Like moving portraits: Ode’s new film is all about ascension and transformation

The Brazilian filmmaker and image-maker combines the spiritual, the physical and the theoretical in her latest film, featuring music by Diane ‘Shabazz’ Varnie and supported by Jean Paul Gaultier.

26 January 2024


Few filmmakers command our attention with such a visceral subtlety as Ode. Born and raised in Itajubá, Brazil, she started making films as a means to conjure up and release old memories, while also creating new ones. Growing up, her visual references could be found in the traditions surrounding her, including Congada Parades, a tradition kept alive by the country’s African diaspora and native Latin American cults. “King, queen, princes, princesses and other members of a fictitious royalty would pass through the streets, protected by guards who were Black men dressed in clothes sporting colourful ribbons across their chests, with hats and other ornaments made of paper roses,” she tells us. But at the same time, her eyes were also cast far away, across Black productions worldwide, from the musical sci-fi masterpiece, Sun Ra and Joshua Smith’s Space Is The Place, directed by John Coney, to the experimental films of Mambéty. All have shaped a perspective that has birthed her short films, Restituição, Divina and now her latest: Ascensão.

In Ascensão, Ode captures what feels like a series of motion portraits of dear friends and collaborators that she refers to as “divine beings”. Inspired by her own trans experience, the film is almost like a visual representation of the words, thoughts and conversations surrounding the Black queer experience. “I’ve been getting closer to Robert Strongman’s book Queering Black Atlantic Religions and in this book I came across the term ‘transcorporeality’,” which in the context of the book, is described as “the distinctly Afro-diasporic cultural representation of the human psyche as multiple, removable parts,” she tells us. “So, within the film, the psyche becomes multiple in the form of the beings you see throughout,” she adds. But alongside the literature that has helped her to build a theoretical basis for the film, there is also her own lived experience, which she depicts more than ever before.


Ode: Ascensão (Copyright © Ode, 2024)

In Ascensão (which means “rise” or “ascend” in English), Ode represents the experience of “reaching a new vision of love”. Throughout the film, the divine beings represent the transformation of her character through time. “In chapter 13 of bell hooks’ All About Love, she speaks about her relationship to angels and her experience hearing about them in church, where she learned that they were these comforters in times of loneliness,” Ode tells us. “She then talks about growing up and discovering many angels in her favourite authors, whose books allowed her to understand life.” A striking parallel to Ode’s experience, the filmmaker chose it as a motif, expanding on the experience of being alone “in a dark room and clinging to the metaphysics of love, trying to understand its mystery” and its ability to birth transformation.

The process of making Ascensão was as seamless as it gets. Jean Paul Gaultier loaned the garments for the production after a friend of hers that works in the PR department made them available; Saint Heron’s very own Diane ‘Shabazz’ Varnie agreed to mix the music for the film; and the cast included her very close musician and model friends who are familiar with the subjects of her research and work. Noting that she often plans every single detail meticulously, with this film, “the process has taught me to allow each person in the cast and team to contribute their own cosmogony,” she says. “The only real challenge for me has been a lack of support in my country.”

Giving way to a collaborative process that allows everybody to contribute their experiences to a wider – in this case Black, queer and spiritual – motif, is something that is truly under-appreciated in film and the arts as a whole. Ode summons every experience, every word and every emotion and out comes a tender portrayal of ascension and rebirth, which we can usually only imagine. As the filmmaker is currently in the process of shooting her next film (with her parents among the cast) and planning an exhibition in London, we have no doubt that she will garner an international audience, because Ode so perfectly shows us that, when creating, we can bring all of ourselves – we don’t have to leave anything behind.

GalleryOde: Ascensão (Copyright © Ode, 2024)

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Ode: Ascensão (Copyright © Ode, 2024)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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