INTERVIEW: Bruno Barreto Shakes His Booty With "Bossa Nova"
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/4.26.2000) -- Brazilian director Bruno Barreto has clearly shown his wife, actress Amy Irving, that she's still the apple of his eye. His latest effort "Bossa Nova" features Amy as a fortyish English teacher in Rio who suddenly rediscovers her ability to be loved and love. The film is a simple farce with great visuals and lots of cupidity.
What "Bossa Nova" isn't might be an even more interesting trajectory to explore. The film is totally unlike "One Tough Cop" (1998), Barreto's adaptation of the true story of a rogue cop starring Stephen Baldwin; or "Four Days in September" (1997), his internationally acclaimed recounting of the kidnapping of an American ambassador by leftists; or "Carried Away" (1996) which showcased Dennis Hopper as a repressed school teacher who gets seduced by one of his students. But then Barreto has fought being pigeonholed his whole career, whether working in the United States or Brazil.
His other features include "Happily Ever After" (1985), "The Kiss" (1981) and the widely successful "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" (1978). At Manhattan's Cafe des Artistes, indieWIRE spoke with the director, who was wearing a custom-designed suit bought for him by Irving, about the loves of François Truffaut, the shifting styles of Howard Hawkes, and "Bossa Nova," his perhaps most personal film.
indieWIRE: I guess a bunch of directors have worked with the women they have loved.
Bruno Barreto: Truffaut above all.
iW: Whom did he work with that he loved?
Barreto: Catherine Deneuve above all. Françoise Dorléac.
iW: I didn't know that. He had relationships with them?
Barreto: Fanny Ardant.
iW: I didn't know that.
Barreto: He was married to Fanny Ardant. He was deeply in love with Catherine Deneuve. He had a nervous breakdown because of Deneuve when she dumped him. He was out of commission. Out! Not working. Almost in a clinic for six months. That was when they did "The Mississippi Mermaid." Then later, a few years later, six years later if not more, they worked together again in "The Last Metro." And Jeanne Moreau. You name it.
iW: Now you dedicate "Bossa Nova" partially to Truffaut. Why?
Barreto: Very much because of the romantic side of this movie. I think Truffaut was maybe the last truly romantic filmmaker in my opinion. Above all, he was a master for me. All the films I make are very much about relationships and encounters and miscommunications. All of these in a light romantic atmosphere. And I think Truffaut was the master of that. I like all Truffaut films, even the bad ones. Like "Mississippi Mermaid" was considered a bad one. And "The Bride Who Wore Black" which was an homage to Hitchcock. But it was considered a minor Truffaut. It wasn't like "The Last Metro" or "400 Blows." Also the fact that my film is a love letter to Rio, and Truffaut made a couple of love letters to Paris.
"Whatever happened to those films? You know, 'Bringing Up Baby' and 'His Girl Friday.' I think it's very unfortunate that these films are not made any more."
iW: Did you ever meet him?
Barreto: No never met him.
iW: In Hollywood, a lot of films used to be made about people in their forties who were in love. Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr.
iW: All of a sudden that disappeared. Is there the same vacuum in Brazil?
Barreto: No, it's not the same in Brazil. That's exactly what we were talking about. Whatever happened to those films? Right after Truffaut -- and maybe right up there with Truffaut to put it in a better way -- is Howard Hawkes really. You know, "Bringing Up Baby" and "His Girl Friday." I think it's very unfortunate that these films are not made any more. In Brazil, it's not like that. In Brazil, there isn't this obsession with youth and being young. It's more like Europe to me. People are not self-conscious about their bodies. They go around, even the men, in their small bikinis, and they go to the beach and they don't care much about the way they look. They work out, but sometimes they don't look great. But they're there. They're having a good time, and they think they can fall in love and have affairs in their seventies or sixties. They don't think that love and romance is just for young people.
iW: So fans of yours can go to Brazil to see you in a bikini or fishnet or something?
