“God’s Wedding” is an intensely disappointing follow-up to Joao Cesar Monteiro’s wonderfully quirky, boldly inventive 1995 Venice prize winner, “God’s Comedy.” Visually handsome production fails on every other level. A self-important compendium of political, social, cultural and sexual commentary delivered deadpan in boringly handled dialogue scenes, pic crucially lacks the black humor of the previous film, and, in its key sexual sequence, is profoundly unedifying. Audiences who admired “God’s Comedy” will find this one a very different affair, and word of mouth is likely to be deadly, resulting in modest Euro niche release. Forget about other territories.
In the first film, writer-director Monteiro played the same character he plays here, Joao de Deus (Joao of God); he managed a Lisbon ice cream parlor, collected female pubic hair and lusted after the young women who worked for him. Yet despite potentially sleazy material, mood remained light, inventive and humorous, qualities missing in this belated follow-up.
Joao’s fortunes appear to have changed radically in the past four years. We first see him — in a sustained, almost immobile take lasting several minutes typical of the film’s style throughout — toying with a simple picnic lunch consisting of bread, canned sardines and wine. After this, he’s visited by a Messenger from God, nattily dressed in military uniform, who hands Joao a suitcase stuffed with U.S. dollars and tells him that he is now not only filthy rich, but doesn’t even have to perform an act of thanksgiving.
Soon after, Joao rescues a suicidal woman from drowning, delivers her to a convent and takes the cigar-smoking Mother Superior to a lunch of stewed meat and vegetables, piling his plate high but not consuming a morsel. These scenes are accompanied by pompously banal dialogue, and alarm bells are already ringing about 20 minutes into the 2 1/2-hour film that the intended delicate mood of ironic banter is way off the mark.
The central portion of the film deals with Joao’s relationship with beauteous young Elena (Joana Azevedo), the girlfriend of his friend Omar (Jose Airosa). Smitten with Elena, who talks freely about her lover’s sexual prowess and stamina, Joao proposes a wager with Omar — a roll of the dice will determine whether Joao wins Elena or Omar takes over all his friend’s assets.
Naturally, Joao wins. He celebrates by taking his new acquisition to the opera, where they indulge in unseen sexual foreplay in their box (while a dwarf figure, apparently the president of the republic, ogles Elena) and where the female members of the cast demonstrate against the state by revealing their breasts. The political allusions in the film are consistently murky (“Are we in a free country?” asks Elena at one point. “Not until it’s free of us,” Joao replies.)
Pic’s centerpiece is a lengthy, fairly explicit sequence in which the bony, cadaverous Joao attempts to have sex with his prize.It’s truly disappointing that the wit and verve of “God’s Comedy” is so lamentably absent here, though pic makes verbal references to the earlier film, which will be of significance only to those in the know. Azevedo is delightful as the long-suffering heroine, but Monteiro makes heavy weather of the lustful old man who is blessed with unexpected riches.
Production values are of high quality in every department.