Combustible Celluloid
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With: Ricardo Meneses, Beatriz Torcato, André Barbosa, Eurico Vieira
Written by: João Pedro Rodrigues, José Neves, Paulo Rebelo, Alexandre Melo
Directed by: João Pedro Rodrigues
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 09/08/2000

O Fantasma (2000)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Phantom Grim

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Fresh -- or actually not so fresh -- from the 2001 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, O Fantasma crashes into Bay Area theaters for a belated official opening.

This odd, distant Portuguese import more or less borrows from Bad Lieutenant and Les Vampires, and comes up with a kind of art-house gay porn film. But ironically, because of its devil-may-care manner, it comes across far better and braver than many other whiny, timid gay films. (All Over the Guy comes to mind.)

A Lisbon garbage man, Sergio (Ricardo Meneses), seeks darker and weirder forms of pleasure with men, quickly becoming bored as he achieves them. A beautiful female co-worker, Fatima (Beatriz Torcato), keeps coming on to him, be he shows no interest. His only real friend is a dog named Lorde. In the end, he abandons all reason and dons a rubber "phantom" suit and runs around town.

Though the film, a debut feature from writer/director Joao Pedro Rodrigues, has little dialogue and no plot, and takes place in an emotionless, vacuum-like state, it still manages a certain recklessness. Though Sergio never shows much feeling, he always lives for the edge of danger. The effect is oddly mesmerizing.

Of course, the garbage in the film represents more than just an occupation. It's a metaphor for the worthless life Sergio has thrown himself into. As a result, the film may ultimately leave viewers feeling more miserable than tantalized.

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