You can't keep a good drag queen down. That's one of the messages of this "based on a true story" tale of Brazil's outrageous cabaret performer João Francisco Dos Santos. In the '20s and '30s, he was one of Rio's underworld's most notorious (and often cruel) personalities and did whatever it took to get by, be it performing, cooking, stealing or hooking.
His outlaw status landed him a nearly three-decade stint in prison for murder and other more petty crimes, but he remained unbroken. This isn't To Wong Foo. The filmmaking here is raw and intimate with close-ups to spare, and no punches are pulled regarding the unpleasant realities of Brazilian slum life. And as the Madame, Lázaro Ramos projects a fierce, angry intensity, yet he remains human and real, keeping at bay the cartoon quality that afflicts so many movie drag queens. It's a gritty exploration of poverty, class, race and sexuality, and, like the film's star, it succeeds on its own hardscrabble terms.