THE BLUE FLOWER OF NOVALIS (“A rosa azul de Novalis”)
A SAO PAULO LIFE
“The Blue Flower of Novalis” begins with a closeup on its subject’s private parts (being polite here) and it is hard to separate the pornography from its conversational approach to its subject, Marcelo Diorio. This documentary integrates the most mundane and unconventional elements of this São Paulo resident’s life and beliefs to create an unforgettable and explicit portrait.
The lens is trained tight on Diorio as he shares his physical and emotional self in direct conversation with those behind the camera. Surreal re-enactments occasionally break this structure and the unintentional comedy se sometimes distracts but Diorio’s commitment to the form.
Diorio commands the camera’s gaze and is in control of his narrative. Most of his anecdotes and beliefs are expressed with complete self-assurance and faith. No facet of Diorio’s life is off limits. He speaks about incest, death, family, faith, and his HIV diagnosis. He is nonchalant as he shares his fears and disappointments about living up to his homophobic family’s expectations. His charisma and candor can only keep our attention for so long. The last 20 minutes of the film become pornography and a shocking yet sensitive exploration of Diorio’s sexuality, spirituality, and reconciliation of the two.
“The Blue Flower of Novalis” uses provocation to provide narrative momentum making this a film that is not for everyone. Yet even with its structural flaws, it is an empathetic, non-judgmental portrait of a man disregarding taboos and mores in his search for truth.
“The asshole needs to be urgently introduced into the social and political realm,” reads the closing line of Gustavo Vinagre and Rodrigo Carneiro’s directors’ statement about the film. It opens with an extreme closeup of the asshole and it is framed at a disorienting angle, swelling and contracting as if it were breathing. We then hear verse recited from off-screen and then the film cuts to a full shot of a naked man in a yoga plough pose, reading from a collection of Hilda Hilst poems with his rear pointing upwards. Marcelo, the poetry-reading yogi, is a co-author of the film and we never know if what we see is staged or spontaneous.
There are moments that totally depart from reality, such as when Marcelo talks about his brother’s death, the camera shows a funeral happening on the other side of his apartment, with four grieving family members gathered around the brother’s casket. Marcelo joins them and (his voice digitally made to reverberate as if he were speaking inside a church), says that in their youth he and his brother had an incestuous relationship. When the film then returns to him sitting exactly as he was before the camera went to the funeral, it is implied that the scene was in Marcelo’s head and we’re not sure of how much of his revelation was genuine and how much was just part of a performance.
We see that Marcelo has used performing as a means of survival in real life as well. He is intelligent and well read. He gets inspiration and solace from his cultural idols including Novalis, Georges Bataille, Nina Simone, Maria Callas, Franz Kafka and uses that inspiration to deal with the intolerance he deals with as a queer HIV-positive man who grew up in a homophobic family. By giving him mastery over his own narrative, the film does not see him as a victim.
The opening shot offers an illustration of the invasive nature of cinéma vérité that is outrageous and extremely powerful.