Review: ‘God’s Comedy’

Joao de Deus Joao Cesar Monteiro Joaninha Claudia Teixeira Rosarinho Raquel Ascensao Judite Manuela de Freitas

Joao de Deus Joao Cesar Monteiro Joaninha Claudia Teixeira Rosarinho Raquel Ascensao Judite Manuela de Freitas

Outrageous on many levels, “God’s Comedy” is an oddball sex comedy about a pervert who manages a Lisbon ice cream emporium. Stylishly made, and with a dry comic performance from writer-director Joao Cesar Monteiro as the salacious protagonist, this Portuguese film is crippled by its massive length (it ran a half-hour longer than the time listed in the Venice schedule). Still, it deserves to make an impact on the fest circuit, even if commercial possibilities have been reduced by Monteiro’s long-windedness. Pic shared the Special Jury Prize at Venice.

The early scenes could most benefit from drastic tightening, as Monteiro takes far too long to establish his central character of Joao de Deus (Joao of God). He is a cadaverous but, on the surface, gentlemanly type in late middle age whose work as manager of the Paradise Ice Cream Parlor is a source of the utmost satisfaction to the shop’s owner, Judite (Manuela de Freitas), who has ambitions to link with a French company to start a chain of such stores.

An expert on the history of ice cream, Joao meticulously trains the attractive young women who come to work in the parlor, and pays special attention to their hygiene. Once the shop is closed, he lives a lonely bachelor life, poring over an album that contains his collection of female public hair, including a tuft that allegedly belonged to Queen Victoria (“God shave the Queen ,” he jokes).

But Joao has become obsessed with one of his employees, the pretty Rosarinho, who is training to be a swimmer; he joins her at the pool, and leers at her in her swimming costume. Eventually he becomes her lover, but she leaves the ice cream shop soon after. He then turns his lascivious attention to the beautiful Joaninha, the 14-year-old daughter of the local butcher. He invites her to dinner, and persuades her to take a bath in milk (promising to make a boutique ice cream from the liquid after she’s finished). Their tryst is interrupted only when she suffers stomach pains from a surfeit of candy, but next day her furious father is determined to avenge himself on Joao.

All this is funnier than it sounds, thanks to Monteiro’s calm, elever portrayal of the reprehensible Joao, the delicate playing of Raquel Aseensao as Rosarinho and, especially, Claudia Teixeira as Joaninha. The scene in which Joao supervises the bathing of young Joaninha may ruffle feathers in some quarters, and feminists may react against the paternalistic womanizing of the central character.

Use of classical music is an asset to this cool tale of obsession and perversion unfolding in the most unlikely setting. If only the director had been able to prune his material much more drastically, this controversial but classy sexual odyssey might have found significant arthouse support worldwide. In the present version, its prospects are as dubious as the protagonist’s future at the end of this funny, frustrating film.

God's Comedy

(PORTUGESE-FRENCH-ITALIAN-DANISH)

Production

A Grupo de Estudios e Realizacoes (Lisbon)/Pierre Grise Prods. (Paris)/Mikado Film (Rome)/Zentropa Prods. (Copenhagen) co-production, in association with La Sept. Produced by Joaquirn Pinto. Executive producers, Martine Marignac, Roberto Cicutto, Peter Aslbaek Jensen. Directed, written by Joao Cesar Monteiro, Camera (color), Mario Barroso; editor, Carla Bogalheiro; production design, Emmanuel de Chauvigny; costumes, Matilde Matos; sound, Rolly Belhassen, Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing), Sept. 2, 1995. Running time: 169 MIN.
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