A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, April 9, 2017

That Man From Rio (Philippe de Broca, 1964)

With its nonstop silliness, Philippe de Broca's That Man From Rio became a big international commercial success, but more surprising, it got an Oscar nomination for its screenplay, written by de Broca with Jean-Paul Rappeneau, Ariane Mnouchkine, and Daniel Boulanger. It's usually characterized as a spoof of James Bond films, with their glamorous locations and over-the-top action sequences, but if a spoof is intended to laugh its target out of existence, That Man only whetted audiences' appetites for more of the same. One of its stars, Adolfo Celi, who pays the unscrupulous, fabulously wealthy Mário de Castro, turned up the following year as the unscrupulous, fabulously wealthy Bond villain Emilio Largo in Thunderball (Terence Young, 1965). And it's easy to see touches of That Man From Rio in later action-adventure films, such as the Indiana Jones series, which like de Broca's film centered on archaeological treasure hunting. In That Man From Rio, the location of a priceless treasure is discovered by lining up the sun's rays through the lens in an ancient statue, just as Indiana Jones uses the sun's rays and an ancient artifact to discover the location of the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981). Jean-Paul Belmondo's Adrien picks up the help of a Rio shoeshine boy called Sir Winston (Ubriacy De Oliviera), just as Harrison Ford's Indy picks up a kid sidekick called Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan) in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Spielberg, 1984). Still, That Man From Rio stands on its own for its goofy energy, most of which is supplied by Belmondo, who with his ex-boxer's mug and physique is entirely credible flinging himself into whatever improbable situation he is called on to fight (or swim or climb or swing from vines) his way out of. Françoise Dorleac is the giddy heroine, Agnès, who spends much of the first part of the movie drugged out of her mind and never seems to find her way fully back to sobriety. It's only in retrospect -- 53 years worth of retrospect -- that the film turns sour. Today, we can see it as part of the playing out of a post-colonial environmental nightmare. There are no slums to be seen in the film's Rio: Sir Winston lives in a neatened up favela nothing like the one you see in City of God (Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund, 2002). The city of Brasília, still under construction when the film was made, is treated as a setting for Belmondo's stunts and for elaborate parties, though perhaps some of the bleakness and sterility of its Robert Moses-style urban-planning megalomania is hinted at. And at the end our hero and heroine are "rescued" by construction crews blasting and bulldozing their way through the rainforest, constructing highways that will connect to the country's new capital. There's no apparent suggestion that this constitutes a kind of environmental rape, although the villainous archaeologist (Jean Servais) is buried along with what might have been a valuable site. De Broca does allow us a glimpse of an Indian family looking on in astonishment at the raw earth uncovered by the bulldozers pushing their way through what must have been their neighborhood. It's a fleeting moment, however, one quickly passed over as Adrien and Agnès ride a truck back to civilization.

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