J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Premiere Brazil! ’12: I’d Receive the Worst News from Your Beautiful Lips

Cheating with a minister’s wife is like asking for divine payback.  The preacher might be a bit of an environmental rabble-rouser, but the other man is still in for a heap of trouble, albeit of a decidedly worldly variety, in Beto Brant & Renato Ciasca’s I’d Receive the Worst News from Your Beautiful Lips (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2012 Premiere Brazil!, now running at MoMA.

In provincial Amazonia, there is not much to do besides clear-cutting rainforest and having illicit affairs.  Two hot-blooded outsiders like Cauby and Lavinia are better suited to the latter.  He is a photographer wandering the region, picking up freelance gigs taking mug-shots and snooping through keyholes for the local scandal sheet.  She is the wife of tree-hugging Christian Ernani.  Though she desires her fevered assignations with the increasingly obsessed Cauby, she still feels affection and a debt of gratitude to her ardent but somewhat older husband.  Secrecy is therefore important, but there is nothing harder to maintain in a small town.

Lips (if ever a title merited abbreviation, if would be Brant and Ciasca’s adaptation of Marçal Aquino’s novel) changes genres faster than the Amazonian weather turns.  It starts out like a Brazilian Red Shoe Diary, segues into a Body Heat noir thriller, finally ending with melodrama worthy of a telenovela.  It is actually reasonably competent observing the conventions of all three, but only truly masters the softcore eroticism of the first act.

Indeed, Lips is definitely a film for those who appreciate a relatively classy looking love scene.  However, the sympathetic portrayal of the Evangelical Ernani is a pleasant surprise, regardless of his outspokenly green sermons.  There is nothing hypocritical or unseemly about him.  In fact, he emerges as an almost saintly figure in the film’s distracting flashback scenes.

As Cauby and Lavinia, Gustavo Machado and Camila Pitanga are perfectly credible throwing themselves at each other and are more or less passable as the film progresses into darker territory.  Arguably, ZéCarlos Machado’s work as Ernani is the film’s most nuanced and intriguing, but there are also several small but colorful supporting performances that give Lips character.

Of course, setting looms large in Lips.  Viewers can just feel the humid sultriness as Cauby and  Lavinia commune with nature or prowl through their nocturnal world.  Cinematographer Lula Araújo gives it all a silky sheen appropriate to the over-the-top on-screen passion.  While Lips’ final act is an extended let down, the entire film is certainly evocative and never really dull.   A visually appealing production, Lips should fit the bill for those who enjoy steamy cinema with a veneer of art-house sophistication.  Obviously not for general audiences, Lips screens tomorrow (7/15) and Tuesday, July 24th, as this year’s Premiere Brazil! continues at MoMA.  Viewer discretion is advised.

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