Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Bossa Nova

By Marc Savlov

JUNE 5, 2000: 

D: Bruno Barreto; with Amy Irving, Antonlo Fagundes, Alexandre Borges, Debora Bloch, Pedro Cardoso, Kazuo Matsui, Drica Moraes, Stephen Tobolowsky, Giovanna Antonelli. (R, 95 min.)

Da, da da, da da, da da da ... You can almost hear "The Girl From Ipanema"drifting its lazy way through every sprocket of Bossa Nova, a sultry, summertime romantic farce in the style of the French, transposed to a pristine, slumless Rio de Janeiro. As for the farce, it's as subdued as the languid soundtrack, less hurly-burly guffaws and more missed opportunities and mistaken identities. Bossa Nova, for all its many charms, is the merest slip of a film, the kind of painless peck on the cheek that recalls the languid tropical heat waves and sandy white beaches of its locale. You're pleasantly half asleep, and then, too soon, you're home again and there's washing up to be done. This sort of steadfastly inert romance used to be the province of the French, though the other side of the Atlantic put some sparks into things. Bossa Nova has sparks, too, but they're the type you get from flicking a fluidless Bic in a dust storm: Less than nothing ignites. While you're here, though, Barreto works his Brazilian magic on you without your even noticing, if only for a little while. Irving (who is married in real life to director Barreto) plays Mary Ann, a widowed teacher of English in Rio, who almost, but not quite, has a love affair with lawyer Pedro Paulo (Fagundes). When he spies her on the elevator of his office building one afternoon, he follows her upstairs to her classroom, and then enrolls himself to get a better look at this none-too-obscure object of his desire. Mary Ann is also being wooed by a Brazilian soccer star (Borges) intent on learning the rudiments of foul-mouthed trash talking before he departs Brazil to play for Manchester United. There's a wildly funny scene in which he and Pedro verbally spar with their newfound epithets, hurling vulgarities between them like a pair of naughty children engaged in a schoolyard spat. Barreto's film (he directed the much more impressive Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands)is adapted from Sérgio Sant'Anna's novel Miss Simpson, and the film has a seeming flotilla of sub-narratives and characters that spin around and away from Mary Ann's central story like errant satellites. There's a lot going on for such an inconsequential storyline. In addition to the main love (or lack thereof) story, we also have Mary Ann's student Nadine (Moraes), who's carrying on an Internet chat room love affair with an unknown New Yorker played by nebbishy Stephen Tobolowsky (who just happens to arrive in town to meet Pedro for a business deal); Pedro's intern (Antonelli), who has more of a mind for business law than her boss; and Pedro's little brother (Cardoso), who's making romantic plans of his own. "Much ado about nothing" effectively sums up the whole of Bossa Nova'smyriad plottings, but even the Bard's light romantic farce had so much more going for it. Barreto wisely floods the screen with a color palette just this side of riotous ­ shocking blues and reds positively erupt out of every frame ­ and so this is hardly a chore to watch. It's a feast of inconsequentiality, though, a love affair-lite that looks great but is ultimately less filling than a sunny summer Sunday's creampuff dream.

2 Stars


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