Undercutting the Notion Of Brazil as a Sex Symbol
Srgio Bianchi's "Chronically Unfeasible" is
a blunt and mordant fist in the ribs of Brazil's middle class. Close
in spirit to Luis Buuel's attacks on the bourgeoisie's infatuated
gazes at itself, the film has a big heart that's both in the right
place and on its sleeve.
The complacency of recent films about
Brazil, which treat the country as if it were fixated only on sexual
concerns set to a samba beat, have a built-in condescension. There
seems to be an implicit agreement that in today's world cinema,
Brazil will be the new stand-in for the gamy French comedies of the
1970's that toyed with sexuality in a broad, innocuous fashion. Mr.
Bianchi and Gustavo Steinberg, who wrote the movie with him, are
determined to comment on such a marginalization of their homeland.
"The future of the world is what Brazil is today," someone says in
the film, which is out to shake up the conceptions about the country
that audiences may have taken from movies.
"Unfeasible" revolves around the
eye-opening experiences of characters who are as much archetypes as
they are people. They regularly meet at a Sao Paulo restaurant owned
by Luis (Cecil Thir), who likes to think of himself as a decent
person and who is attracted to a waiter (Dan Stulbach) with pale,
non-Latino good looks. There's Alfredo (Umberto Magnani), a curious
writer; Amanda (Dira Paes), the restaurant's manager, who leads a
different and more socially involved life outside the establishment;
and the oblivious, prattling Maria Alice (Betty Goffman). Mr.
Bianchi uses the sprawling film to comment on the sleepwalking from
which these self-proclaimed good citizens have to be roused.
It's hard not to impressed by the ambitions
of the director, who tackles the subject of race and class.
Brazilian films seem to be able to focus on one or the other but not
both (and lately, not much on either). "Chronically Unfeasible"
jumps around the country, and the contrasts between the haves and
the have-nots — particularly the orphaned
children abandoned by the state — is
appalling. Mr. Bianchi's anger is evident, but his flirtation with
absurdity undermines the weight of his disgust, as in a variation on
an early scene with homeless men digging through a restaurant's
garbage bins for food. In cases like this, when he makes his points
too stridently, the audience is thrown off, and the picture seems
nave and inconsequential despite the director's reach.
Yet in some scenes his comic sense works
well: a well-attended strike against a farm is botched when the
workers realize they have arrived at the wrong place. The movie
shifts from a talk show where experts speak on the subjects raised
in the film to the restaurant, a microcosm of middle-class Brazilian
society; it's full of middle-class exploiters who rationalize that
they are the victims, suffering because the streets are clogged with
beggars and detritus of different races.
Mr. Bianchi is a director with a social
conscience and a ferocity against the well-fed status quo, and
"Chronically Unfeasible" is a picture that makes you demand more
from everyone, including its director. Many artists are not
cognizant of the medium's power to disturb, and you want him to
become more accomplished at it because he asks the right questions.
Directed by Srgio Bianchi; written (in
Portuguese, with English subtitles) by Mr. Bianchi and Gustavo
Steinberg; directors of photography, Marcelo Coutinho and Antonio
Penido; edited by Paulo Sacramento; art directors, Pablo Vilar,
Beatriz Bianco and Jean-Louis Leblanc; produced by Mr. Bianchi, Mr.
Steinberg and Alvarina Souza. Running time: 101 minutes. This film
is not rated. Shown with a six-minute short, Roberto Berliner's "You
Are What You Were Born For" today at 3 p.m. at Alice Tully Hall as
part of the 38th New York Film Festival.
WITH: Daniel Dantas (Carlos), Betty Gofman
(Maria Alice), Umberto Magnani (Alfredo), Dira Paes (Amanda), Dan
Stulbach (Adam) and Cecil Thir (Luis).