Tag Archives: Friendly Beast

‘Friendly Beast’ Breaks Down Polite Society

The film Friendly Beast, directed by Gabriela Amaral Almeida, follows the restaurant La Barca. When a couple comes in late at night, Inácio (Murilo Benicio) forces his employees to stay. As we witness this microcosmos and its complex relationships, two robbers, Magno and Nuno (Humberto Carrão and Ariclenes Barroso), break into the place, and everything starts to fall apart.

But before we understand the film, we must go back to 1930s Brazil. In 1936, Sérgio Buarque de Holanda published Roots of Brazil, a collection of essays exploring Brazilian culture that also introduced the theory of the Brazilian “cordial man” or “friendly man.” To the author, Brazilian culture is a reflection of its colonial roots. Familial relationships are most important, especially the approval and protection of the patriarch. Meaning we exist in the politics of likeability. And when the pursuit of likeability is the main objective, we’re fated to an unbalanced society.

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In the film, after the robbers arrive at the restaurant, Inácio sees a chance to exercise power — specifically violence. For the first act of the movie, he hides behind pleasantries, but now that the Other has invaded his space, all the built-up emotion comes to the surface. Holanda explains that all the niceness of the friendly man is nothing but mimicry. Politeness is a well-studied formula that allows them to preserve their true feelings.

So, when Inácio draws out a firearm and shoots one of the robbers, what we have is, as proposed by Almeida and Feix, a “friendly man in explosion.” All of the politeness is replaced by an uncontrolled outburst of violent emotion.

This violence escalates. First, he holds everyone hostage and, with the help of the waitress Sara (Luciana Paes), inflicts increasingly violent methods of physical and psychological torture. The height of his control comes when he tries to force Djair (Irandhir Santos), the restaurant’s chef, and Magno to confess to having planned the robbery together. Djair refuses and makes it clear to Inácio that he understands his boss is doing this because he is homophobic and xenophobic since the chef is an effeminate queer person from Paraíba, a discriminated state in Brazil due to its high rate of migration to São Paulo.

After being confronted so bluntly, Inácio is quick to kill the robber and chop off Djair’s long hair.

The behavior of the friendly man in explosion can be found in real life. Especially in the past decade — with the rise of figures such as Trump and Bolsonaro, who shamelessly incentivize homophobic, racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic behavior — expressing feelings the friendly man has learned to hide behind (the mask of politeness). People like Inácio, essentially, are afraid of losing the little power they have, one that was granted by patriarchal structures and that crumbles at the sight of any transgression.

However, the name of the film is Friendly Beast, not Friendly Man. So, if Inácio is the friendly man in explosion, who is this beast of the title?

It is undeniable that in a society where likeability is our main currency, women will experience a high level of pressure. Speaking for myself, I have lost count of how often I’ve heard “why you’re so angry all the time?”. Most people don’t have the intent to hurt, but due to their ignorance, they perpetuate the cycle of violence.

This is the ignorant violence Sara suffers at the hands of her boss, her colleagues, and the customers.

From the start, it’s clear that Sara has romantic feelings towards Inácio, and he is quick to use them to his advantage. For instance, at the beginning of the film, the kitchen employees try to leave, but the back door is locked, and they can’t take the trash out. They ask Sara if she has the keys; she claims they are with Inácio and that they should go back to the kitchen.

Later, it’s revealed she had the keys all along and that, in fact, she was doing Inácio’s bidding by trying to keep people working later than they should.

This type of behavior is pervasive in Sara. She constantly seeks approval, even if the people have no interest in her. Of course, this is not to say she holds no grudges; earlier in the film, we see her hidden in the hallway, quietly cursing one of the snobbish customers. She is aware that she doesn’t belong with these people, but also understands the consequences of not being liked by them.

In an interview for Canal Brasil, when asked about her reasoning for choosing Sara as her friendly beast, Almeida explains that “we [women] are beasts, and we are raised as women to fit into a friendliness that is unnatural.”

Therefore, when Sara is put in a position to exercise power, she is attracted to it. For instance, when one of the customers — the woman who was snobbish — tries to escape, Sara is the one who tells Inácio to shoot her. Later, like an animal, she plays with the body and takes the woman’s earrings.

Another instance where Sara takes a step further is when Inácio teaches her how to use a gun. She points it at him and tells him to undress, and they have sex. Their sex is not titillating; it’s aggressive, almost as if they’re being possessed. This is Sara’s turning point. For the first time, she lets go of any attempts at pleasing. She’s not worried about looking sexy or appealing. For once, she has let go of her ego and followed her instincts.

After this, Sara has transformed. She tells Inácio that she wants to escape to a place in the woods where they don’t even need clothes. He covers her naked body and brushes her idea off.

It is interesting to compare Sara’s and Inácio’s journeys. To Inácio, even though his mask of friendliness has fallen and all his emotions exploded, he is still a cog in the machine. His violence is a tool to reinforce social hierarchies. Sara, on the other hand, slowly lets go of any ties to what is expected of her. After they have sex, one of the hostages is able to make their way into the main area and tries to talk Inácio out of killing everyone. Inácio, wanting to prove his manhood, quickly dismisses Sara to the kitchen.

Once there, she behaves like an animal, desperately eating, crouched on the floor. Djair tells her Inácio is only using her and has no interest in actually running away. But at that moment, even though she is hurt, she’s not ready to believe it.

Then, the film bursts into a violent final act. When Inácio tells Sara to kill one of the hostages, she refuses and points the gun at him. Unfortunately, he has given her the fake gun and, feeling betrayed, stabs her in the stomach.

Later, she wakes up to a free Djair, who manages to tie Inácio up in the kitchen and calls her to leave with him. She tells Djair to go his way and heads into the kitchen, where she lies next to Inácio to tell him about another dream she had of them at the beach, him swimming in the waves. Only for Inácio to reveal, he can’t swim. 

He — the patriarch — has broken her dreams and expectations one final time. Sara stabs Inácio and butchers his body like an animal in the slaughterhouse. And so Friendly Beast is a lesson on listening to your instinct, of learning that not being liked — as hard as it may be — might be what you need to fight back against the things trying to trap you in a life that is not yours.