by Del Harvey
Bruno Barreto’s labor of love for his wife, Amy Irving, turns out to be a fun little screwball comedy.
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Bruno Barreto has been making films since 1973. In 1978 he directed Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands, which has gone on to become the highest grossing Brazilian film of all time. In 1998 he made the last of four American films, the mediocre One Good Cop, starring Stephen Baldwin and Gina Gershon. It came and went rather quickly from the screen, and is getting ample replay on cable. In 1999 he released Bossa Nova, a film which was an homage to Tom Jobim and Francios Truffault, as well as being a gift to his wife, Amy Irving. The choice was perfect and the film is a simple and delightful joy.
Amy Irving is Mary, a former flight attendant who has found her niche as a teacher of the English language in Rio de Janiero. She is also a widower. Two years into her mourning, and feeling the first urges to break free of her sleepwalk, she discusses the internet romance one of her students has embarked upon. The student, Nadice (Drica Moraes) tries to convince Mary to give this internet romance thing a try. But Mary is getting plenty of attention from another student, the national soccer star Acacio (Alexandre Borges). She has also quite casually bumped into a man who has fallen in love with her at first sight. This is Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes), who is going through a separation with his wife and fighting to save his father’s business from his soon-to-be ex-wife.
As the couples become more entangled and the confusion buildsup, and as ex-wives and former boyfriends and wanna-be-boyfriends and amorous ladies trade places and switch partners, the whole thing becomes quite funny and fun to watch. Perhaps the best of these performers is Fagundes, who has been a leading male actor in Brazil for 30 years, both on the big screen and on television, but he has made few films that have had any recognition over here. His confidence and his cool are reminiscent of an older Cary Grant. His love interest, Amy Irving, truly shines in his presence. Oddly enough, in her few solo scenes she seems flat and prone to overacting, which seems unusual for someone with a resume such as hers (Carrie, Honeysuckle Rose, Yentl, Crossing Delancey, etc.).
The supporting actors are all very good, which is of great importance to the success of a screwball comedy. From the starry-eyed Nadice to the brusquely masculine Acacio, from Pedro Paulo’s estranged wife Tania (Debora Bloch) to the silly American suitor Gary (Stephen Tobolowsky), and from Pedro Paulo’s brother Roberto (Pedro Cardoso) to his enamorata Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), each of the supporting actors is superb. In fact, this film is a much better screwball comedy than anything to come out of Hollywood in quite some time.
Perhaps this is because it never takes itself too seriously, even when delving into such topics as Mary’s ridding herself of the overburdening companionship her dead husband plays in her daily life. Even Irving’s stilted qualities cannot bog down such a potentially depressing scene.
The score, comprised of classic Jobim works, a fewFrench standards, and some original music by arranger Eumir Deodato, is very appropriate. The cinematography is by French Director of Photography Pascal Rabaud. The art direction and design are wonderful. All elements combine under Barreto’s control to produce a film that is fun and funny and a delightful way to spend a few hours. Bossa Nova is a rare treat. I recommend it highly.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly and lives in Chicago. He is a survivor of Lucasfilm, the Walt Disney Company, and the Directors Guild of America.
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