Prentiss Riddle: Movies

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Meu festival pessoal do cinema brasileiro

Besides the books and music, I've also been watching a lot of Brazilian movies lately.

IMDB lists 4425 entries from Brazil whereas Vulcan Video only carries 32 Brazilian titles, so my choices are somewhat limited. (Netflix carries even fewer, which is why I'm no fan of Netflix. What's the point of abandoning your local video store if the big faceless service in the sky doesn't offer a better selection?) But here are the highlights.

Black Orpheus / Orfeu Negro (1959) - The movie that started the worldwide bossa nova craze. A retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice set against a gorgeous backdrop of Rio and music by Tom Jobim. I was humming tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim for days afterward. There's a remake with music by Caetano Veloso, Orfeu (1999), which I haven't seen because I know it can't touch the original.

Bossa Nova (2000) - A fluffy bilingual romantic comedy by Brazilian director Bruno Barreto and starring his gringolandian wife Amy Irving. If you spot it a few points for occasional clunkers in the dialogue, it's a perfectly fine example of the genre, and again it's worth the rental price for the scenery of Rio alone.

Central Station / Central do Brasil (1998) - You probably know this one because it was Brazil's biggest art-house breakout in recent years, at least before City of God. Genuinely touching drama of an orphan and a lonely older woman who set out to find his family. Director Walter Salles' next project, The Motorcycle Diaries, has been getting lots of buzz: it's based on the trip Che Guevara took by motorcycle throughout South America before he became a revolutionary icon.

City of God / Cidade de Deus (2002) - Something I never thought I'd see, social realism wedded with a Quentin Tarantino-style aesthetic of violence. Somehow it works, perhaps because the departures into choreographed mayhem get across the appeal that violence might plausibly hold for kids trapped in the slums. One of my favorite movies.

Copacabana (2001) - An elderly resident of Rio's most famous beachfront neighborhood looks back over his life and the changes the city has seen. A good effort, but it requires some serious suspension of disbelief to see past its limited production values, notably the lead's old-man makeup.

Dog's Will / Auto da Compadecida (2000) - The copy I saw had one of the strangest covers in Vulcan, which is saying a lot: titled in Chinese, with several scruffy peasants overshadowed by someone who looked made up for the Chinese Opera. It turns out that the movie is 100% Brazilian and the strange dude is the devil, who appears only briefly. It's a thoroughly funny picaresque comedy about a couple of tricksters in rural 19th-century Brazil. The one feature which approaches the strangeness of the cover is some peculiar rapid-fire editing -- all the better for its cult value, I suppose.

Domésticas (2001) - Sympathetic but satirical look at lives of domestic servants in the big city. Some funny spots, some flat ones, on balance a good try.

Four Days in September / O Que É Isso, Companheiro? (1997) - Serious political thriller in a Costa-Gavras vein about an underground group during the Brazilian dictatorship who kidnap the American ambassador. Watchable, although both the characters and the plot would have been more interesting if they'd been a little less straightforward.

Me You Them / Eu Tu Eles (2000) - A poor woman in the badlands of the Brazilian Northeast accumulates four sons and three husbands. Slow, gorgeous, funny and sad. Regina Casé is remarkable as the anti-Sónia Braga: she looks like someone who spent twenty years chopping sugar cane and having babies but is sexy as hell anyway.

O Homem Nu (1997) - Silly and repetitive comedy about a man who gets locked out of his apartment, naked, and leads a slapstick chase across the city. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Rio.

Ópera do Malandro (1986) - A Brazilian reinvention of the Threepenny Opera, with music by Chico Buarque. It's a noir musical, if you can imagine that combination, so it calls for a specialized taste, but I enjoyed it.

Then there are the movies I saw 20 years ago and barely remember now -- Pixote, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, and Gabriela, among others -- which I want to see again along with the new ones.

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