Monday, April 11, 2016

Rio, I Love You—But I Know You Can Do Better

Rio de Janeiro has the world’s coolest sidewalks. You can also hear terrific and wonderfully diverse music performed throughout the city. With that many musicians, there must be a million stories in the Naked Rio. That is why the sketchy, fragmentary nature of the latest installment of the “Cities of Love” anthology franchise is so frustrating. Even the romance is under-quota in a bunch of people’s Rio, I Love (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Despite the Rio setting, most of the characters are American, British, or Australian, so do not waste time looking for a Seu Jorge walk-on. It isn’t there. However, the opening “Dona Fulana” is a bit of an unfortunate outlier, featuring a Brazilian cast in the dubious tale of a plucky old woman who explains to her respectable grandson who much happier she is on the streets than living a life of hypocrisy. Remember that next time the UHO scam artists hit you up for money on the subway.

Paolo Sorrentino’s “La Fortuna” sort of works as a mordant little twist noir, but it never really establishes why the wheelchair bound husband has reason to believe things will work out as they do. Still, it shows off a side of Emily Mortimer we rarely get to see. Arguably, Fernando Meirelles’ “A Musa” is the most successful segment. It also happens to be entirely dialogue free. Stephen Elliott’s “Acho que Estou Apaixonado,” a tale of an Australian movie star recklessly climbing Sugarloaf Mountain is less accomplished, but at least it is fully developed and provides some lovely scenery, along with a bizarre Bebel Gilberto cameo.

John Turturro’s deliberately overwrought “Quando não há Mais Amor” just doesn’t work, even with the French retro-pop stylings of Vanessa Paradis. Guillermo Arriaga’s “Texas” falls nearly as flat, but throws in an element of exploitation for additional discomfort. Im Sang-soo’s “O Vampiro do Rio” has tons of style and promises great potential, but it is over practically as soon as it starts, as if the producers could only secure him a twenty-four-hour visa. Likewise, Carlos Saldanha’s “Pas de Deux” is lovely to look at, but maddeningly fragmentary. Dittos for José Padilha’s “Inútil Paisagem,” which has some nice looking shots Wagner Moura hang-gliding and not much else.

At least, Nadine Labaki closes the film on a relative high note, perhaps because there is actually a concept behind “O Milagre.” Of course, the notion of Harvey Keitel appearing as himself is a strong foundation. While in Rio filming a ridiculously melodramatic Thorn Birds rip-off with Labaki, Kietel is convinced to literally play God over the phone with a terminally ill boy. As usual, Keitel is highly watchable and he develops good chemistry with Labaki and the rest of the cast and crew of the film-within-the-film.

This is the third of producer Emmanuel Benbihy’s city anthologies, following Paris and New York, with Tbilisi already on deck. Frankly, the Georgian capital seems like an unlikely setting for the frothy series, but maybe that is a good thing. Hopefully, all the contributing filmmakers came with fully conceived concepts ready to go. In contrast, after watching Rio, we can only guess many of the constituent directors assumed the city would inspire them and just decided to wing it. Still, it all sounds great, thanks to the music of Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Celso Fonseca, Bebel Gilberto, Cartola, Maucha Adnet, and masters like Jobim and Villa-Lobos. Seriously, you might try watching it with your eyes closed. The soundtrack is highly recommended, but the film is way too inconsistent and patchy. For diehard Brazilophiles, Rio, I Love You opens this Friday (4/15) in New York, at the Landmark Sunshine.