Em Clandestinidade ["Underground"] is the Portuguese translation of the title of "The Dancer Upstairs," which marks the directorial debut of the American actor John Malkovich. It's a translation that evokes the Brazilian experience of life under the dictatorship that consumed the sixties, seventies, and part of the eighties. In Spanish, it's known as "Steps in the Dance," a translation that emphasizes the personal themes of the film. The English title has a trace of the metaphysical to my ears, insofar as we Americans, at least, refer to God as "the man upstairs."
In a vaguely generalized "Latin America,"
... in a nation on the brink of collapse under the influence of an organized terrorist movement, an idealistic policeman, Agustin Rejas (Javier Bardem) confronts the greatest challenge of his career: capturing the mysterious guerilla leader Ezequiel. In the midst of the chaos, Rejas finds shelter in Yolanda, his daughter's dance instructor. As Rejas gets closer to the man considered "the fourth flame of Marxism, he and the dancer he loves must choose between love, country, and themselves.
The principal theme of the film, in fact (though it's difficult to express this properly in the language of Guimarães Rosa) is the demystification of a revolutionary movement that acquires a metaphysical reputation. Its ability to paralyze the nation flows from the diabolical wit of the terrorist acts it undertakes. A group of government officials, for example, attend an avant-garde play, of that kind in which the cast attacks the audience, breaking the conventional sanctity of the proscenium arch [which is itself a convention nowadays]. They tie a willing cabinet minister to a chair and pump bullets into his head. The name of the play is "The Blackout," although one only knows this from reading the playbill in the background: the dialogue is all in accented English, with some subtitled Quechua.
Every night thereafter, the capital of the nameless country [filming took place in Ecuador, Spain, and Portugal] experiences power outages accompanied by fireworks that remind you of the scene in Sâo Paulo when Corinthians and São Paulo are vying for the championship (eu sou da Fiel!). The Quecha-speaking natives speak of Ezequiel as a force of nature, or of the supernatural. In the end, the task of our hero is to demonstrate that all this is the work of a man of flesh and blood, and to do so against the will of a government that wants to answer violence with violence, terror with terror, and mystification with counter-mystification.