The Last Time I Saw Macao: movie review
Time Out says
The best scene of this defiantly strange essay film comes first: Drag performer Cindy Scrash, photographed like the sultriest of Old Hollywood superstars, sidles in front of a cage full of tigers and lip-synchs Jane Russell’s performance of “You Kill Me” from Josef von Sternberg’s Far East thriller Macao (1952). Campy, gorgeous, and pulsating with danger and possibility, it’s a tough act for Portuguese codirectors João Rui Guerra da Mata and João Pedro Rodrigues to follow. Try they do, though, and their which-way-is-up aesthetic contortions are a continual delight.
The film’s overarching concern is the strange allure of the Chinese metropolis of Macao. A Portuguese colony until 1999, the city is now practically a country all its own, with its own legal, monetary and immigration policies. Onto this alien metropolis (which the directors photograph like documentary observers from a distant future) is grafted a sci-fi–noir tale involving murderous gangsters, a tragic transvestite, a filmmaker consumed by nostalgia for his past, and an arcane secret society obsessed with surviving the coming apocalypse by morphing into animals. It’s a lot to pack into 85 minutes, and by the cheekily doom-laden end, there’s a slight sense that Guerra da Mata and Rodrigues’s reach has exceeded their grasp. Still, the effort is commendable and the complicated emotions of the piece (for a place and a people) come through loud and clear. To paraphrase the great Ms. Russell, the movie has the power to make you laugh and the power to break your heart in half.
Follow Keith Uhlich on Twitter: @keithuhlich
Cast and crew
João Pedro Rodrigues