Third Time's a Charm

Possible Loves

Brazilian cinema has to be one of the most underrated sources in today's movie industry, at least from an American perspective. While Hollywood troglodytes are only now waking up to the pleasures of Latin filmmaking, studio-level attention largely is focused on Spain and stories that can be considered "crossover." One need only consider what studio revisions did to Woman On Top, a Brazilian-theme confection that ended up a compromised mess, homogenized and watered down for so-called American taste. Fortunately moviegoers in the United States who are intrigued by all things Brazilian can feast on the real thing, as quality Brazilian films finally get their due here. One such movie is featured at the film festival: Possible Loves, a delightful if illogical tropical treat from director Sandra Werneck.

Werneck tells the tale -- three tales really -- of a young lover, Carlos, who is stood up at a cinema by Julia, whom he has only recently summoned up the courage to ask out. As rain pours down outside the theater, Carlos waits and waits, but Julia never shows up. The film then jumps fifteen years to trace three possible outcomes of this single incident. Carlos number one is an anxiety-ridden lawyer in an uneasy marriage with his doting, repressed wife, Maria. When he encounters Julia once again by chance, his suppressed longings surface. He resolves to leave his wife to begin anew with glamorous Julia but can't bring himself to break the news to Maria.

Carlos number two married Julia and had a child with her but now is living with another man. Although Julia is bitter and furious, she's still in love with Carlos. Her frustration is expressed in venomous hatred for Carlos who, despite Julia's fury, finds himself again attracted to her. His renewed desire for her only drives her further up the wall, while Carlos's boyfriend seethes.

Anything is possible in the best of all popular Brazilian film
Anything is possible in the best of all popular Brazilian film

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Carlos number three, a swinging bachelor, never got over Julia and lives at home with his hypercritical mother. This Carlos also re-encounters Julia, this time a carefree artist newly returned from years of roaming Europe and the United States. Their romance blooms but then comes the showdown with Carlos's disapproving mother.

These three tales are woven together in a delightful, unpredictable dance. Werneck is a stylist whose character-friendly direction draws emotional fireworks from her cast within a world of great visual appeal, including dynamic camera work and gorgeous colors. This is a wildly romantic little film that balances heart, style, and structure. Despite the intricacies of juggling three stories simultaneously, Werneck manages a lively pace and a playful sexuality that's more sensual than explicit. She is ably assisted by Paulo Halm's well-crafted screenplay and Walter Carvalho's and Claudio Amaral Peixoto's excellent cinematography and art direction, respectively.

But what's most satisfying about Possible Loves is the cast, which gets the chance to work through three very different stories in the same film. Murilo Benicio is outstanding in his three portrayals of Carlos, who regardless of the story line, always seems to doubt his current life choices. Benicio first gained attention here as the hapless husband in the aforementioned Woman On Top and is a veteran trouper, with many films and television credits. Like his Spanish counterpart, Javier Bardem, Benicio combines a solid physicality with charm and heart. Benicio also adds intelligence and a thoughtful reserve, which gives him great versatility.

Benicio is matched by Carolina Ferraz, whose three Julias are nothing short of amazing. Her emotional range, clarity, and sensuality, her expressive face and lithe dancer's body suggest a world-class combination. Her talent seems all the more remarkable when one considers that Possible Loves is only her second film and her first leading role.

These leads are backed by excellent supporting actors, notably Emilio de Mello, whose Pedro pops up in a different persona in each story line. He is Carlos's disapproving legal partner in the first version, his soccer-playing lover in the second, and a kooky workplace confidant in the third. Each incarnation is unique, and again, it's a pleasure to see a resourceful actor go through his paces.

While Possible Loves delivers many gifts, it does have drawbacks, chiefly conceptual and thematic. This film is another variation on the "what if" romantic scheme, tracing different future outcomes to simple twist-of-fate events. If this sounds like Sliding Doors or Next Stop Wonderland, that's because they all operate on the same premise. The problem with this kind of gimmick is that it doesn't make much sense. Unless the story deals with a death or an injury, it's hard to understand how people's lives can be totally changed by random events. This suggests that life merely is a result of chance and is not directed by personal choice or will. It's not only a depressing argument; it's also not a very convincing one.

But even accepting its premise, Possible Loves doesn't really follow through with its internal logic. If Carlos's life is affected by Julia standing him up one rainy night, why does his life take these distinctly different turns? This film doesn't say. It simply follows three what-if story lines, not to reveal insight but merely to have fun watching these characters' foibles and knowing more than they do. This is the sort of terrain François Truffaut explored, except Truffaut tended to offer more coherent thought behind the fluff. And it may well be that there's more coherence here than is first apparent and that some of the ideas get lost in translation (the film is in Portuguese with English subtitles). But there are plenty of good reasons to catch this film and others from Brazil. As those in Miami have long known, there is much more to Latin culture than meets the casual Anglo eye.

 
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