Of Jack the Cricket
Guel Arraes's magical realist morality tale A Dog's Will (Auto da Compadecida) is an adventurous collage of telenovela and art cinema, slapstick comedy and social chronicle. Created as a television miniseries, it was a huge success in Brazil, both on TV and later in movie theaters. Arraes, a director known for making superior programs for Brazil's Globo Network, shot the miniseries on film instead of video, and after its small-screen showing he edited this version for commercial release.
Dog's Will is adapted from Ariano Suassuna's play by the same name, a work that is perennially performed by theater companies large and small all over Brazil. Suassuna is renowned for his provocative treatment of the popular culture in the country's northeast region -- in this case bashing the clergy and its powerful hold on the Brazilian people, and lampooning landholders and the merchant class. He wrote the script in 1955, which accounts for the characters' shopworn "insights" and stale jokes in the movie version. The film is in large part a shrill farce, and its first half relays the predictable foibles of the residents of a small northeastern town and their sinful prejudices, corrupt practices, and randy behavior.
The director's sweet imagination thankfully overcomes the small-town comedy routines with cartoonlike dream sequences, and as the film progresses, patience pays off with a divinely ridiculous Judgment Day scene that's part Buñuel, part The Weakest Link. Arraes succeeds with silly costumes and even with documentary footage of rural Brazil's poor that makes up a brief segment of the film.
The movie centers on the exploits of two destitute friends, João Grilo (Matheus Nachtergaele) -- Jack the Cricket in English -- and Chicó (Selton Mello), who find work in a bakery. The baker (Diogo Vilela) and his wife (an annoying shrieker played by Denise Fraga) treat their employees worse than a dog -- proved when the dog eats Jack and Chicó's dinner, and she dies. After some conniving on Jack the Cricket's part -- he tells the town priest and visiting bishop that the dog left a will in which they were provided for -- the clergymen agree to give the dog a Catholic burial in Latin. Meanwhile the daughter of the town's richest man falls in love with Chicó, the poor idiot savant of the story, and he must compete for her hand with her other suitors, a corporal and the town bully. Eventually a one-eyed beggar avenges his fate by becoming a bandit, and his gang kills the whole crew of characters, including him. Everyone ends up in purgatory, to be judged by the Devil, Jesus Christ, and the Virgin Mary.
The cast is made up of fine actors, with Nachtergaele and Mello excelling in their roles as respectively tricky and sensitive buffoons. As an extra treat, the marvelous Fernanda Montenegro of Central Station fame plays the Virgin Mary. -- Judy Cantor
Of Jack the Ripper
A long time ago, in this very same galaxy, blood flowed from young women's throats in dark alleyways. In O Xangô de Baker Street writer/director Miguel Faria, Jr., delivers a prequel of sorts, á la George Lucas, relating to the legend of Jack the Ripper. The film, with its goofy sendup of super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes's misadventures in Amazonia, could appropriately be called João the Ripper.