Judge Joel Pearce was relieved to learn Chris Kattan had nothing to do with this Brazillian drama.
"The human being is just stomach and sex, and inside there is condemnation to be obligatorily free."—The Father
Exposing the underbelly of Brazil, Mango Yellow bursts off the screen with anger, passion and violence. The result is an anarchic but strangely beautiful film, showing the life of poverty in a unique new light.
Facts of the Case
Mango Yellow takes place on a day when "everything happens" to a poor group of people living in Brazil's coastal town of Recife. We are first introduced to Ligia (Leona Cavalli), the bitter and fiery barmaid at a local joint. In a whirlwind of filming, we also meet a flurry of other characters. There is Isaac (Jonas Bloch, Texas Hotel), a German man with disturbing interests and habits, living at a local hotel. Dunga (Matheus Nachtergaele, City of God) is the cook at the Texas Hotel, a flaming queen who is tired of being stepped on. His attentions are aimed at Wellington Kanibal (Chico Diaz), who is cheating on his wife, Kika (Dira Paes). She is an evangelical, able to forgive anything but betrayal. Their lives intertwine in a series of semi-connected stories.
Sometimes a film comes along that is so different that it's hard to know how to describe it. There is a touch of Altman in Mango Yellow, in the way that connections between the characters weave through violent and sexual melodrama. It has a flair and audacity that Altman could never dream of, touching something closer to Takashi Miike's wildly irreverent characterizations. It's similar to City of God, the most famous recent Brazilian movie, but I want to be careful not to compare it to that more famous film too much. It's not as good a film, for one thing, but it also has a very different approach to poverty. In City of God, the poverty in Brazil was something to be escaped at any cost, and the characters were looking ahead at a way to break free. Here, the poverty is simply the way that these people live. None of them have larger plans, and noneof them are looking for a way out.
The opening quotation is a key to understanding the lives of these characters. When all of the frivolous things that fill our lives are stripped away, we are left with only basic human needs. These characters will do anything to satisfy their appetites, whether for food, drink, or sex. They are free to act within their society, but that freedom is frustrating in a world with few options. And so, each of the characters bang their heads against the wall, frustrated by their freedom and their inability to do anything with it. Wellington is free to commit murder and cheat on his wife, it doesn't do him any good. It's not that they have the illusion of freedom, it's that their freedom doesn't mean anything. After the eventful day is over, another one will begin exactly the same.
Mango Yellow is stronger as a sensual experience than it is as a narrative. It has been created so vividly that you can almost feel what it would be like in the heat of this Brazilian city. The derelict buildings take on a life of their own. The camera moves fluidly, using a mix of filming techniques to capture the different moments. The performances are strong as well, forming a strong ensemble cast that is equally animated and human. The events of this day seem heightened, impossible that so much would happen in such a short time. Still, the actors make it all believable somehow.
The transfer from First Run Features is not as impressive. In fact, it's bad enough that it damages the experience of watching the film. The video transfer is non-anamorphic and blocky. The colors are fairly bright, but there are some motion issues at times and it lacks the detail that the rich visuals beg for. The stereo track is also disappointing, with enough clarity but lacking any real punch. Mango Yellow is clearly meant to be an engrossing, sensual experience, but the disc is distracting throughout. It feels like you are looking through a really dirty window at scenery you can barely tell is beautiful. There are few extras, merely a brief text history of Brazil, a biography of director Cláudio Assis, and a brief interview with film scholar Richard Peña about the importance of Mango Yellow for the Brazillian film industry.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Although Mango Yellow is a strong sensual experience, none of the characters are as compelling as they should be. The focus on each is spread a bit too thin, so the connections between them are never clear enough. At the end, I had the sense that I was supposed to learn some moral lesson from it all, but it only really works as a portrait of poverty in this part of the world. Still, it does that well, and if this is any indication of what Brazilian film is like, I am looking forward to seeing more.
Mango Yellow is not a film for everyone. It's not for the faint of heart or the prudish, as it shows life and death at their most raw. It also lacks a strong narrative, and can be a bit hard to follow at times. Still, it has a number of images that linger, and characters that both attract and repulse the viewer. This is an exotic peek into a completely different world, and it works on those terms. The DVD is another matter, but this is the only way to see it in this part of the world.
All involved in the film are free to move on to another exciting day. Not guilty. First Run Features is sentenced to a digital mastering seminar hosted by Warner and Criterion.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
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