Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brazil at its Seediest: Carmo Hit the Road

Even in romantic Brazil, border towns are pretty skuzzy. There are not a lot of career opportunities either, unless you happen to be a self-starting smuggler. Determined to get out of town, the floozyish Carmo invites herself along with a particularly surly contraband runner, but there will be no clean getaways in Murila Pasta’s gritty, grimy road movie, Carmo, Hit the Road (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Carmo has been trading on her looks and rather flexible morals, but it has not gotten her far enough from her past. Carrying merchandise hot two-times over, the wheel chair bound Marco is not looking for a partner, but circumstances force him together with Carmo. Naturally, they bicker, sulk, and part ways several times, while the goods in the back of Marco’s track (whatever they might be) often change hands between him and a rival pair of low life thugs out to hijack his big score.

Though these might be relatively standard issue road movie capers, the earthy characters have a refreshing lack of quirkiness. Do not look to Marco for cheap life-affirming inspiration. Instead, Fele Martínez’s admirably unsentimental performance brims with anger, resentment, and considerable menace. Likewise, writer-director Pasta never sugarcoats Carmo’s less than ladylike life strategies. Indeed, Road is largely distinguished by the honesty of its characterizations (aside from the cartoony portrayal of Carmo’s sexually voracious, super Catholic mother). Yet, Pasta dissonantly wraps it up with a gauzy, compulsively happy ending completely at odds with the grungy naturalism that led up to it.

Intense and frankly a bit scary, Martínez is just really darn good as Marco. Credibly attractive but not ridiculously so, Mariana Loureiro also holds her own quite nicely, projecting a strength of character to match Marco’s bitterness. Together they exhibit decent screen chemistry, allowing the audience to buy into their inevitable mutual attraction.

It is hard not to smile at the Latinized version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” heard all too briefly in Pasta’s feature debut. Still, make no mistake, Road is no Two for the Road or It Happened One Night. At times, there are moments of jarring violence totally consistent with its seamy border-town setting. Indeed, that effectively seedy atmosphere and the strong performances of its two principal leads nicely differentiate Road from other recent road movie offerings. Bold in its grubbiness, Road opens this Friday (10/15) in New York at the Quad Cinema.