Who Needs Hollywood?

Time was when the annual Cannes Film Festival was about the only game of its kind. That colorful event having added a ton of gold to the coffers of Provence, it was only natural that other cities began to want their own festivals. Now one can scarcely find a town (except possibly Ojus) that does not host at least one festival per annum. And as so often happens in the Olympian regions of art, oxygen tends to run pretty thin. As you know if you've attended all or part of any festival, despite the ballyhoo you're lucky to find two or three films that stay in the mind longer than twenty minutes.

The problem is largely economic: big business versus art; major studios buying their way into the festivities; high-profile stars showing up for the klieg lights and the TV interviews. Occasionally a low-budget sleeper with no pretension to be anything but its simple, honest self will sneak onto the program, but on the whole major film festivals are nothing more than glamour circuses. Except for Sundance, which really seems to look for independent efforts with artistic aspirations, the film festival is to cinema what the rock concert is to music. It comes no closer to being a collection of the finest screen work available than are the five annual Oscar nominees.

With far less advanced hype than is customary for the "major" circuses, the Bill Cosford Cinema on the University of Miami campus will host the first Brazilian Film Festival, beginning this Friday, May 30, and running through Sunday, June 8. (For a full screening schedule, see our "Calendar Listings" section.)

This particular festival is notable for the fact that the nine offerings are not an eclectic mix chosen for a host of reasons, but rather a collection whose members share a common national origin: All were produced during the past several years, after the availability of private-sector funds made filmmaking possible again -- the industry had generally relied on government subsidies until they were abruptly halted in the late 1980s. Judging from the five films I screened, there is nothing here to match the lyrical artistry of Black Orpheus, but those who have seen the works that appeared during the three decades between the release of that masterpiece and the drying up of the subsidies can take heart that in at least two instances this festival gives us reasons to applaud warmly and to anticipate future riches. We may also rejoice that financial success has not yet washed down the Amazon into the pockets of new moguls casting envious eyes toward Hollywood; the time has not yet come for them to sink hundreds of millions into special effects and bankable stars. These films come from directors who by and large are seeking honesty in the way that the Italian neo-realists of the 1950s were seeking truth. If no Vittorio De Sica has yet emerged, perhaps our patience will be rewarded eventually.

One outstanding work is O Quatrilho (Saturday, June 7, at 8:00 p.m.), which won an Oscar nomination last year as Best Foreign Language Film. This category, by the way, is usually thought of as being somehow inferior to Hollywood's elite final five. While the winner may achieve a fair amount of recognition at Blockbuster, the losers are quickly forgotten. What a shame, and what a gift to us that this wonderful piece can now be seen in South Florida. Were it not for the fact that Miami has one of the largest Brazilian communities in the nation, this opportunity would no doubt never have come our way.

The title refers to a four-handed card game, but in this case it alludes to the interplay between the four leads: two Italian immigrant couples in rural Brazil of 1910 who take up joint residence on a large farm because neither can afford to run it alone. It isn't long before we discover that each couple is completely mismatched, a situation not uncommon for the time and locale of the story. In order to relieve families of economic burdens, people were expected to marry as soon as possible; love blossomed only as a rare coincidence.

At first the foursome functions as a small commune, meeting their simple needs by working the land. But brooding, introverted Angelo (played by Alexandre Paternost) has his eyes on bigger things. A born entrepreneur, he learns how to manipulate the burgeoning capitalist economy to his advantage; he soon has the farm paid off and invests in a number of other businesses. His bride Teresa (portrayed with smoldering, repressed passion by Patricia Pillar) is relegated to a position of unimportance in his life and compensates by casting suggestive sidelong glances at Massimo, the other young groom (newcomer Bruno Campos), whose own wife Pierina (played superbly by Gloria Pires) is far less sensuous and life-affirming than he.

Teresa and Massimo soon realize they are meant for each other, and in no time they have run away together, leaving the abandoned Angelo and Pierina to run the farm and to suppress their hidden, natural urges. Of course, it takes a while for nature to run its course, but once it does, Pierina finds herself pregnant. Where once the village neighbors and parish priest were sympathetic to their plight, public and church opinion does an about-face. Pierina is condemned openly in the church, and in the most gripping scene in the film, she confronts the priest, impelled by an onrush of passionate anger she has never allowed herself to feel.

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