Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 07, 2016 8:17 pm 
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Not enough bossa nova. Nice scenery though.

I Love Rio (Rio, Eu Te Amo”), the third in the omnibus "City of Love" series following upon the 2006 Paris, Je T'Aime and 2009 New York, I Love You, is a collection of ten tales, some peculiar, some trite, all with beautiful scenery, glorious sunlight, and good looking people, and all set in the Brazilian capital. Rio is noted for its dramatic and beautiful setting, its sunshine and beaches, its easy bossa nova sensuality, its lovely music in general, and its brutal poverty and crime. There have been some great Brazilian films. These are rarely evoked here except in the first segment, which nods at street poverty and stars one of the country's greatest film actresses. A lot of the segments are rather generic, though they are mostly beautiful and refer almost too often to the city's sights. Considering the essentially kitsch nature of the concept and the fact that interest in the series may be waning, we're lucky it turned out as well as it did. And when all else fails, there is plenty of human and nature eye candy here. But does it capture the street-level spirit of the city the way the Paris and New York films occasionally did? Not so much.

1. Andrucha Waddington, "Donna Fulana" (Mrs Nobody"), with Ferrnanda Montenegro, Eduardo Sterblitch, Hugo Carvana. Waddintton is the Australian director known for directing House of Sand. This is a vehicle for the great Fernanda Montenegro of Central Station, as a spirited grandmother and former schoolteacher who chooses to live on the street despite her grandson Leanddro's effort to reclaim her. This is the only segment that refers overtly to poverty and life on the street, which have figured in so many important Brazilian films -- and it does so artificially, since "Dpnna Fulana" is only homeless by choice. This is tinsel, cute poverty and "Donna Fulana's" outfit has been compared to a Samba school costume. But it would be churlish to condemn the vibrant Montenegro, who is still can light up the screen in her eighties.

2. Paulo Sorrentino, "La Fortuna," with Basil Hoffman and Emily Mortimer about a derepit old man with a young wife who fly to Rio and go to the beach, where an accident happens. Sorrentino shows good command here, and his ironic May-December tale is neatly told. It could take place in any beautiful resort.

3. Fernando Meirelles, "A Musa" ("The Muse"), with Vincent Cassel, Marcio Garcia, written by Antonio Prato and Chico Mattoso, a wordless vignette about a man who fashions sand copies of famous sculptures on the beach who's inspired by a woman's feet to make an original work. Well, sort of original. There's something classic about this vignette.

4. Stephen Elliott, "Acho que Estou Apaixonado" ("I think I'm in love") with Marcello Serrado, Ryan Kwanten (as "Jai Arnott"). Elliott is the Australia director known for directing The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. An annoying, self-centered young Australian movie star arrived in Rio to promote his latest film makes his driver climb Sugarloaf with him. He's in love with it. Sort of a postcard to Rio, isn't it? And otherwise a pretty silly and pointless tale.

5. John Turturro, "Quando não há Mais Amor" ("When there is no more love"), with John Turturro, Vanessa Paradis as a couple whose affair has gone bad who posture and swear at each other in pretty sunlight. Trust Turturro to come up with something that feels like overwrought dinner theater -- with a sunset glow. Right at midpoint, the film reaches its nadir. It can only be up from here.

6. Guillermo Arriaga, "Gringo" ("Texas"), with Jason Isaacs, Land Viera, Laura Neiva. We meet a couple who've been in a terrible car accident, she unable to walk, he, a boxer, missing an arm. He strikes a strange and perilous bargain to get money for an expensive operation so she can walk again. Feels derived from Audiard's Rust and Bone in atmosphere, and steals from Adrian Lyne's 1993 Indecent Proposal in theme. Busy, strange, and inconclusive. Might be an international calling card for the highly physical Land Viera, though. Arriaga is the "estranged" writing collaorator of Iñárritu, who penned the Venice top prizewinner From Afar, more restrained and effective than this, though this is certainly attention-grabbing storytelling, and shows, what we should remember, that a short segment can also be really complicated and still work -- sort of.

