Saturday, April 18, 2009

HFFNY ’09: Mare, Our Love Story

It is hard for the young people of Rio’s Maré favela to believe in love. However, a dedicated dance instructor thinks she has a project to inspire them—a hip-hop production of Romeo & Juliet. Of course, considering how the original ended, she certainly seems to be tempting fate in Lúcia Murat’s Brazilian musical Maré, Our Love Story (trailer here), which screens this weekend at the 10th annual Havana Film Festival New York.

Murat opens Maré with an inventively staged musical number that effectively introduces viewers to the favela neighborhood. It conveys a place teeming with life, but where danger is ever-present, as the young energetic dancers are forced to mix with equally young gang-members armed to the teeth. Maré is a favela divided by gang colors. Red and blue never mix, except in Fernanda’s dance studio. There Analídia, the daughter of the imprisoned red founder, secretively falls in love with Jonatha, whose adopted brother leads the blues and sponsors their studio.

Analídia and Jonatha are indeed Romeo and Juliet. She even has a balcony, but Murat does not go there. Maré is also reasonably faithful to Shakespeare’s ending, but Murat gives it a slight twist. As the star-crossed lovers, Vinícius D'Black and Cristina Lago are quite charismatic on-screen, displaying legitimate chemistry in their scenes together. They also have mad dancing skills, which is Maré’s real attraction.

In addition to the knock-out opening sequence, Maré also another highly memorable dance number that literally stops traffic. It is sort of a darker version of a scene from Fame, which seems to foreshadow the tragedy to come. Throughout the film, the dancing is frequently spectacular, nicely accompanied by the high-octane Brazilian hip-hop, mixed with a bit of funk. The more traditional Brazilian sounds are only heard once, but it offers an opportunity for D’Black to demonstrate his talent for singing harmony.

Over the next two weeks, three films about the world of Brazilian dancers will screen in New York. Fernanda hopes to secure international ballet scholarships for Analídia and Jonatha as their ticket out of the favela. After screening a documentary about the ballet students pursuing those scholarships, such a plan for her students seems unrealistic. (Not that it particularly matters.) Regardless, Fernanda tragically and inevitably fails.

Maré is a highly entertaining movie musical that ought to have breakout potential if it ever gets a distribution push. It is true to the spirit of Shakespeare’s tragedy, while also reflecting the desperate realities of contemporary favela life. It screens again today at the Quad as part of the HFFNY.