Who Needs Hollywood?

But this is not a simple tale of moral revenge in which the abandoned pair prospers while the adulterous pair pays a price for sin. We are given a hint that Angelo has continued to do well for himself. The realigned sets of lovers have many children as the years roll by, and the film ends with formal photographs of both families, well-dressed and presumably happy. Of course, one wonders. The author, Jose Clement Pozenato, does not insist upon a point of view. He supports neither capitalism nor socialism, the economic systems vying for control in the twenty-year span covered by the story. Nor does he present Catholicism as a force of moral hypocrisy, but simply as a context within which a conscientious but rigid country priest loses compassion for a suffering woman who cannot follow what he regards as the universal, eternal rules of behavior.

O Quatrilho owes much to French novels of a century and a half ago, which may have given literature its purest form of realism. When you think of Pozenato, think also of Balzac. He has written an epic of large dimensions, admirably realized by director Fabio Barreto. You won't find special computerized effects; even the eroticism is conveyed through the stillness of the human eye, which cannot conceal the fire inside. You might want to think also of Italian neo-realists like early Fellini and Rossellini. Not bad company.

In startling contrast to the relative sophistication of O Quatrilho is Terra Estrangeira (Foreign Land) (Friday, May 30 at 8:00 p.m., Sunday, June 1 at 6:00 p.m., and Sunday, June 8 at 8:00 p.m.). Shot in black and white and strongly reminiscent of minor Hollywood film noir of the Forties, it has been screened in nearly two dozen earlier festivals throughout the world -- a fact that supports my theory about such events in general. In fact, it even won the Public's (not the critics') Prize at the Paris Film Forum in 1995. This is not surprising news -- the film is a bang-bang-you're-dead melodrama, with young lovers caught up in a web of sleazy crooks in the underworlds of S‹o Paulo and Lisbon in 1990.

Paco (Fernando Alves Pinto) is a 21-year-old aspiring artist who longs to become a classical actor. Over the opening credits, rolling against a background of traffic rumbling on an elevated boulevard alongside Sao Paulo tenements, we hear Paco's voice reciting a monologue from Dr. Faustus. The effect is haunting, but regrettably it's the only real moment of art the film achieves.

Soon we realize that directors Walter Salles, Jr., and Daniela Thomas intend an allegory, as Paco finds himself desperately in need of money after the newly elected Brazilian president freezes all savings accounts. He is sent to Lisbon by an underworld lord -- read: Mephistopheles -- named Igor (played with smirky charm by Luis Mello) to deliver stolen diamonds hidden inside a Stradivarius. There he meets and falls in love with a girl named Alex (Fernada Torres), whose drug-addicted lover has been killed by the mob.

The plot is predictably tragic, as the hero has figuratively sold his soul to the Devil, and true love will not conquer all. There's lots of suspense in the old-fashioned sense of the word, underscored by agitated music, except in the long and slow-moving love scenes, underscored by a romantic guitar. If you're out on the town and feel "gala" by the time you reach the Cosford Cinema, you might have some fun. But don't forget to shut down your critical faculties -- and be sure to arm yourself with a bucket of popcorn. One cannot accuse the Brazilian filmmakers of an overwrought nationalism. The moral decay of Catholic Brazil in 1910 and the murky corruption of present-day Sao Paulo led me to wonder how the history of colonial Portuguese settlements might be portrayed. As I suspected, Carlota Joaquina Princesa do Brazil (Carlota Joaquina Princess of Brazil (May 31 and June 5 at 8:00 p.m., and June 8 at 6:00 p.m.) offers a quick and jaded history lesson, as it deals with the late-eighteenth-century arrival of Portuguese "nobility," which displaced the largely black indigenous population. According to this 97-minute romp, directed by Carla Camurati, the entourage, washed up on the shore like Holly Hunter and company minus a piano, comprised an uncouth, hedonistic bunch out to plunder the resources of the New World, lacking even the pretext of carrying the light of civilization into "primitive" darkness.

Carlota the Lisbon Princess (played with an unwavering insensitivity and a steadfast expression of contempt for everyone by Marieta Severo) is depicted as a dedicated nymphomaniac, married to a drunken, slothful, glassy-eyed Prince (portrayed with monotonous languor by Marco Nanini) whom she soon discards in favor of a native Brazilian named Fernando Leao (Norton Nascimiento), the most elegant male character in the film. His wife is the only beautiful woman we ever see in this flick, and one wonders why he ever bothered with the witchy Carlota, who begins to grow thick hair on her face after being stricken with a tropical disease.

Clearly the film would have us believe that the Portuguese originally did little except corrupt a civilization that had existed long before their appearance. (Shades of the revisionist attitude toward American history that was strong back in the 1960s.) The film's wacky tone is sometimes amusing, but it soon wears thin as we realize how long we're going to be stuck with these gross and unpleasant people. The tale is told in flashback by a Scotsman to a young Scottish girl for reasons that are never made clear. The script demands that she become enthralled by it, but we don't have to be.

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