NoHoIFF16 REVIEW: Gazelle: The Love Issue [2014]

Score: 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 94 minutes | Release Date: 2014 (Brazil)
Studio: Terranova 8 Films
Director(s): Cesar Terranova

“There is beauty in everything”

New York is full of unique individuals. It’s a haven for them to be able to walk down the street with glances of intrigue rather than disgust. Gazelle is just one “Freak Chic” ambassador, but she is also possibly the most important. This isn’t because her style is best or because she is famous beyond the reach of the underground nightclub scene. No, it’s because she’s fearless in providing a voice for those much of the country would love to marginalize and forget. She leaves her apartment in full wardrobe—owning a new look each day with customized make-up, original clothing designs, and random re-purposed objects used as accessories. She’s a living sculpture sashaying down busy streets, posing for every camera pointed her way.

The courage and confidence Gazelle exudes is inspiring. People know her, engage with her, and seek out collaborations in the art world internationally. I didn’t know who she was before watching Cesar Terranova‘s documentary Gazelle: The Love Issue, but it’s easy to see how many do. There’s a legacy formed in her wake that spans appearances at myriad clubs including Crobar wherein she brought a camera to document the costumes and excitement surrounding her. She gave “freak chic” an outlet with the magazine Gazelland that she published independently with the help of her friends. Love and acceptance and self-worth are at the forefront of her ideals and she preaches them each time she leaves her apartment. There’s nothing more infectious than sheer strength of will, haters be damned.

This isn’t Gazelle’s whole story, though. As Terranova shows right off the bat, Gazelle isn’t even a woman. She’s the alter ego of a now forty-five year old gay flight attendant named Paulo. It took time and support to become Gazelle and love her not as a character but as an embodiment of himself as a human being. She’s real and more than a drag stunt put on for special occasions and taken off afterwards. She’s Paulo in a deep, soulful way—the identity he searched for upon leaving Brazil for America and the wider world beyond. Those respected enough to remain close-by and earn his love must also respect this side because it’s as much who he is as any other part of his existence.

The documentary portrays this truth in a very human way because while the main footage and plot progression depicts Paulo circa 2013, there’s so much history behind him that proves integral to who he’s become. To see new boyfriend Mark is to remember Eric, the love of Paulo’s life who perished in his arms. To see his vitality and Gazelle’s electricity is to bear witness to his doctor visits in order to learn the news that his T cell count is at an all-time low due to being HIV-positive. He’s never been sick despite having the disease for years, but that’s never stopped him from living each day as though it was his last. This is what Gazelle provides: an escape from the tragedy of life.

Where “The Love Issue” comes into play is with a plot thread that concerns the unprinted eighth and final issue of Gazelland. Released only online, its creation became a huge undertaking that more or less burned Paulo out. And with Eric’s death and only recently being cajoled out of the depression such pain wrought thanks to the love and empathy of friends like Kenny Kenny, finishing it became too much. But just as love was the topic of the issue and the theme of the photo shoot that brought Gazelle back out into the world, love also became the great, universal healer it is strives to become. Finding Mark revitalizes Paulo and the excitement we hear about through interviews and still photos arrives in real time.

This magazine issue becomes an apt metaphor for Paulo’s life and the journey of it coming to fruition the platform for Terranova to delve into the past and really paint his portrait of Gazelle as the complicated, beautiful beacon of light she is. There’s something for everyone whether it’s the revelation that being yourself no matter what is actually possible or the amazingly creative performance art created with imaginative ease. It’s about the fun of living, of finding an outlet that suits the life you live, and making no apologies for appreciating happiness. It’s about surreal adventures being locked out of Scooter LaForge‘s studio dressed as Scooby-Doo and the honest moments full of tears that should never be hidden away by embarrassment.

And beyond just Gazelle herself is a document of a lifestyle on the fringe that you may not know exists. The film spotlights artists like Kenny, Olan Montgomery, and LaForge as well as a cast of characters in this counterculture narrative who should be appreciated by those outside of their specific circle. There’s color and emotion within each costume and canvas that speaks well past surfaces to truly epitomize these artists’ souls. The Love Issue the movie immortalizes this fact as effectively as The Love Issue the magazine does. It captures them in full animation and through their own voices. Its singularly magical result will inspire you to find your own true selves to embrace like you may never have before.

courtesy of the film’s website

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