7. Sang Soo Im, "O Vampiro do Rio" (“The Vampire from Rio”), Tonico Pereira, Roberta Rodrigues. An elderly tourist restaurant waiter, Fernando (Pereira), who happens to be a vampire, befriends a prostitute who wants to emigrate to the US. Im is the skillful but eclectic South Korean director known for The President's Big Bang, The Old Garden, and The Housemaid. This is a pastiche of the 1970 feature Nosferato no Brazil. It's mostly visual, and rather like a fashion shoot, which goes for many of the segments. Fernando will pop up again later. As sheer spectacle this segment is impressive, and somehow evokes a Brazilian cinematic tradition, despite being from the hand of a Korean director. Suppose Black Orpheus were done over -- as a vampire movie.

8. Carlos Saldanha, “Pas de Deux,” with Rodrigo Santoro, Bruna Linzmeyer. Saldanha is a Brazilian director of animated films, known for Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006), Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009) and Rio (2011), and the co-director of Ice Age (2002) and Robots (2005). In this simple but satisfying foray into live action he focuses on a ballet couple, who are leading dancers. He has a brilliant offer to work abroad and she does not. She insists he go and leave her, and he will not. They continue their argument while performing a romantic pas de deux on stage for an audience as shadows on a screen; when their dance is finished they have decided what to do. Realized with a classical simplicity, this segment integrates elements of abstract and sensuous, verbal and visual, using the short film format neatly.

9. José Padilha, "Inútil Paisagem" (“Landscape Useless") with Wagner Moura, Cleo Pires, Caio Junqueira. In this one, during a hang gliding flight over Rio, a man who has just suffered heartbreak approaches one of the most famous icons of the city, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and tells Him off, good. "Keep your Olympics!" he yells, "I'm leaving!" Padilha was the co-director of the documentary Bus 174 and since then has become a successful commercial director (Elite Squad films in Brazil; the Robo Cop remake). Well, another Rio postcard, blending shots of the guy hang gliding with spectacular aerial photography over Rio. At least it makes strong use of Brazilian song, and the speech manages to underline what's a fault of the film itself: that it's more Sky Above than Mud Below and more scenery than love story. This segment is said to have been, perhaps understandably, strongly objected to by the Archdiocese of Rio, which also wanted to block use of the Christ the Redeemer statue in posters for the film. They don't seem to have succeeded.

10. Nadine Labaki, "O Milagre" (“The Miracle”) with Nadine Labaki, Harvey Keitel, Cauã Salles. Two actors "of international fame" the press kit tells us, "participating in a shoot in Rio, come up against a boy who believes he is receiving calls from Jesus." On a pay phone in the train station. Soon they gather that this “Jesus” is not exactly who the kid is thinking. (Did that take a while?) Keitel, playing an actor playing a priest who now is playing God, was introduced right at the beginning of the whole film and threaded through it -- a device that in this one of the "I Love" movies, for me anyway, only seems to weaken the impact of individual segments by blurring the lines separating them. Keitel in fact feels left over from another movie -- Sorrentino's Youth, perhaps? Here at the end the film sneaks in some highly choreographed street life, along with some adorable urchins. Turning the setting of the Brazilian classic Central Station into a glossy, shabby-chic advertising shoot, this must be the most generic, kitsch, contrived and sentimental segment in the film. Chapeau! There have been some segments -- "The Muse," "Pas de Deux," and yes, "Mrs. Nobody," and "The Vampire from Rio" -- that have been so much better than this, it seems a shame to end on this corny note, but though many of the segments feel like elaborate productions, they're not meant to be sophisticated entertainment. As the sprightly urchin, Cauã Salles certainly steals the show, and this episode rounds out the sentimentalizing of poverty that started things off and is, after all, a great cinematic tradition in which Rio has played a key role.

The transitions directed by Vicente Amorim, with Claudia Abreu, Michel Melamed and Marcio Garcia, thread through a lovelorn cab driver and his long-separated girlfriend who are -- perhaps -- united when they spot each other in a crowd at the end. The film contains an original song, "Rio, Eu Te Amo," written and performed by Brazilian musical great Gilberto Gil, and like all classic Brazilian music, guaranteed to lift the spirit and lower the blood pressure.

Rio, I Love You/Rio, Eu Te Amo, 110 mins., opened theatrically in Poland Aug. 2014 and in Rio Sept. 2014 and in various countries in 2014d and 2015. It was shown in the Edinburgh Festival in June 2015. It opens in the US 15 April 2016 (SF Bay Area 29 Apr.). As of 15 Apr. the Metacritic rating is a dismal 25.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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