The difference between amor and love.
This bilingual romantic comedy from Bruno Barreto received a lot of attention at the 2000 Miami Film Festival. Set against the incredible beauty of Rio de Janeiro, Bossa Nova tells a story of several different interlinked and overlapping romances. It is a story both inspired by and punctuated with the music of Antonio Carlos ("Tom") Jobim. Columbia TriStar (AKA Sony Pictures Classics) has given this overlooked yet enjoyable film the royal treatment for its upcoming DVD release.
Facts of the Case
To tell the story of Bossa Nova is really to tell the story of its eccentric cast of characters. This interesting collection of quirky individuals mixes and matches in overlapping romances and friendships that form the plot of the movie.
At the center of events is Mary Ann Simpson (Amy Irving, Yentl, Carrie, Crossing Delancey). Mary Ann is an American living in Rio de Janeiro and working as an English teacher. She used to be married to an airline pilot, but lost him. She lives alone, concentrating on her teaching so that she does not realize how lonely she is.
Pedro Paulo (Antônio Fagundes) is a wealthy, successful Brazilian lawyer. He is in the middle of a divorce from his wife Tânia (Déborah Bloch). Tânia, an eccentric travel agent, is leaving him for her Tai Chi instructor. Pedro Paulo is also representing his father, Juan (Alberto de Mendoza) in his most recent divorce. Juan is a tailor, a master with scissors and fabric. His tailor shop is in the same building as the English course Mary Ann teaches.
One of Mary Ann's students is Nadine (Drica Moraes), a young woman who is practicing her English so that she can go to New York to meet her internet "boyfriend" (Stephen Tobolowsky, Groundhog Day, The Insider, Basic Instinct) who may or may not be named Gary and who may or may not be an artist with a loft in Soho.
Also studying English is Acácio (Alexandre Borges), a soccer player and national hero who is negotiating a contract to play in Britain with Manchester United. He is primarily interested in learning to curse so that he can talk trash on the soccer field with the best of them. This leads to one of the funniest scenes in the movie.
Rounding out the web of characters are Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), a feisty intern in Pedro Paulo's law office, and Roberto (Pedro Cardoso), Pedro Paulo's half brother, a shy fellow who works in Juan's tailor shop.
Director Bruno Barreto has assembled a cast of the finest actors in Brazil and placed them in the midst of some of the most beautiful locations ever caught on film. Add the captivating, Jobim-laden soundtrack and the result is a movie that feels a lot more fresh and original than it really is. The situations can be seen as mostly standard romantic comedy fare—relationships, breakups, misunderstandings, reconciliations—but they are so intricately scripted, so skillfully directed by Barreto and so well acted that they seem new and unique. The dialogue is split about 50-50 between English and Portuguese, which adds to the exotic feel and makes the movie seem like a whole new world.
The cast is so good overall that it is hard to single out any one performance for praise. Fagundes is one of the best known and best loved actors in his country, and from this movie it is not hard to see why. He is by turns suave, jovial, dignified, and silly. He is immensely enjoyable to watch; Barreto sums it up best when he refers to Fagundes as the Brazilian Cary Grant. Among the women, Déborah Bloch may have one of the smaller roles but she makes the biggest impression; she seems like she just walked in from a Pedro Almodovar film. Drica Moraes is very good as Nadine, the internet romantic. Bossa Nova was the first feature film for Giovanna Antonelli, and she hits just the right note as Sharon, the feisty law intern.
I can't stress enough how beautifully this movie is shot. Every frame is like a postcard from the Rio de Janeiro tourism bureau. It is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. The transfer is very nearly flawless, with almost every second of video crystal clear and with no hint of digital artifacts. Colors are excellent, faithfully reproducing the bright blues of the ocean and sky, the greens of tropical foliage, and the bright primary colors in Mary Ann's apartment. Blacks and shadows are solid and deep as well. Flesh tones for actors of various ethnic persuasions are very lifelike.
The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1. It too is excellent. This is a dialogue-heavy film, and as such is focused in primarily the front soundstage. The rear surrounds are put to good use for atmospheric effects and the intoxicating soundtrack. There's not a lot of earth-shaking sound effects, but scenes ranging from law offices to bustling Rio streets make good use of atmospheric sounds.
This disc doesn't skimp on the extra content. There is a commentary track featuring Barreto and Irving, who are married in real life. There is a theatrical trailer, which is pretty cheesy and doesn't represent the movie very well. There are also trailers for three other foreign releases from Sony Pictures Classics: East/West, Tango, and Central Station. There is a "making of" featurette, which covers the usual info from the actors and creative personnel. It's fairly standard fare, but it is fairly lengthy at about 28 minutes. There is a deleted scene, complete with optional commentary. Talent files are included as well. This disc also includes an isolated music track; this is a particularly nice feature for this music-intensive movie. The drawback, as always, is the silent stretches between soundtrack songs, but given the amount of music in this movie you won't need to wait very much for the next tune to come along.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Still, all is not as perfect as it seems, even in Rio. Amy Irving may be a fine actress, but here she comes across as flat and wooden. Perhaps she suffers in comparison to the spirited Brazilian cast. Whatever the case, her performance struck me as the biggest weakness in an otherwise entertaining movie.
I noted one minor video glitch, and a major audio glitch. In the middle of Chapter 20 there is a short shot that shows Nadine running towards a lifeguard tower. This shot, which only lasts about two seconds, looked absolutely terrible. Maybe this was a problem in filming, and this was the only take they had to work with. Maybe it was a problem with the disc itself. In any case, it was a jarring interruption in an otherwise flawless picture.
The audio glitch I noticed was in the commentary track. Starting at about Chapter 22 and continuing for the rest of the movie, the audio runs about five minutes ahead of the video. This affects all of the audio—dialogue, sound effects, soundtrack, and commentary. As a result, a viewer hears the scene and related description long before seeing it. It goes without saying that this was a significant detriment to my enjoyment of the commentary track. This problem did not affect the audio when I watched the movie in its normal Dolby 5.1 surround. At this time I am unsure if this problem is common to all copies of this disc or if I simply received a defective copy.
I was also somewhat disappointed by the content of the commentary track. Barreto did a fair job of explaining the process of making this movie, but he often got sidetracked onto more tangential anecdotes. This problem was compounded by Irving, whose comments ranged from ill-informed to utterly vapid. Barreto had to gently correct her several times when she made statements that were flatly wrong, and she had an annoying tendency to prattle on about mostly irrelevant matters. Also, Barreto and Irving were just a little too "cute" during much of the commentary. It is very nice that they love each other and all, but their banter did get a bit saccharine at times.
The talent files were also something of a disappointment. The only entries included were, you guessed it, Barreto and Irving. Don't get me wrong, I'm always glad to see talent files or any other extra content, but I really would have liked more information about the excellent Brazilian actors such as Fagundes or Bloch.
Bossa Nova is a lot of fun, a light romantic comedy with a lively Brazilian flavor. Under the lightness is a well-crafted storyline, brought to life by great direction and performances, and indispensable doses of Brazilian music and scenery. It would make a good "date" movie if you have a taste for something safe but just a little out of the ordinary. The disc itself is a fine effort that looks great, sounds great, and has a better-than-average selection of extras.
The movie is acquitted. The DVD is sentenced to several hours of community service, to be served in numerous increments of 95 minutes each, and is placed on probation until the commentary track synchronization problem is fixed.
We stand adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary Track
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