Review: ‘Jenipapo’

Michael Coleman Henry Czerny Father Stephen Lewis Patrick Bauchau Renata Marilia Pera Marcia Ana Reatriz Nogueira Carlos Reis Miguel Lunardi Julia Julia Lemmertz Newspaper Editor Daniel Dantas

Michael Coleman Henry Czerny Father Stephen Lewis Patrick Bauchau Renata Marilia Pera Marcia Ana Reatriz Nogueira Carlos Reis Miguel Lunardi Julia Julia Lemmertz Newspaper Editor Daniel Dantas

An unusual and exotic political thriller, “Jenipapo” may have just the right mix of artistic and commercial elements to garner international arthouse interest. Though modest by Western standards, the unusual Brazilian-set intrigue makes the most of its limitations, overcoming story awkwardness with sociopolitical novelties that strike a universal chord.

The nub of the story is a land reclamation bill that threatens the existence of a remote province. The chief thorn in its passage is a crusading priest, Father Stephen Lewis (Patrick Bauchau). But after months of high-profile protest, Lewis has inexplicably gone into retreat just days before the assembly will decide on the bill.

Obsessed with tracking him down and getting an interview, Michael Coleman (Henry Czerny), an American reporter for a Rio newspaper, begins to call in favors. He has a long-distance love-hate relationship with the priest, skeptical of his altruism but enamored of his powerful personality.

While the land grab forms the backdrop, the film concerns itself with political machinations and the sometimes reckless power of the press. The extremes to which Coleman is willing to go to get his man are chilling. Ultimately, he will abuse his position and inadvertently do the most effective thing to stop the exploiters.

Tyro feature filmmaker Monique Gardenberg effectively fuses Brazilian and American elements. Though slow to reveal its intents, pic builds rapidly in its second half to a scathing, ironic conclusion.

Czerny is cast as an unconventional, generally unsympathetic protagonist. He delivers a clever, sleight-of-hand performance. Bauchau’s casting — a sharp contrast to his typical Euro-trash parts — provides his character with an edge that makes Coleman’s odyssey, if not justifiable, at least credible.

The supporting ensemble of Brazilian actors provides a rich cross-sectional fabric of the mighty, down-trodden and ugly of the diverse society. At times strident and clumsy, visually elegant pic has an underlying veracity that surmounts its foibles. Philip Glass contributes a haunting score.

Title derives from the name of a sweet, though potent, liqueur from Bahia. The analogy is a bit of a stretch and a tad poetic, but the film lingers in a considerably more pleasant way than the after-effects of too much of the potable alluded to in the movie moniker.

Jenipapo

Production

A Boku Films/Ravina Films/Dueto co-production. Produced by Alan Poul, Flavio Tambellini, Executive producer, Sylvia Cardenberg. Directed by Monique Gardenberg. Screenplay, Cyrus Nowrasteh, Gardenberg, story by Gardenberg.

Crew

Camera (Foto-Kem color), Pedro Farkas; editor, Dan Rae; music, Philip Glass; production design, Clovis Bueno; costume design, Ripa Murtinho: sound (Ultra-Stereo), Jorge Saldanho; assistant director/casting, Olivia Guimaraes, Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 9, 1995. Running time: 104 MIN.
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