Sunday, June 06, 2010

Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil '10: The Well Beloved One

Their mayor is an oafish oligarch and their local newspaper editor is an avowed Marxist. Between the two of them, one small Brazilian resort town will have no peace during the fateful summer prior to the military coup in Guel Arraes’s The Well Beloved One (trailer here), which opened the 2010 Cine Fest Petrobras Brasil in New York last night.

There might be trouble brewing nationally, but the beachfront town of Sucupira seems like an idyllic refuge. After all, nobody has died there since the mysterious “Zeca Devil” gunned down the previous mayor in cold blood. Perversely, this low mortality rate causes trouble for his successor, Odorico ParaguaƧu, who has staked all his political capital on building a new public cemetery. Unfortunately, he cannot inaugurate it without a corpse and he needs to do something fast to get leftist newspaper editor Neco Pedreira off his back.

Based on original source material written by the late Dias Gomes (whose play was adapted into Keeper of Promises, currently the only Brazilian film to win the Palme d’Or Award at Cannes), Beloved honestly takes shots at both sides. ParaguaƧu is indeed a buffoon, but Pedreira is clearly a fanatic. So intent on seeing the rightwing mayor fail, the yellow journalist fabricates news of a shark attack to chase away the Sucupira’s summer holiday business. Though the Mayor might endure more mockery due to his greater screen time, he is also somewhat more sympathetic, in a weirdly human way. Indeed, it is arguable Sucupira would have been much better served had Pedreira given him a chance to govern without trying to sabotage the town’s economic base.

The comedy of Beloved is about as broad as it gets, but it is often quite amusing. With its splashy color palette and effervescent soundtrack (which includes songs by Caetano Veloso), it is more an exercise in light farce than weighty political satire. In that spirit, Marco Nanini gleefully chews up all the scenery that is not nailed down as the endearingly corrupt Mayor. Unfortunately, sometimes going over the top can be a bit embarrassing, like Matheus Nachtergaele as his rather mousy and effeminate assistant.

Not exactly tightly scripted, some Beloved scenes seem overly pat, like the courtship between the Mayor’s daughter and Pedreira’s photographer. Still, with its warm, inviting beaches and seductive soundtrack, it definitely captures the spirit of Dolce Vita. It is definitely a film that makes you want to visit Brazil, making it a fitting choice to launch the Petrobras Brasil Festival. It screens again this Wednesday (6/9) at the Tribeca Cinemas.