A sweetly humorous tale of an unconventional family unit involving one wife and three husbands who each father a son, "Me, You, Them" invites comparison with the vintage Brazilian comedy "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands."

A sweetly humorous tale of an unconventional family unit involving one wife and three husbands who each father a son, “Me, You, Them” invites comparison with the vintage Brazilian comedy “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.” Reportedly based on a TV news item about a woman living in a similarly extended menage for 10 years, the story has been satisfyingly embroidered to chart the family’s bumpy formation and its eventual arrival at a semblance of chaotic harmony. With the right kind of marketing push to highlight the film’s considerable charms, Sony Pictures Classics should drum up some tidy arthouse trade.

Polygamous heroine Darlene (Regina Case) is not especially young or gorgeous but still has plenty of spirit. Pregnant and unhitched, she says good-bye to her aged mother and her dusty settlement town in the dry wasteland of northeastern Brazil and sets off to get married.

The wedding doesn’t happen and she returns home three years later with a son, just in time to bury her mother. Her casual remark to her neighbor Osias (Lima Duarte) prompts an instant marriage proposal, which Darlene accepts with unromantic pragmatism.

Osias spends all day dangling in a hammock while Darlene keeps house, cooks and works in the field. Following the birth of a second son, she gets exasperated and leaves, delivering her first boy to his rancher father, who can better provide for him. But Osias soon drags Darlene and their other son home.

The family grows when Osias’ cousin Zezinho (Stenio Garcia) moves in, barely concealing his attraction to Darlene, who soon responds in a romantic clinch by the water hole. Zezinho takes over cooking and cleaning while Darlene gives birth to another son, who unmistakably has the new housekeeper’s eyes.

With Osias serving as lord of the manor and Zezinho supplying tenderness and consideration, Darlene just needs some youth and vigor to complete the ideal three-part husband. This she finds in Ciro (Luis Carlos Vasconcelos), a rootless drifter who works with her in the cane fields. Invited home for dinner, he stays on indefinitely.

When Darlene brings Ciro’s son into the world, Osias takes steps to re-establish order in the house.

While the unhurried film could stand some minor tightening, accomplished director Andrucha Waddington has an appealingly gentle touch, never forcing the understated comedy, which steadily gathers steam and becomes increasingly contagious as the story unfolds.

Elena Soarez’s screenplay is refreshingly nonjudgmental, depicting Darlene’s blithe accumulation of men as a perfectly natural process given her circumstances. Cast is delightful, especially Case as the easygoing earth mother. Even chauvinist slob Osias remains largely sympathetic.

Along with some sparingly used songs and music by Gilberto Gil, the handsome production benefits considerably from Breno Silveira’s beautiful widescreen cinematography, which draws out the warm tones of the wild, scorched landscape, rustic houses and dazzling blue skies.

Me, You, Them

Brazil

Production

A Sony Pictures Classics release of a Conspiracao Filmes/Columbia Pictures production. (International sales: Sony Pictures Classics, New York.) Produced by Leonardo M. De Barros, Pedro B. De Hollanda, Andrucha Waddington, Favio R. Tambelinni. Directed by Andrucha Waddington. Screenplay, Elena Soarez.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Breno Silveira; editor, Vicente Kubrusly; music, Gilberto Gil; art director, Toni Vanzolini; costume designer, Claudia Kopke; sound (Dolby Digital), Mark van der Wilgen; associate producer, Flora Gil; assistant director, Katia Lund. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 16, 2000. Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Darlene - Regina Case
Osias - Lima Duarte
Zezinho - Stenio Garcia
Ciro - Luis Carlos Vasconcelos
Raquel - Nilda Spencer
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