Barreto: (Laughs) I have to admit I'm more of a prude. I put on some swimming trunks. I don't like anything too tight on my body.
iW: Your fans will be disappointed . . . . Now if someone was exposed to a few of your films in a row, everything from "Four Days in September," "One Tough Cop," "Bossa Nova," would they see anything in those films style-wise to know they were yours?
Barreto: I think that the common thread is that they're all character driven. They're all character studies within their respective genres. Two of them are thrillers. "Carried Away" is a drama. And "Dona Flor" and "Bossa Nova" are the only two romantic comedies I've made. They're all character studies. They're all about people. I think style-wise, they're all very romantic. They all have an innocence.
iW: "Four Days in September" is so hard-hitting.
Barreto: But I think it's still romantic. Those young guys were very romantic. They thought they could change the world. They were very naive. They were very young and they thought like a lot people in the sixties. They thought that if they took action, they could make the world a better place. They were wrong. Things aren't that simple. So that's why I think it's romantic. Politically romantic.
"I loved to make films. It was my passion. Only after you gain success, did I realize success, as everybody knows, is a little bit like an aphrodisiac."
iW: Certain film directors have a visual style. You only have to look at a few minutes of a Hitchcock or Fellini film to identify its creator. You seem to create a new style for each film to fit the subject.
Barreto: Yes. That's where I admire Howard Hawkes, Truffaut, William Wyler. I think that I try to find the style in the characters and in the story that I'm telling. I'm more a storyteller than an auteur so to speak. And I think, as a good storyteller, I can even become an auteur, but what I really like to do is to tell a story in a very humanistic way.
iW: Would you say that this film seems to be the one you put most of yourself in?
Barreto: That's a very interesting question. When this film started out, I wasn't aware that it was such a personal film. I look at the film today and once I finish viewing it, it's maybe the most personal film of all the films I've made. "Carried Away" is very personal film, too, although it takes place in the United States, in a little town in the middle of the country. But the subject matter and the issues that are dealt with in that story are very close to me.
But "Bossa Nova" is very personal to me on every level in the sense that I wasn't aware as I was doing it. I guess that's actually good. It's when you're unconscious. It's all getting there but you're not aware of it, and then when you look at it . . . . When I started to edit the film and then looked at sections of it, I went, "It's so close."
There's all these differences and culture differences. But it's just the reverse. It's Amy in Brazil instead of me here in the United States. The fact that the more time I spend here, the more I miss the city where I come from. I remember that while driving all the time in L.A., whenever a Brazilian song played, some song from when I was growing up, I would just cry. I'm so homesick. At the same time, I'm very happy that I have a career here. That I do what I love to do. Just to make films in Brazil, it's . . . it's . . . I could but I would make one film every three years and that would be considered a very successful career. So I'm very grateful and very happy that I live here and I can make a motion picture every year here. That's what I'm averaging lately.
So "Bossa Nova's" a very personal film. The Rio the way it is in the movie doesn't really exist. It's the way I like Rio to be. It's a totally idealized city. People go, "Oh, wow!" But the minute they get off the plane, they see a very different Rio. The Rio in the movie is the Rio I have in my heart. It's the way I remember Rio. That is why I think this is my most personal movie.
iW: It's hard to imagine a cynic making this film. This is definitely a film by a lover. So is there a great lover in you?
Barreto: I only sort of started getting girls' attention after I did "Dona Flor" which was a huge hit. Then I was 21, and then they started. My brother, who is very good looking, is the one who got all the girls. I didn't. So I started to make films very early. I made my first feature film when I was 17.
iW: To get girls?
Barreto: Maybe. I wasn't aware of it. I loved to make films. It was my passion. My number one passion in life. I couldn't survive without making films, money aside. No, it's true. Only after you gain success, did I realize success, as everybody knows, is a little bit like an aphrodisiac . . . .
iW: So becoming a director is a great way to attract groupies, especially if you have an international hit?
Barreto: (Laughs) Yes, I would say it isn't bad.