New Yorker Films // 1977 // 118 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // January 19th, 2009
If your guest wishes for a more refined game, serve him a more sensitive dish, a young and beautiful widow. I know a woman like that, whose bed is a desert to be crossed.
Based on the novel by Jorge Amado, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is a brilliant farce. Equal parts religion, sex, and cooking, director Bruno Barreto (One Tough Cop) utilizes the earthy sexuality and emotive acting of the great Sonia Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman) to near perfect effect, bringing to the screen a film with as much beauty and resonance today on its first DVD release as it had 30 years ago when it smoldered on the big screen.
Dona Flor (Braga) has married a total jerk. Vandinho (José Wilker, Medicine Man) steals her money to gamble it away, he cheats on her with any girl he finds in the parlor, he'll even slap her around occasionally if she tries to resist his thievery. But boy, in the sack, he totally spins her nickels. For this, no matter how much her friends plead with her to leave him, she will not. Yet, one day at Carnavale, while dancing with a woman on the street, he drops dead. After a period of mourning, she is courted by Teodoro, the local pharmacist (Mauro Mendonça). He is Vandinho's opposite in every way. He's nice, he certainly doesn't steal from her, and he has a respected and steady job, but he's a cold fish. Dona Flor, left completely unsatisfied, prays for Vandinho to come back and "take care of her" but, when her prayers are answered, she must face the problem of cheating on her husband with her dead ex.
I am in love with Sonia Braga. She exudes beauty, strength, and power in equal measure and is a fantastic actress on top of it all. Her portrayal of the title character is brilliant and she is the unquestioned engine that moves Dona Flor and her Two Husbands. She hits her mark over the entire emotional spectrum. Whether it's her mourning of Vandinho's death, her intense eroticism, or her utter distress over being treated well yet feeling worse, she plays it all with subtle power and raw emotion.
Dona Flor's internal conflict is, alone, the thrust of the film. The story begins with Vandinho's death and Dona Flor's devastation is clear. Quickly, however, we flash back toward the beginning of her relationship with the rogue. She clearly loves him and he's clearly disinterested in her in everyday life. He can't stand the thought of a life sitting at home, which begs the question of why they married in the first place. Dona Flor runs a cooking school (though this is only mentioned in passing in the film, it plays a much larger role in the novel) and is a self-sufficient woman. She doesn't need Vandinho for money or respectability and, in fact, both are diminished by this marriage. Though she, like everyone, needs emotional support, neither does she get this from him. Vandinho is everything a husband should not be, but yet she stays. She's fallen madly for this lovable rouge, as has everybody who came in contact with him, but they didn't have to live with the guy. They knew his faults and loved him for that; she knows his faults and loves him in spite of them all. She fulfills herself during the day and he fulfills her at night. Until Vandinho dies, she thinks this is enough.
Dona Flor gets an entirely different kind of fulfillment afterward, however, when she meets Teodoro. His kindness and support is a revelation to her. She is consistently proud of him and impressed with his passion for medicine. If only he would impart a little of that passion onto her. Where Vandinho would kiss her lips and head south from there with zest, Teodoro begins and ends with a peck on the forehead, barely deigning to make love with her on their wedding night. In her mind, she should be happy with what she has now, but her heart and her loins are empty. He treats her like a child and she is a woman. This will not stand for Dona Flor, so she starts praying for Vandinho's return.
Her conflict when he appears is priceless. She's embarrassed at his nudity and even more so when he cedes to her wishes and puts a jacket on. She's a married woman, refusing his advances as a result, but she can hardly argue when he says that he is her husband. Then, he touches her; she cannot resist and, all of a sudden, Dona Flor has two husbands, one she respects and one she desires. She has the best of both worlds; what more could a woman want?
Sonia Braga is brilliant, utterly believable and heart-wrenchingly beautiful at once. José Wilker and Mauro Mendonça are both hilarious as the husbands, but in different ways. Wilker, for all his roguery, brings a lot of pathos to the role. Mendonça, for all his niceties and support, is pathetic in many ways. There is a lot of Greek comedy in this film (more so in Amado's book) and Barreto uses the simplicity of that story structure, combining it with sweeping outdoor camera movements and intimate interiors to make a very complete film. The original music by Chico Buarque de Hollanda and Francis Hime accents the film with the pleasure of dance and the beauty of ballads. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is hard to beat in in pure raucous enjoyment, heavy eroticism, and deep emotional resonance.
New Yorker Films could have done a whole lot better with their release of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. It's good that they released the film uncut and in anamorphic widescreen, but the print often looks terrible. At its best, the transfer is your average mediocre release; at its worst, it looks grainier with more washed out colors than the old VHS print. The sound is adequate, but not terribly dynamic or deep. The only substantial extra is an eight-minute making-of featurette with interviews with the cast and crew on set. It's interesting but not terribly profound and, once again, looks awful.
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is a classic romantic comedy full of beauty and emotional resonance. Sonia Braga is a dream actress and her supporting cast is brilliant in their roles. It's sad that New Yorker Films produced such a subpar transfer, but at least the film is now available on DVD, especially in its uncut form. I can be thankful for that.
Guilty of adultery but, really, can you cheat on someone with a ghost, let
alone the ghost of your own husband? Case dismissed.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Yorker Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Portuguese)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated