Two Brazilian movies are playing in New York this month so they can qualify for the Oscars: Elite Squad 2 and Dzi Croquettes. Elite Squad will try to make the short list for best foreign film, and Dzi Croquettes will try to qualify for best documentary. Since I've already written a great deal about Tropa de Elite, it's time to talk a bit about Dzi Croquettes.
Dzi Croquettes tells the story of a thirteen man Brazilian troupe that performed cabaret in Brazil and Europe, achieving huge success doing avant garde and at the time, risqué performances. Liza Minnelli, who appears in the film, became something of a godmother to the troupe, and celebrities came to their shows in Paris and Brazil.
The movie is wonderful to watch because it's a story of incredible characters, who are loveable, crazy, and inspiring. It's also interesting from a cultural perspective, to see how a blending of cultural influences, styles, and techniques from Brazil and the U.S. came together to create a completely new phenomenon. Lennie Dale was a fascinating character alone. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, he was a Broadway performer who moved to Brazil and began singing and dancing there, and befriended and even performed with people like Elis Regina. (He also spoke beautiful Portuguese.) He founded Dzi Croquettes along with Brazilian performer Wagner Ribeiro, bringing to the group formal dance technique. While in Brazil, he spent a year in jail after getting caught with pot, and became a hit behind bars teaching the inmates to dance. He also got hit by a bus (literally) and was unable to perform for a time. Along with several others in the troupe, he was a fantastic dancer, making the archive footage of the dance scenes some of the best parts of the movie.
From a historical standpoint, it's amazing what the troupe got away with under the military dictatorship, somehow miraculously avoiding censorship, though the government tried to shut them down a few times. It's also incredible how they were able to express themselves so freely - both as performers and as gay men during the 1960s.
The movie also shows how the group had an enormous cultural influence, not only in dance, theater, and music, but even the Portuguese language (the word tiete, which is now in the Portuguese dictionary, was coined by the group.) Also, many of the foreigners interviewed in the movie became fans of Brazil, traveling there and even learning Portuguese, because of Dzi Croquettes.
Dzi Croquettes is playing at the IFC Center in New York starting today and running through November 24.