Review: ‘O Amor Natural’

Peruvian-born Dutch filmmaker Heddy Honigmann, whose 1993 documentary on Lima taxi drivers, "Metal and Melancholy," clocked some miles on the fest circuit, returns to Latin America with "O Amor Natural," an ode to the erotic poetry of Brazil's Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Approaching literature not through critical analysis but through its effect on everyday people --- in this case, elderly Brazilians gamely reciting the poet's voluptuous verses --- this warm, simple film uncovers a rich vein of ageless, grassroots sensuality and joie de vivre, making it a natural for quality tube programming. Title comes from an anthology of poems written near the end of Drummond's life (he died in 1987), which he never intended to publish for fear they would be considered pornographic. Honigmann uses her celebration of these poems as a pretext to tap her very candid subjects' memories of love and sex. Armed with a copy of the anthology, she asks people to read a poem for the camera, which invariably leads them to talk about the feelings it evokes.

An 85-year-old man wistfully recalls the sexual escapades of his youth; two middle-aged girlfriends sunning themselves on the beach swoon over a verse depicting sexual urges too urgent to be put on hold, prompting one of them to relate a passionate episode on a rock with a fisherman; an 81-year-old former Olympic swimmer reads a poem about making love under the shower that reflects her feelings about water.

While most of the interviewees are transported back to their sexual heydays with pleasure, some surrender to melancholy regrets about missed experiences, while others become impromptu theorists, like two passengers on a tram who debate Drummond’s view of women. The people approached are remarkable for their unselfconsciousness, at the same time flaunting a spontaneous theatricality that is highly appealing.

Honigmann avoids talking to the cognoscenti about Drummond’s work, and limits direct recollections of the writer to one or two acquaintances, such as his hat maker, who applauds his sense of style. Drummond himself is represented only vocally, in a scratched recording he made of his poems at age 72. Jose Guerra’s camera seeks out the pervasive sensuality on the streets and beaches of Rio de Janeiro, homing in on hunks working out, dancers, surfers, bikini-clad nymphs and couples making out on the sand.

O Amor Natural

DUTCH

Production

A Pieter van Huystee Film & TV/NPS TV production. (International sales: Fortuna Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Pieter van Huystee. Directed, written by Heddy Honigmann.

Crew

Camera (color), Jose Guerra; editor, Marc Nolens; sound, Noshka van der Lely; assistant director, Paola Vieira. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival, Feb. 3, 1997. (Also in San Francisco Festival.) Running time: 76 MIN. (Portuguese dialogue)
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