Interview: Christiane Jatahy

Merging film and theatre, the Dusk director discusses racism, toxic masculinity and the rise of the far-right in her work, which is based on Lars von Trier’s Dogville

feature (edinburgh) | Read in About 4 minutes
33774 large
Photo by Magali Dougados
Published 30 Jul 2023

Following the rise of the far-right in her native Brazil, Christiane Jatahy set out to explore the mechanisms of fascism in Dusk. It’s the first part in the Trilogy of Horror, which also tackles toxic masculinity and racism, and while the subject matters are challenging, she’s convinced that the time is right. “I believe in the intelligence and the interest of the audience,” she says on a crackling phone call from Zurich. “Something happened after Covid and now, everywhere, theatres are full. People go because they want to be in a collective, to feel that they’re part of something. And you can talk about political issues and provoke this communication that only live art can provoke.”

Blending film and theatre, Dusk tells the story of Graça fleeing the oppressive regime in Brazil in search of a new life. She joins a community of artists who attempt to rewrite Lars von Trier’s Dogville because they don’t want to follow the trajectory of the film, by failing to accept a stranger. But although they’re open to change, initially welcoming Graça into the group, faced with the risk of losing their privilege, they start to repeat the same violent actions against the Other. 

“I always think about the relationship between present and past,” Jatahy says. “I think it’s very important to not forget the past to be able to transform our present moment.” When Bolsonaro won the election, she was stunned to realise that history might repeat itself, despite democracy in Brazil being relatively young. “Even people who thought they would recognise fascism, started to change their minds and think that these horrible things being said are normal,” she says. “For me it was unbelievable – and then I remembered Dogville.” 

She’s conflicted about the film for various reasons, one of them being von Trier’s depiction of the characters, particularly women. “But at the same time, it represents the violence very well,” she acknowledges, “and the idea to help the Other, who then becomes someone who has a debt. And then this person becomes an object, and then finally you can do whatever you want because they’re not human beings anymore.”

In Brazil, the Other are people on a lower social level who, when they ask for their rights, become a risk to those who have something to lose. But Jatahy stresses that the problem is not unique to Brazil: “I think it’s possible to [draw parallels] with Europe when immigrants or refugees arrive and people fear that there are too many of them and they will create social issues. But we can’t forget that society is built on movement; our parents and grandparents were immigrants and refugees, and it’s because of this that society exists.” 

Jatahy hopes that Dusk is the beginning of a conversation about how we can take our responsibility, as human beings, and ask ourselves why we keep repeating the same mistakes. “Dogville or Dusk are kind of fables,” she says. “There’s a real danger if I stop to see that the Other is a person like me.”

Jatahy believes that change is possible and she emphasises her belief in the audience once more: “We live in very complex and challenging times, where it’s difficult to know what is true and what is not true. Narratives are invented. The internet has helped create superficial narratives and [the endgame] is to keep the power in the same hands. But when we talk about the theatre, I believe it’s possible to open a dialogue and to open minds. Because I don’t believe that people really want to live on the surface.”