Rio Reels On

As you can see, there's more to Brazil than Samba, Lula, and Ronaldo

For the seventh year in a row, Miami gets to be the first to view the latest crop of homegrown films from Latin America's biggest nation during the Brazilian Film Festival. Starting on June 4, a coupling of shorts and features will take over the Lincoln Theatre (541 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach) and continue through closing night on June 7. There will also be a trade show, the BR Marketplace, for industry people to hobnob, including distributors, producers, actors, and directors, from June 4 to 6, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. at the Wolfsonian Museum (1001 Washington Ave., Miami Beach). Free. The Brazilian "face" of drum and bass, Fernanda Porto, will help close out the festival with a concert at the Lincoln Theatre on June 8 at 7:30 p.m. For information and tickets for both films and concert, call 877-877-7677.

The Man of the Year (O Homem do Ano)

It might be strange luck or just a fatalistic bleach job that transforms the protagonist of José Henrique Fonseca's debut feature film, Man of the Year, from a single unemployed car salesman to a vengeful goodfella who ends up in charge of his barrio's security firm. Indeed the journey begins when Maíquel (Murilo Benício) gets his hair bleached as the result of losing a barroom bet. The questionably unfortunate stroke gives him a new look that not only makes him resemble Anjelica Huston in The Grifters, but it changes his life completely.

The hairdo leads to wisecracks, which lead to a confrontation that ends with Maíquel killing the most despised thug in the neighborhood. Not wanting to hide, Maíquel throws himself to his destiny, walking conspicuously through the neighborhood, hanging out in his regular haunts, and waiting for an act of revenge or at least his arrest. Instead he is surprised when his neighbors and local businessmen begin to shower him with gifts. Even the police thank him for knocking off the bully.

Soon he finds he has a knack for taking care of other people's problems, so to speak. He builds a good practice for himself as a hit man -- so much so that he can afford to take care of his new wife, Cledir (Cláudia Abreu), and their daughter as well as the girlfriend of the man he killed, Erica (Natália Lage). Things just seem to happen to Maiquel, and without judgment, he rides his destiny with a likable charm and charisma.

But as with all noble characters in a mob flick, dramatic flaws begin to taint the rosy picture. Maíquel inexplicably falls in love with Erica and gets rid of his wife. Gaining a sense of immunity from the law, he begins to enjoy his work killing for hire perhaps a bit too much. And again, when it appears as if he is on the brink of collapsing, the fates line up for him and he is elevated to a higher level of community acclaim. Soon Maíquel is named Man of the Year by the local business chamber, and he emerges a bit sleazier and better suited for slicked-back bleached locks.

The story is a compelling and oddly funny one that makes viewers cringe at moments when Maíquel reaches new lows only to be rewarded. It's a funny predicament that recalls the story of King Midas. Eventually the fates will turn against him, but Maíquel has only one choice -- go with the flow.

At times the film seems as if it might fall apart because of unbelievable actions from our hero. (It seems unfathomable that he would dump the lovely and adventurous Cledir for the clingy, mixed-up runaway that is Erica). However, the film survives mostly due to Benício's ability to excavate a warm and humane soul from this otherwise despicable character. Fonseca keeps things appealing with a beautifully seedy and stylish quality to the film, made more enjoyable with montages and direct references to Martin Scorsese's slick opus Goodfellas. At one point Benício pulls a Joe Pesci, asking a bar brute, "What, you think I'm funny? Do you think I'm a clown?"

Regardless of the emulation, Man of the Year remains a strong and original film that balances the sensational world of a hired gun with the warmth of a schmuck making the most of bad circumstances. Playing on June 4 at 9:00 p.m. -- Juan Carlos Rodriguez

Two Lost in a Dirty Night (Dois Perdiedos Numa Noite Suja) an Durval Records (Durval Discos)

Both films feature a wayward child. They are about the inexplicable bonds that can be built among the members of unconventional families, people brought together by fate, their obsessive relationships, and, ultimately, their attempts to let go. One is a comedy, the other a tragedy; they are equally tedious and unsatisfying. So bad, in fact, that another common point is found in the challenge presented in watching either of them through to the end.

A typical day in Antonio Carlos's new life in America opens Two Lost in a Dirty Night, directed by José Joffily and based on a play by the same name. Antonio Carlos, or Tonho (Roberto Bomtempo), eats in the prison cafeteria, works out in the prison yard, and is raped by a big black guy in the shower. Reminiscent of Flashdance, the scenes are shot in the cutaway style of conventional music videos. (Actually, some of the neo-punk music on the film's soundtrack is the best thing about this movie.) We soon discover that Antonio Carlos is a recent immigrant with a bad case of the American dream. And his story includes all the clichés, including weepy scenes with a view of the Statue of Liberty, a speedy wedding he spends his savings on so he can get his green card (making the process look incredibly easy -- seems all you have to do is sleep with a fat Puerto Rican and you're set), and a quest to return home triumphantly "full of dollars."

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