Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Global Lens ’12: Craft

Bianca Ventura can play Marilyn Monroe, Bettie Page, and Carmen Miranda, so she obviously has considerably greater range than Michelle Williams. In truth, she is a gifted actress, but lives hand-to-mouth on what she makes performing singing telegrams and the like. Yet, she keeps hoping and working in Gustavo Pizzi’s Craft (trailer here), one of ten films selected for the Global Film Initiative’s 2012 Global Lens showcase, launching this week at MoMA.

Auditioning for a serious play, Ventura knocks it out of the park with an improv about her day gig. She lands the part, but her tryout tape takes on a life of its own. In the short run, this means little to Ventura. She still has to sing “Happy Birthday Mr. So-and-So” to rich old codgers. In fact, her prospective good fortune leads to plenty of immediate complications and heartaches.

Pizzi co-wrote Craft with his wife Karine Teles as her star vehicle and it certainly succeeds as that. She can sing, she can dance, and she can act, just like her character. She also looks and feels like a real person, rather than a Hollywood Barbie Doll. This is her problem and she knows it. Yet, Teles never allows her alter-ego to wallow in self-pity, constantly containing her emotions to the breaking point. That is what grown-ups do and Craft is definitely a film for and about people who have experienced the bitterness of life.

Unfortunately, there is really nobody else up to her level. Her celebrity dress-alike colleagues are all predictably catty or perky, while her boss is reliably exploitative. Her landlord is a cold, condescending shrew and her theater director boyfriend is nauseatingly whiny. Yes, Teles commands the screen because she is very good, but she does not have a lot of competition from these stock characters.

An actor’s life is a humiliating one. Anybody who has tried to make a go of it will relate to Ventura’s story. Of course, it will probably not be the occasion for pleasant nostalgia. As soon as the story elements are established, viewers will probably suspect exactly where it is headed.

Still, Pizzi integrates several colorful but narrative-driven musical numbers into the mix. The song by co-composers Lucas Vasconcellos and Leticia Novaes heard over the opening credits is also quite a lovely little fix for Brazilian music fans. Ultimately, Craft lives up to its title, but it never delivers any surprises. A small but mostly worthy selection for this year’s Global Lens, it screens this Friday (1/13) and Monday (1/16) at MoMA.