While less propulsive than Brazilian director Karim Ainouz's kinetic feature debut, MADAME SATA (2002), his relatively restrained follow-up is equally gripping and proves that subtlety is yet another of this fine filmmaker's strengths.
Four years after escaping Iguacu, the dust-dry, sun-blasted hometown to which she vowed she'd never return, 21-year-old Hermila (Hermila Guedes) is back, with a 2-year-old boy in her arms. Life in big city Sao Paolo became too much to handle, so Hermila once again packed up and left; in a month she expects her husband, Mateus, to arrive in Iguacu with the CD-dubbing machine that will make them their fortune. In the meantime, Hermila and Mateus Jr. move in with her grandmother (Zezita Matos), who has never quite forgiven Hermila for running away without so much as a goodbye, and her young aunt, Maria (Maria Menezes), a motorcycle-taxi driver who's in love with the town prostitute, Georgina (Georgina Castro). With few skills and no work to be had anyway, Hermila sells raffle tickets in the town marketplace — the prize is a bottle of inexpensive whiskey — and passes her nights hanging out at local bars, where she soon encounters Joao (Joao Miguel), an old flame. A moto-taxi driver like Maria, Joao is still in love with Hermila, but she's determined to stay true to Mateus, until the date of his expected arrival comes and goes without a word. Faced with an uncertain future but determined not to get stuck with the dead-end life of Iguacu, Hermila devises a plan that could buy her and her son a ticket to a new life in the south: She'll hold a raffle of a very different sort among the men of the town, only this time the prize will be Hermila herself.
Though Hermila refuses to see herself as a prostitute — she promises the winner of the raffle a single "night in paradise" and nothing more — the town soon turns against her, and Ainouz's drama becomes a touching portrait of a restless, embattled spirit who refuses to give up simply because she and her son have been abandoned. Ainouz perfectly captures the underlying hypocrisy of life in a tiny town, and while the film's final moment is breathtaking, it's newcomer Guedes, with a million-dollar smile that dazzles even as it breaks your heart, who is the real reason to see it. The theme song, a wonderful Portuguese version of Bread's soft-rock classic "Everything I Own," is by Dinah, a long-forgotten Brazilian singing sensation of the 1970s who deserves to be better remembered. leave a comment --Ken Fox