Credit: FIDMarseille
by Morris Yang Featured Film

Amusement Park — Ricardo Alves Jr. [FIDMarseille ’24 Review]

July 1, 2024

There is a provocation inherent in the depiction of sex as sensation: shed the vows and the assurances of deep emotional connection, and all that remains is pure, pulsating libido. Such libidinal currents, placed before the camera’s eye, have caused offense on two diametrically opposed counts: the act of sex is either too personal, and hence obscene when made public, or it is too tedious and distant because of its impersonal physicality. Mainstream pornography has capitulated to the former charge and doubled down on its visceral obscenity; less commercial prospects, faced with criticism over intellectualizing sex, haven’t responded quite as well to the latter. In most cases, a tired and polite hermeticism prevails.

Yet tired and polite do not always have to be met with brash and lusty furor; a number of films in the past decade or so have embraced sensuality through a more measured (and often political) angle, without necessarily sacrificing identity for caricature. In particular, queer cinema has found sensuality useful not just for interrogating the practices of heteronormative society, but — more urgently — to champion expressions once deemed at best marginal. Ricardo Alves Jr.’s Amusement Park embodies just this provocative stance: similar in this regard to Albert Serra’s Liberté, it regales the audience with little more than sets and sequences of collective, unsimulated fucking. But where Serra’s point was to situate the pursuit of libertine ideals in flesh and friction incarnate, Amusement Park’s ethos is decidedly more contemporary, seeking instead a radical freedom achieved not through total emancipation, but from individual desire’s sublimation within a collective one.

To be sure, Alves isn’t attempting a resurrection of the commune, or of the ‘60s and its naïve utopianism. His film, rather, considers desire as a current in and of itself, its telos liable to be suspended in pursuit of a more exploratory path among bodies and their actions. Confined to the liminal space of a municipal park in the center of Belo Horizonte, Amusement Park observes the interactions of several individuals, by and large male-presenting, as they cruise through the shadows and under the cover of nocturnal foliage, free to dwell in unvarnished nakedness. A gaze meets another on a trail, and their holders soon join each other among the trees and railings. The park, also literally home to various rides and carnivalesque furnishings, exhibits a space of timelessness in which camaraderie and the clandestine slowly converge, even if they do not quite touch, onto a free-wheeling association of sex and secretion.

Brazilian queer cinema has achieved significant recognition of late, as works like Marcio Reolon and Filipe Matzembacher’s 2018 Hard Paint and Daniel Nolasco’s 2020 Dry Wind have sensitively and probingly reconfigured the place of gay bodies amid discourses on sexual appeal and eroticism. In this vein, Amusement Park attempts to intensify this reconfiguration, even if its narratorial and emotional sensibilities are tempered relative to those films. Curiously, its setting offers an added provocation: recent ultra-conservative rhetoric has tended to equate queer people with groomers, and Alves’ placement of a primal and ostensibly taboo scenario within the public sanctity of the family-friendly amusement park is perhaps a gleeful repudiation of the rhetoric’s hateful pusillanimity. The film’s press notes refer to the park as an “urban heterotopia,” and one might add that this is a space not foreclosed to outsiders by virtue of its centered and perceptible location. Lensed by Ciro Thielmann and set to a throbbing electronic soundtrack courtesy of Dellamud, Amusement Park thus paints, within a brief 70 minutes, a potent picture of carnality for which rules, per the cliché, are meant to be broken. Only through the “breaking” of the toy, as a narrator suggests at the beginning, will its pieces “become other games” and the “taste of possible realities” be made real.

Published as part of FIDMarseille 2024 — Dispatch 1.