O Fantasma


Joao Pedro


Alexandre Melo,
Jose Neves, Paulo Rebelo, Joao Pedro Rodrigues

Ricardo Meneses, Beatriz Torcato,
Andre Barbosa, Eurico Vieira, Joaquim Oliveira, Florindo Lourenco

Unrated, 90 minutes

A Boy And His Dog
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online, April, 2009



Sometimes a movie has to be seen more than once in order to be fully appreciated. It's been at least two years since I first made the acquaintance of a strange, and sexually explicit, Portuguese film named O Fantasma. It's one of those films that I couldn't turn away from but, when I got to the end, all I could say was "huh?" I've watched a lot of queer indies over the years that were so unremarkable that I don't even remember their titles. O Fantasma, however, was a little difficult to forget and I couldn't bring myself to dismiss it, like I have with so many other movies, as being nothing but "porn with a plot." A casual conversation about the film, with a colleague, prompted me to revisit it.

The setting is Lisbon, Portugal. Ricardo Meneses stars as Sergio, a very handsome young man who works the night shift as a garbage collector. He doesn't seem to have any friends. A female co-worker, named Fatima, is attracted to him while he seems to barely tolerate her. His best friend is the trash company's dog, Lorde, and this relationship almost seems sexual. At night, he prowls the streets in search of anonymous gay sex which becomes increasingly more brutal with each encounter. While collecting trash, he checks out an awesome motorcycle and then grows obsessed over Joao, the bike's owner. Like the phantom of the film's title, he shadows Joao wherever he goes.

Aside from Sergio's stalking of Joao, there isn't much in the way of plot. In a nutshell, we learn that Sergio is a man so driven by his animal urges that he eventually becomes one himself - specifically, a dog. The film begins with the image of a barking dog that is clawing at a bedroom door. On the other side of the door, a man in a full latex suit is furiously topping a bound bottom. It is unknown if this is rape or if the rough sex is consensual. Before we get an answer, the camera is following Sergio as he rides on the back of a garbage truck. Next he is hosing down the dog's enclosure (first phallic symbol) and he feeds and pets the dog with a bit too much affection. He answers Fatima's sexual advances by sniffing her and, later, by licking her face. Like a dog, he will paw through the garbage can outside Joao's house. Giving himself over to fetish, he sniffs some torn underwear that he finds in the trash and wears them for the rest of the film. Later, he breaks into the man's house and proceeds to "mark his territory."

In between these scenes, Sergio repeatedly falls down a rabbit hole of sexual adventures as he gives in to more and more animal-like desires. In an abandoned car, he finds a cop in leather who is tied up and gagged with duct tape. Sergio reaches into the cop's pants and jerks him off. He is fellated by a stranger in a public restroom. Mediterranean passions are in full throttle. He finds Joao's parked morcycle and humps it. In an assignation with another cop, Sergio is handcuffed and licks his master's billyclub. He chokes himself with a hose in the shower. Finally, he takes to the streets in a full latex suit and that is all I will say without giving the whole film away. In a weird coda, after all is said and done, Sergio is hopping around a garbage dump. Still covered in black latex, he seems no longer human and scampers like Gollum, from The Lord Of The Rings, through the trash.
Did I say that this is a strange film? That's putting it mildly. Forget a conventional plot, director Joao Pedro Rodrigues is more interested in depicting the interior landscape of a very troubed mind. The symbolism is a bit heavy and obvious, but it works. There is a juxtaposition of the profane and the sacred; I suppose it's no accident that the girl's name is Fatima or that the dog's name is Lorde. The garbage, of course, is a metaphor for Sergio's gutter life. His random fucks portray his mental state as he spirals farther down into an abyss. At the end, he can no longer climb out. The transformation of boy into dog becomes complete.
O Fantasma is a very explicit film. There is a lot of nudity and a lot of rough sex. None of it seems gratuitous and it can be arousing, and scary, at the same time. Ample eye candy is provided by the frequently naked Sergio, who resembles a rough trade Ricky Martin. O Fantasma is certainly a cinematic experience. The imagery is very surrealistic, as if Louis Bunuel and Salvador Dali were still alive to give us another Un Chien Andalou for the new millennium. There is hardly any dialogue, the story is told by its visuals. Unlike many other films that I've reviewed, there is also no bad or inappropriate background music to wreck the mood; just a symphony of traffic noises, airplanes flying overhead, and lots of dogs barking.
I'll be honest, people will either love or hate this film. I found it to be pointless the first time I saw it but every now and then I would catch myself thinking about it again. It certainly transcends genre. O Fantasma doesn't always make narrative sense, a trait that it shares with such other noted head-scratchers like David Lynch's Eraserhead. O Fantasma is the heir apparent of those midnight shows from the 70s like the early films of John Waters. Some of these images will be seared into your brain forever. Sergio, as far as sensitive, disturbed teens go, certainly gives Holden Caulfield in The Catcher In The Rye and James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause a run for their money. Not a film I would recommend for a first date, nor one I would advise tripping to either. Still, O Fantasma might be just what the doctor ordered if you're tired of movies about fabulous makeovers and club kids. Love it or hate it, this is one you'll never forget.