BERLIN 2000 REVIEW: Bossa Nova's Pleasing Roundabout in Rio
by Eddie Cockrell
(indieWIRE/2.26.2000) -- In many ways the most difficult of films to pull off properly, the
mainstream romantic sex comedy, often ends up looking forced and
perfunctory, the exact opposite of the light, breezy, mildly erotic tone
filmmakers have in mind. Thus, the engaging "Bossa Nova," which
elicited surprised smiles and a round of sincere applause from the weary
journalists who trudged to the 10:30 am press show on the last day of
the recently wrapped Berlin Film Festival, is a double surprise.
Not only did it close the festival out on a mildly naughty but
commercially nice note of tropical whimsy (from all reports the public
seemed to embrace it as well), but it announces a return to his native
Brazil and comic form for director Bruno Barreto, whose "Dona Flor and
Her Two Husbands" achieved the same balancing act and was thus an
art-house hit in the states some 22 years ago, eventually garnering a
Golden Globe nomination for Best Foreign Film.
After an opening credits sequence that plays like a widescreen tourist
promotion for Rio de Janeiro, Amy Irving is introduced as Mary Ann, a
former flight attendant and widow who has spent the two years since her
husband's accidental drowning in emotional stasis while working as a
language instructor ("in English, please!" seems to be the motto of her
Meeting distinguished yet distracted lawyer Pedro Paulo (Antonio
Fagundes) on an elevator, Mary Ann is soon drawn to a whirling
merry-go-round of passions and pratfalls. Her fellow riders include
student Nadine (Drica Moraes), who is carrying on an Internet romance
with the unseen Gary, a long-haired Soho artist; Pedro Paulo's tailor
father Juan (Alberto de Mendoza), who is in danger of losing his
business in a messy divorce; determined law intern Sharon (Giovanna
Antonelli); Pedro Paulo's lovesick brother Roberto (Pedro Cardoso);
libidinous soccer star Acacio (Alexandre Borges) and his manager Gordo
(Sergio Loroza); and Pedro Paulo's soon-to-be-ex-wife Tania (Debora
Block), who has left him and is living with a Chinese Tai-Chi-Chuan
instructor, Wan-Kim-Lau (Kazuo Matsui).
Things come to a comic boil when Pedro Paulo meets client Trevor
(Stephen Tobolowsky) at the airport -- and the balding, eccentric
American turns out to be an unwitting catalyst for the resolution of the
tangled relationships. As the press kit so breezily puts it: "Tania
wants to win back the love of Pedro Paulo, who in turn loves Mary Ann,
but thinks she loves Trevor. Nadine finally meets her virtual love.
Roberto loves Sharon, who loves Acacio, who had a crush on Mary Ann, who
rediscovers love with Pedro Paulo." Got that?
With only a few minor stumbles (including an ill-advised fantasy dance
sequence), picture gels nicely by about the one third mark, thanks to
the slightly bewildered, Cary Grant-ish suavity of Fagundes, as well as
Irving's wide-eyed charm and, among an ensemble of fine players, a
howlingly funny turn by Borges as a kind of Portuguese version of Cuba
Gooding Jr.'s Oscar-winning role as Rod Tidwell in "Jerry Maguire" (the
actor can also be seen currently on the North American festival circuit
in the steamy Brazilian drama "A Fit of Rage"). And the final reels
display some precise comic timing, with the complexities of plot and
character building nicely to a hospital set piece that incorporates the
themes of linguistic misunderstanding, semi-bridled passions and
physical humor in a showdown of mistaken identities and tangled
Technically the movie is crisp and appealing, with Eumir Deodato's score
nicely punctuated by the Bossa Nova standards of Antonio Carlos "Tom"
Jobim -- to whom, along with Francois Truffaut, the film is dedicated.
And for his first feature since Wim Wenders' "The End of Violence,"
cinematographer Pascal Rabaud brings the same shimmering palette to Rio
that he utilized for Wenders' view of Los Angeles.
In a Berlin year where identity and history were strong currents through
many of the works, "Bossa Nova" finds Barreto back in Rio for his second
consecutive production following 1996's "Four Days in September." He's
found a pleasing rhythm and nicely conveys his love for the city and his
lead actress, to whom he's been married for a number of years. In a
roundabout career with his share of triumphs ("Carried Away") and
stumbles ("One Tough Cop"), "Bossa Nova" pulls off a deft comic coup and
is a fine kind of homecoming.