2005Director: João Pedro Rodrigues
Cast: Nuno Gil, Teresa Madruga, Ana Cristine De Oliveira
oments before Pedro dies in a photogenic car wreck of sparkling shards of glass, crimson blood, and chiseled dead features, he and his boyfriend, Rui, hear a remix of “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Replacing the swooping strings with a cheap funky beat, the radio transforms gentle melodrama into perverse trash. Two Drifters strikes the same balance between the hyper-romantic and the nasty, ranging from delectable cheese (gorgeous men weeping over Pedro’s body as the rain pours down) to disturbing grotesquery (evil girls masturbating in the flowers atop Pedro’s grave). With a grippingly incoherent plot of gender-bending, imaginary pregnancies, and necrophilia, director João Pedro Rodrigues succeeds in combining dazzling panache with audacious camp. And like the best films of Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, or Todd Haynes, a vein of genuine emotion lies buried beneath layers of irony and self-mockery.
After an introduction drenched in music and color, the film shifts to mundane daylight in a grocery store. With a sudden surge of music reintroducing the audience to heightened reality, the beautiful Odete (Ana Cristina De Oliveira) enters on roller-skates. Odete happens upon Pedro’s funeral and develops an obsession with a man she never met. Insinuating her way into the lives of the bereaved, Odete claims to be pregnant with Pedro’s child. Rui (Nuno Gil) is horrified while Pedro’s mother, Teresa (Teresa Madruga), is hopeful, and Odete easily subverts the story.
Commanding attention like a malevolent Virgin Mary, Odete tends to take other people’s lives, recast herself in the starring role, and add her own brand of sick flair. At the grocery store, a woman stumbles, but then glowingly announces her pregnancy. Later, Odete falls flat on her face, vomits, and then happily tells a concerned passerby that she, too, is pregnant. Throughout Two Drifters, Odete mirrors the behavior of Rui or Teresa—magnified times 100. Where Rui kisses Pedro’s lips, Odete literally sucks a ring off the corpse’s finger as a keepsake. Teresa cries during the funeral; Odete throws herself screaming on the coffin. Rui may drive to the graveyard and sleep outside the gates, but Odete lights candles and sleeps atop the tombstone.
These histrionics are amusing enough, but João Pedro Rodrigues uses the melodrama to question the authenticity of any self-expression whatsoever. As Rui and Teresa prove incapable of moving on from Pedro’s death, their grief is but a pale shadow of Odete’s devotion. When Teresa refuses to touch anything in Pedro’s room months after his death, the act of a heartbroken mother should seem sympathetic. In the context of Odete, however, Teresa’s behavior is merely an afterthought—a similarly unhealthy obsession. The ease with which Odete manipulates Teresa and Rui both amuses and chills. Two Drifters portrays the vulnerability of humanity sardonically and sympathetically. Brief flashes of empathy for Odete, subtle hints that something supernatural may be at work, and ambiguous ellipses in the narrative further compound the confusion.
Unless you’re ready for a universe in which a soundtrack featuring a children’s choir singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” actually understates the film’s theatricality, avoid this film. It’s melodramatic pornography, blatantly sexual and emotionally incomprehensible. The director ignores all sense of character or plot consistency; indeed, João Pedro Rodrigues snubs any cinematic inhibition. Instead, he revels in the most picturesque anti-narrative imaginable, painting a portrait of cosmic irrationality, and forging an engaging maelstrom of deceptive emotion.
Two Drifters is currently playing in limited release.