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Sundance 2017: ‘Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!’ – Young Love’s Magical Nightmare

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I walked into Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! just based on the strength of that title alone. What the hell was this movie about? It’s clear pretty quickly into the picture that Brazilian filmmaker Felipe Bragan?a’s latest is quite the unique picture, exiting in a curious world of its own, equal parts fever dream, nightmare and melancholic reverie. Alligator Girl doesn’t always succeed, but even when it starts to tail off, it still holds your attention.

Joca is a young boy on the Brazilian side of the Apa River, the body of water that separates Brazil and Paraguay. He’s in love with Basano, a young Guarani girl living on the Paraguayan side. His older brother, Fernando, is a high-ranking member of a motorcycle gang caught up in a turf war against a Guarani crew led by Mago, a man who is pursuing the affection of Basano.

Don't Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!

The young talent making up the cast are quite capable. Eduardo Macedo and Adeli Benitez (as Joca and Basano) do a good job of embodying the magic and heartache of young love, and Cauã Reymond has a certain star quality about him, maybe because he’s so damn handsome. The score by Baris Akardere is a synth-driven nostalgia hit, similar to Johnny Jewel’s score for Lost River or Cliff Martinez’s work with Nicolas Winding Refn. Akardere’s synths are massive and emotional, conjuring a sonic dream state that goes a long way in solidifying the film’s aesthetic.

The cinematography by Glauco Firpo is quite striking. It reminds me of Refn’s work with how it exists in this almost nightmarish state of heightened reality. Neon lights permeate the imagery, and slow zooms into characters enhance our understanding. Each shot is drawn out and fixed, illuminating these people and their surroundings. The film begins to feel much longer than it actually is during the middle stretch, as an aimlessness that once proved intoxicating begins to come down from its high. At a certain point, the lack of focus becomes a hindrance; you know you’re abandoning all physical reality with this film, but eventually it becomes swallowed up by its own ambiguity. Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! is quite a unique film, one that lingers on in your memory, even if a good portion of it is too caught up in itself to be understood.

Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about how chronologically weird the Fast and Furious franchise is.

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