Locarno 2022 Review: RULE 34, The Body As a Political Instrument
Lucas Andrade and Julia Bernat star in a prize-winning drama (aka 'Regra 34') from Brazil, directed by Julia Murat.
The Brazilian drama Rule 34 (Regra 34) won the top prize at Switzerland's largest gathering. The third feature from Julia Murat came with a warning that some scenes might shock sensitive viewers. It is understandable that the festival would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to on-screen depictions of asphyxiation.
The film opens on a kinky note. Rule 34's protagonist, Simone, is wrapping up yet another successful session on Chaturbate as a cam-girl. Frolicking in front of a camera, she thanks her followers and supporters. It will be her last session, she says, since she has saved enough money to enroll in law school and pursue a career as a public defender. Simone plans to protect Rio de Janeiro's women from domestic abuse.
She trades risqué underwear for a smart suit, exchanging camming for textbooks and real-life cases of women's abuses. It is soon pointed out that Brazil has the world's fifth-highest rate of femicide.
Simone, however, did not terminate her camming account, despite her desire to dedicate herself to the public sector. The reason she returns to the platform is not because her fans are clamoring for more. Her camming is her way of reclaiming her power in a society crippled by toxic patriarchalism.
The title refers to a fictional law from Charles Stross' sci-fi novel of the same name. It means: "If it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions." If any conceivable idea exists that could be turned into pornography, that type of porn already exists.
Murat uses sexuality as a political tool in the film, which is sexually frank but not explicit or obscene. As a tool, it also helps reclaim the power in social dynamics that place women, especially women of color, at the most disadvantaged spot.
Murat and her co-writers, Rafael Lessa and Gabriel Bortolini, follow Simone's life in two streams. While studying law during the day, she advocates primarily for women, but also brings attention to other political issues, such as colonization and racism. She is also a sensual being at night, venturing from camming to ménage-a-trois while embracing a cascade of BDSM practices, both on- and off-camera.
According to conventional narrative guidelines, Simone's professional life as a public defender and her private life as a night-time camgirl would have crashed. As a result, her professional prospects would be compromised due to her sexuality. This is not the case in Murat's take; the public servant and sexual being are not two separate, distinct parts of the same personality. They coexist in the same space without negatively impacting each other.
The Black, bisexual, BDSM-inclined protagonist in Rule 34 seeks to protect Brazilian women against domestic abuse as an antithesis to oppressive white heteronormative patriarchy. According to Murat, the film partially supports BlackLivesMatter and MeToo, though the film itself does not manifest those specific movements. Murat breaks conventions in terms of narrative structure and depiction as well. Her erotic transgressions serve more as a gesture of social empowerment than to satisfy the lust of someone else.
And this is coincidentally an underlying plot thread of Simone's highest-paying fan, who frequents her online performances under the moniker "Mr Cock 2020". He cheers on her boundary-pushing acts and fuels her fire by suggesting more transgressive behavior. And he supports his demands veiled as friendly suggestions by cold hard cash.
For a brief moment, Simone appears to be caught in a trap where her will and the will of a supposedly domineering, wealthy, and apparently sadistic male collide. The setup muddles the perception of Simone´s freedom and threatens to reveal that Simone herself is functioning in a system of somebody's else design and acting on wrong impulses.
Rule 34 evokes the motifs of Ninja Thyberg's Pleasure about an aspiring porn actress and her rise across the ranks in the adult entertainment industry. Thyberg remains pretty explicit throughout, whereas Murat defers to a more obfuscated depiction.
Both deflect the male gaze in their own way. And both films are psychological portraits. Murat veers more into the political territory within the Brazilian context ,while Thyberg ponders the gender topic framed by the social dimension.
Rule 34 won the Golden Leopard award for the best film in the main competition at the Locarno Film Festival.
- Júlia Murat
- Gabriel Bortolini
- Rafael Lessa
- Júlia Murat
- Lorena Comparato
- Sol Miranda
- Lucas Andrade