Posted: 11/14/2011


Rio Sex Comedy

by Elaine Hegwood Bowen

Film Monthly Home
Wayne Case
Steve Anderson
The Rant
Short Takes (Archived)
Small Screen Monthly
Behind the Scenes
New on DVD
The Indies
Film Noir
Coming Soon
Now Playing
Books on Film
What's Hot at the Movies This Week
Interviews TV

Rio Sex Comedy takes a satirical look at body image in a town where all the girls are just beautiful, Rio, but also takes a serious look at the work of housekeepers who feel they are not respected as they work to make the rich folks’ lives easier. The sun-drenched splendor of Rio de Janeiro provides the backdrop to a sexy comedy of romantic entanglement from acclaimed writer-director Jonathan Nossiter. The eye-popping spectacle, starring Charlotte Rampling and Bill Pullman, arrives on DVD from FilmBuff on November 15
A mixed group of tourists and visitors on a working trip find themselves footloose and under the sway of Rio. Rampling (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand, Never Let Me Go) plays a prominent British plastic surgeon who arrives in Rio to warn potential clients that new looks don’t necessarily solve old problems. Pullman (Independence Day, Lost Highway) is a U.S. ambassador who slips away from his handlers and into one of the city’s wildest (and most dangerous) favelas, or shantytowns, where he befriends a free-spirited tour guide and his beautiful partner who show him things few tourists get to see.

Meanwhile, a French couple (Irene Jacob, of Red and The Double Life of Veronique, and Jean-Marc Roulot, of Jeanne and the Perfect Guy and Story of Women), in Rio to shoot a documentary about the favelas, find that their proper reserve may not be able to withstand the blatant and irresistible pleasures of Rio. The woman, Jacob, ends up having an affair with her hubby’s brother, who has been enlisted to help with photography. They go from house to house, asking the hired help what they like and dislike about their jobs. But as the hubby decides to try to figure out if his wife is cheating on him, he falls down a path of adultery, when he picks up someone at the local bar. He tries to ply this woman with gifts, only to be robbed near naked and having to explain to his wife why he is walking around the city unclothed. The documentarian isn’t quite ready to leave her hubby for her brother-in-law, and he is crushed by the idea. He, in turn, looks to the housekeeper for company, but she rejects him in the end. She figures he’ll get her back to his hometown and abandon her, but more importantly she discovers that he is married. All through the movie, it is understood that the housekeepers don’t mingle with their employers; they would rather be left alone with not even an offer to help with the dishes accepted.

It seems at some point everyone is sleeping around; with the plastic surgeon, Rampling, who has left her hubby, having to explain to her grown son who has come looking for her just why she left his dad. But she is footloose and fancy free, or at least she pretends to be. She has a couple of young studs in her room, pretending that they are having sex, all in a ruse to get rid of her son. The older women in the movie sit around all day lamenting their younger days and talking each other into and out of plastic surgery. But they find out that happiness is not found at the end of a scalpel. The Ambassador, Pullman, finally comes out of hiding to ask the U.S. government for money to help the poor people living in the shantytowns.

Nossiter (Signs & Wonders, Sunday) weaves the tales of these wanderers together into a holiday of sensual delight. It’s another ode to pleasure from Nossiter, whose 2004 wine celebration Mondovino is one of only three documentaries to be nominated for the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rio Sex Comedy also stars Fisher Stevens, of Damages, Lost and Uptown Girls; Jerome Kircher, of Hideaway and A Very Long Engagement; and Mary Sheila, of the essential favela film, City of God. I remember my first movie recalling Rio, and it was, in fact, City of God. The movie is available from FilmBuff November 15. For more information, visit Web site,

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who also serves as a news editor for

Got a problem? E-mail us at