New Yorker Films // 1979 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Russell Engebretson (Retired) // January 30th, 2008
A hypnotic road movie with an upbeat political kick.
Bye Bye Brazil is not the easiest of movies to categorize. There are elements of drama, sharp social commentary, political criticism, and travelogue. Somehow it all comes together for an enjoyable and ultimately illuminating view of Brazil in the late seventies. It made me want to seek out more films by Carlos Diegues, a director I had only read about prior to viewing this delightful film.
Lorde Cigano's (José Wilker) low-rent carnival, the Caravana Rolidei, tours the Brazilian countryside from one diminutive backwater town to another. The carnival's main attraction is Cigano's lover, the sultry dancer billed as Salomé the Rhumba Queen (Betty Faria). The only other member of Cigano's ramshackle sideshow is Swallow (Prícipe Nabor), a fire-eating strongman.
When the troupe rolls into town, young local Ciço (Fábio Júnior) is smitten by Salomé. Eager to escape his dead-end rural existence, he begs Cigano to allow him to travel with them. He offers his services as a writer, accordionist, and general laborer. The only hitch is that Ciço is callously prepared to leave his very pregnant wife behind. His wife, Dasdô, (Zaira Zambelli) has other plans. Where her husband goes, so does she.
Cigano is not impressed by Ciço's offers or pleas, and prepares to depart town the morning after the show. Ciço, in desperation, plays his accordion as they drive away. With a bit of urging from Salomé, Cigano decides that perhaps the show could use a live musician instead of a cheap record player. He relents, turns the truck around, and invites the young man and his wife to hop onto the truck bed and ride with them on their way to fame and riches.
The caravan travels the rutted back roads and plies its trade en route to the Transamazonian Road and Altimira where, according to a commercial truck driver, "All Brazil is there to work on the road and buy land...pineapples are the size of watermelons and the trees are like skyscrapers, and ores and precious stones are just lying on the ground." Altamira, in the mind of Lorde Cigano, becomes an Eldorao that must be reached no matter the cost. The closer they draw to the heart of the fabled city, however, the more their fortunes wane. Over time, Ciço is initiated into the seamier side of the life of traveling entertainers, and he begins to suspect that Cigano may be a more sinister and heartless companion than he had realized.
Filmed at the tail-end of the seventies, Bye Bye Brazil, on one level a bittersweet road movie, can also be viewed as the document of a South American country in wrenching transition. Director Carlos Diegues paints a portrait of Altamira, Pará, Brazil three decades ago as its countryside and rural way of life is sacrificed to free-market shills and developers. It's the southern hemisphere's story of urban sprawl with jungles razed for the construction of a megalopolis, and forced migration of the peasantry under the banner of progress and modernization.
Lorde Cigano, carnival proprietor and self-styled master of magic, is also a pimp who prostitutes his lover without hesitation when cash is in short supply. He is a tough and pragmatic huckster beneath his bombastic showman's charm, yet just as naive as the rural accordionist in his need to believe in the fabulous golden city of riches just beyond the horizon.
All the characters, to some extent, are deluding themselves. Whether it is Cigano's belief in the fantastical Altamira, or Ciço's conviction that Salomé will run away with him and they will live happily ever after, they are all in denial to one degree or another.
It's possible to watch Diegues's movie as an allegory. Just cast Lorde Cigano in the role of cynical bourgeois developer, the young boy and his wife as the manipulated proletariat peasantry, and the enigmatic Salomé as Brazil itself. Or just immerse yourself in the story of a love triangle, of moral choices to be made, and of the rocky path from adolescence to adulthood. A nice thing about this sort of smartly scripted movie is that it can be enjoyed on more than one level.
The DVD picture is on the soft side and a bit grainy. Colors are decent and natural appearing with some loss of definition in the dark scenes, although that is likely due to the quality of the original film. The audio is adequate for a simple Dolby 2.0 monophonic. This is a character driven movie with plenty of dialogue, not an action picture, and the soundtrack does its job.
The only extra is a scratchy trailer with a corny voice-over. That's too bad, as a director's commentary would probably give the non-Brazilian viewer a better perspective on the history of the region at the time this movie was shot.
Slyly disguised as an entertaining coming-of-age road movie, Bye Bye Brazil is a travelogue, a documentary, and a dry satire that sometimes veers into an allegorical take on the selling out of the Brazilian citizenry and the rape of the rural countryside. Ignore the politics and you will likely still find it an enjoyable, understated drama with exotic locales. Engage your brain, if you prefer a deeper and more satisfying cinematic experience.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Portuguese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer