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."

Unfortunately Antonio gets involved with Paco (Débora Falabella), who is a girl, but passes as a boy in order to get money giving blowjobs in bathrooms. She is also a crack addict, and an altogether unappealing character, except when she's stroking her body with ice cubes in the New York summer heat, in view of Antonio. Lust could be the only explanation why he takes her into his home, where she browbeats him continuously. Because of her, he loses his janitor job (and despite his easy green card, cannot seem to get another one), and ends up in prison on child prostitution charges. Antonio is such a wimp, and Paco such a bitch, that it's difficult to muster up much sympathy for the pair, let alone interest in this implausible film.

Durval Records, directed by Anna Muylaert, is good-spirited, but still a seat-squirmer. The Durval of the title runs a record store (and again, the music wins out here, with a lot of vintage Brazilian tunes). He lives with his mother and -- although they reside in São Paulo -- lives a pleasant small-town existence, committed to the wonders of vinyl even while those around him switch to CDs. In this Hollywood-esque comedy, the mother and son unwittingly come into custody of a little girl who was kidnapped from a rich family. By the time they discover her origins, Durval's mother has become so attached to the tiny charmer that she doesn't want to return her to her home. Many "screwball" antics ensue. This time the characters are likable enough, but the plot hardly transcends that of a typical sitcom episode. Two Lost in a Dirty Night plays on June 6 at 9:00 p.m.; Durval Records plays on June 5 at 7:00 p.m. -- Judy Cantor Mango Yello (Amarelo Manga)

Shakespeare's Macbeth, the ambitious warrior and would-be king, could have been a fitting character in Cláudio Assis's existential panorama Mango Yellow. The Scot's famous lament "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day, To the last syllable of recorded time" is echoed in the film's opening sequence as Ligia, the fiery waitress and proprietress of the local cantina, ponders her unbearably mundane existence. In the scene, she is at her wits' end while setting up her restaurant. With each chair that she takes from the tables, Ligia contemplates the fate that brands her a she-wolf in the lowlife world of Recife.

Ligia's angst sets the tone for the odd set of stories that follows. With a weird hyperreality that draws its tone from T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Mango Yellowdelves into the far reaches of the human psyche. From the supremely righteous to the horrendous, Assis continually contrasts the sacred with the profane in this, his depiction of the underbelly of society. The director creates a tainted tapestry of broken characters who wind in and out of scenes, connected only by their desperation.

Desperate living and circumstance are the ingredients that bring the colorful cast of scammers, religious fanatics, prostitutes, and necrophiliacs together to form a loose narrative. It is their everyday dramas, such as Ligia's ongoing wrangling with lecherous drunks, that substitute for strong plotlines. If at times the stories are hard to believe and confusing, it is the nuanced performances of the actors that keep viewers interested.

At the center of the film is Isaac, a stinky scam artist known as El Aleman who roams through the city streets in a mango yellow Mercedes-Benz. The film follows him as he mutilates dead bodies and trades the remains, only to build a nasty inebriation at Ligia's restaurant. His bloated belly, sick palate, and scruffy bristle of silvering whiskers hint that he is a man with a past -- or perhaps the devil incarnate. His refuge from his sick reality are the pornographic dreams he has while hiding out in the seedy Texas Hotel.

Another central character is Dunga, a vengeful queen and caretaker of the hotel, who resorts to Santeria to snare Wellington, the man he desires. Once Dunga casts his spell by telling Wellington's wife of her man's love affair with a bawdy woman, he pays a steep price as his boss and probable sugar daddy is found dead.

Wellington, on the other hand, is in love with the supremely pious Kika, who cannot tolerate betrayal. When Kika discovers her man making love to a bawdy broad named Daisy, Kika pulls a Mike Tyson on the other woman, ripping off her ear with her teeth. The violent act gives Kika a taste of the wild life. Once she samples blood, metaphorically, she will never go back to being the prim buttoned-up church lady. She becomes tainted. Kika relinquishes her piety and surrenders to her fate as lowly soul. Kika is soon seen riding in the devil's mango-colored Mercedes, which leads to an unlikely and dangerous pairing.

The sequence of events happens over a 24-hour period. By nightfall we see the distressed Ligia repeating her anxious monologue about time. Assis punctuates the happenings with gritty clips of cattle being slaughtered. The bloody act is caught from the initial killing to the quartering of the cadavers with pickaxes. The spliced scenes, shown in lengthy segments, become uncomfortable if not symbolic interludes between the characters' stories.

Stuffed with symbolic tools, Mango Yellow fulfills its role as an art film. Over a period of time the characters act out strange situations that only bring them to new lows. There is little redemption in this tale. As a character piece, the film stands out with the subtle performances of its cast. However, its reliance on metaphorical references make the point of Assis's cinematic exercise difficult to decipher. He draws on the jaundiced taint of mango pulp, simultaneously sweet and sticky. It could be a rich and exciting treasure, but it is one fraught with consequences that in the end will rot -- for better or for worse. Playing on June 7 at 7:00 p.m. -- Juan Carlos Rodriguez

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