The Thrill of Brazil

The Ninth Brazilian Film Festival of Miami stands out as an embarrassment of riches

It's been a great season for movie lovers in South Florida, with a string of major festivals more than making up in both quantity and quality for the multiplexing of America. There have been major discoveries all over, not just in the vast Miami International Film Festival but also at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and the Miami Jewish Film Festival -- all of which have given us first looks at movies enjoying or about to enjoy major international fame. Even within this lucky streak, the Ninth Brazilian Film Festival of Miami stands out as an embarrassment of riches.

"This is a great moment for the Cinema Industry of Brazil," says festival director Claudia Dutra. And she is right, if what is in store in Miami Beach is any indication. "Brazil is making incredible films," Dutra adds, "and there is a growing demand and interest from the public and industry to find out more about Brazilian movies. Five feature films out of fourteen have not been shown to the public -- not even in Brazil. They are about to premiere there as well, which means that the festival's audience this year will have the pleasure to be the first ones to watch these movies in the world."

Bruno Barreto, veteran Brazilian director, points out: "It makes all the sense in the world to hold a Brazilian film festival in Miami." If not here, where? Still, this year's edition is quite a treat by any standards. Call it vision, or chalk it up to luck. But the truth is very few movies anywhere promise the sheer joy and surprise of A Dona da Historia, and it is hardly alone in this festival. Every nation has its day when it comes to filmmaking, it seems, with golden ages happening like miracles once in, say, Italy, then in Sweden, in France, in Hollywood. Here is a sampling of what's up on the Beach, suggesting that the time for Brazilian film is now.


June 11-18. Jackie Gleason Theater, 1700 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Industry seminars June 13-16 and a retrospective of Daniel Filho films June 13-17 305-358-5885, 954-523-3309,
the Miami Beach Cinematheque, 512 EspaŮola Way, Miami Beach


The life we end up living, the late Michel Foucault once noted, is just one among many possibilities. What if we could choose from the others? What if we could, even for an instant, see what might have been? These questions are at the heart of Daniel Filho's A Dona da Historia, which shuttles the audience back and forth over decades of a couple's relationship and dares to stop time, to savor each moment in the growth of their love. Much can be noted about this movie, but the main thing is this: A Dona da Historia is one of the most beautiful films to come along, from anywhere, in a very long time. Based on a best seller by João Falcão, Filho's film boasts a stellar cast that includes Rodrigo Santoro, perhaps best known to Miami audiences as the heartthrob lead of the Telemundo soap opera Mujeres Apasionadas (Hot Women), shining here opposite the beautiful Deborah Falabella as the love of his life. The same characters, 32 years later, are played with heartbreaking aplomb by Marieta Severo and Antonio Fagundes, two of Brazil's leading actors. What happens to them is told in packed sensual, privileged moments that capture time with Proustian intensity: a student protest drenched in youthful dreams played out against a gentle bossa nova rhythm; dry marital arguments eavesdropped with a clarity worthy of Ingmar Bergman; political frissons subtly conveyed in contrasting Brazilian and Cuban sounds; the ineffable heat of love and lust at first sight remembered alongside the profoundest affection of a marriage that has lasted a lifetime. "You talk just like the movies," our heroine tells her lover. "It sounds so real." This is the sort of movie that actually embodies that reality. A Dona da Historia is billed as a romantic comedy, but it is more than such. It belongs with the exquisite few pictures that at once transcend and celebrate that elusive genre, from the best of Jacques Demy to Stanley Donen and Frederic Raphael's immortal Two for the Road -- another movie that packs an entire era into mere snapshots of a couple's life. If there is one shining example of the maturity, brilliance, and originality of Brazilian film today, this is it. Why mince words? Daniel Filho has given us a masterpiece.


The beginning is deceptive, even sweet: a laid-back dinner party in a modest eat-in kitchen, with the host piously saying grace before the credits roll onscreen. What follows is something else. Contra Todos turns ugly fast, developing into a gripping snapshot of life in the sleazy lower slopes of the smalltime criminal element. Infidelities and the minor betrayals of adult life morph with unsettling ease from domesticity to the cultlike horrors of an Evangelical Christian sect -- as scary a development in South America as here up North -- and eventually to a bloodbath of Jacobean proportions. This sordid tale about a woman trapped in a bad marriage to a Bible-thumping, child-abusing killer boasts Leona Cavalli and Ailton Graça as the unlikely couple, Silvia Lourenco as their precocious daughter, and a splendid ensemble cast. With a shopping mall that could be anywhere, but with a backdrop that could only be São Paulo today, this intense little picture written and directed by Roberto Moreira is typical of the frantic neorealism that marks so many new Brazilian films. Only the epilogue, where the narrative style changes abruptly, rings false in this otherwise fascinating urban legend.

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