Review: Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!

First off – yes, you’re right: That is the best damn movie title you’ll see this year. Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! – that’s how you name a movie! Moreover, the movie itself does that title justice by being a starkly original, poetic voice about star-crossed lovers and growing up amidst the chaotic backdrop of an immense culture clash.

Synopsis: “Joca, a Brazilian boy of 13, and Basano La Tatuada a Paraguayan indigenous girl living on the border between the two countries, marked by the waters of the Rio Apa. Joca is in love with Basano and wants to do everything to win her love.”

Romeo and Juliet – eat your heart out, writer/Director Felipe Bragança’s takes the coming-of-age/romance subgenre and pushes it through the lens of biker gangs, witchcraft (kinda) and the kind of childhood eccentricity not seen since Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. From the get-go, Basano radiates that magic alchemy of mystery, indifference and intensity that immediately informs the audience as to the source of Joca’s infatuation. The girl with the jaguar tattoo figuratively (and literally-ish) takes his heart for her own. He is completely haunted by her and runs headfirst into assured defeat (in their imaginary game of war) time and time again just to be near her. For anyone who enjoys off-beat romance stories, this recurring theme in the movie will make your heart ache.

don't swallow my heart alligator girl

In the background of their playfully adolescent flirtation/competition is their older siblings’ very un-playful and antagonistic rival biker gangs. Like something out of The Wild One, the Brazilian “Calendar Boys” face off against their Paraguayan counterparts in a competition that quickly turns to bloodshed. There is something decidedly Shakespearean about how this tragedy unfolds: a hopeless romantic pining for the enemy, both attempting to hold on to their care-free childhood romance for just a little while longer until the violence of reality comes crashing down around them. Breaks your heart just thinking about it.

If you’re a fan of Ana Lily Amirpour’s unabashed directorial style, Bragança’s DSMH,AG! has that same kind of raw, young, hungry visual/emotional punch that many enjoyed with A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night. While the work may not be easily accessible for a large audience, it’s fully realized world and characters have a distinct flair that shows this film is Bragança’s unfettered creative work. The cinematography works perfectly in tandem with the story to both exemplify the childlike wonder and the violent brutality of the setting. Just look at this shot of the Calendar Boys mourning the loss of a fellow biker! It looks a freaking Greek tragedy with the linear blocking and sparse background.

DSMH,AG! runs strong with these kinds of dreamy, atmospheric, heart-wrenchingly evocative shots. The audience immersion into Basano & Joca’s world (both visually and emotionally) is so complete, it will take you right back to your first idyllic childhood crush and how it felt completely at odds with reality as you knew it. It is truly a romantic story, not just in terms of love, but also because it feels like a fairy-tale.

That’s not even getting into the operatic biker gang war happening around them. This part of the movie could have been a Netflix mini-series unto itself. Joca’s brother Alberto (portrayed by the impossibly handsome Mario Veron) has his own side-story dealing with his racist father, what could possibly be a biker-witch and taking care of his head-in-the-clouds baby brother. Alberto’s story serves more to flesh out the contrasting backdrop for Joca’s headlong dive into love, but it keeps your attention even if it is technically the B-story of the movie.

Man, oh man – this movie came outta nowhere and stuck a nostalgic (like REALLY nostalgic, not just “oh, hey remember Captain America from when you were twelve?” but actually pulled from your really real life) bow right through my heart. It makes you feel young again, in the most heart-wrenching way. If you’re into off-beat movies with a strong emotional core like The Bad Batch or RAW then definitely check out Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl! It is one Amazon/iTunes VoD now.

Hit us up on Twitter @Official_FAN with your favorite weird-af, but still touching movies – Ours is the 2002 horror flick MAY.