Avignon : The reality of her homeland’s lurch to the far right has seen artists branded as leftists and criminals, laments Brazilian director Christiane Jatahy, who only wishes her theatre piece on migration were actually a fiction.

The documentary-style work by the 51-year-old Rio-born Jatahy is loosely based on Homer’s Odyssey, taking as its theme the travails of exiled refugee protagonists for whom the past is as harrowing as their future is uncertain. In “The Lingering Now”, Jatahy carefully examines the painful complexities of a refugee’s existence that earned her a standing ovation at the Avignon Festival in southern France. There, she denounced what she termed a “campaign of criminalisation” of artists in her own country since the arrival in Brazil’s presidential palace in January of former army captain Jair Bolsonaro.

“It’s a very difficult time to do theatre and cinema,” explains Jatahy. “They have cut subsidies, it’s a means of gagging us,” she tells AFP, having at times during the production appearing to be on the verge of tears.

“There is a campaign of criminalisation of artists, labelling them as being leftist. It’s such an old trope,” she adds.

Bolsonaro’s arrival in power has dealt the equivalent of an electric shock to the Brazilian cultural scene. A politician who has spoken with nostalgia of the 1964-85 military dictatorship, he had barely received the seals of office when he vowed to rid the country of “cultural marxism.”

He also reduced the status of the culture ministry to a mere section of a newly-created ministry of citizenship.

For Jatahy, the world of theatre has oscillated between “anaesthesia, as we are still in a state of shock, and the production of numerous plays which do talk about the situation.

displaced people.

“Odysseus is each of us while the Cyclops,” the one-eyed giant who clashes with Odysseus in Greek mythology as narrated by Homer in the epic poem, “can be dictators, tanks of war,” explains Jatahy.

She began working on her latest oeuvre before Bolsonaro took office and initially wanted to film Venezuelan refugees in Brazil.