finding life as a low-budget feature. The previous forms echo noticeably within the final film, but despite wearing its theatrical and televisual influences as boldly as its glittery eyeshadow, the surreal melodrama remains resolutely cinematic.
Set entirely within a dingy bar in a Brazilian coastal city, co-directors Guto Parente and Pedro Diógenes’ work focuses on the rag-tag group of outsiders who work and drink in the titular ‘Inferninho’. Run by third-generation owner Deusimar (Yuri Yamamoto), a pithy, Campari-drinking transvestite who lives in the bar’s back-room, the basement enclave provides a space of acceptance for people of all sexualities, fetishes and aspirations.
My Own Private Hell lets the audience into the close-knit community from its opening close-up of Luizianne (Samya De Lavor) singing passionately in front of a sparkly purple foil curtain. The bar singer’s audience lap up her every note – hit, or miss – in their Mickey Mouse, Marilyn Monroe and superhero costumes, whilst cleaner, Caixa-Preta (Tatiana Amorim) looks on wistfully from the side, and waiter, “Coelho” or Rabbit (co-writer and actor, Rafael Martins) gazes admirably at the wannabe diva from beneath his pink floppy ears.
As Luizianne sings along to the soft, melancholic keyboard, a sailor enters the bar and catches Deusimar’s eye, Jarbas (Demick Lopes) is looking for a place to stay and he quickly falls for the bar owner’s charms. They settle down together, but Deusimar wants him to show her the world, whilst he wants to stop travelling and put down roots. When a government-appointed agent makes a generous offer to buy the bar (planning to knock it down for the car park of a new ‘Virtual Entertainment Centre’), Deusimar is eager to accept and leave immediately, but her new beau shoots her down. As the outside world infiltrates Inferninho, the lure of the beyond becomes unavoidable, and Deusimar can’t help but question whether the only home she has ever known is really a safe haven, or if its rough walls form a self-imposed prison.
My Own Private Hell maintains a sense of theatricality throughout, but the heightened performances and irregular pauses in dialogue add to its co-operative charm. From the handheld camerawork, to the theatrical blocking and slightly hesitant pacing, the film pulses as a lo-fi labour of love. Its imperfect form echoes and enhances the ostentatious expressivity of the bar’s patrons and workers, who pour their hearts into makeshift superhero costumes and flamboyant make-up. The characters may not conform to mainstream standards of beauty, but, alike the film’s aesthetics, their kitsch attire matches the grungy cinematography; belying the irresistible heart of the film.
The eccentric family of misfits are profoundly connected through the very fabric of the bar. Their bonds are shaken after Deusimar floats the idea of selling, but they must prove their intimacy can survive regardless of their future. In a particularly beautiful shot, they huddle around Luizianne like devoted parents and guardians – emulating not only a somewhat perverse interpretation of a Renaissance Holy Family, but also the supportive friendship groups of Pedro Almodóvar or Baz Luhrmann. Although the film may not venture outside, the characters’ love for one another feels like it could transcend time, space and any difficulties they may endure.
What My Own Private Hell lacks in production values, it makes up for in its affectionate portrayal of a free-spirited community. The melodramatic plot and theatrical stylings might put off some viewers, but those who can’t find heart within Inferninho’s courageous and supportive crowd probably wouldn’t dream of drinking Campari with Deusimar. For everyone else, this a deeply-felt exploration of a place that is rapidly disappearing in today’s corporate culture. Pull up a stool and enjoy the earnest love and nostalgia for a genuinely independent establishment, unlike any other.