Four years after “Madame Sata” thrust Karim Ainouz into the limelight as one of Brazil’s hottest new directors, “Suely in the Sky” takes a step back with the far less exciting tale of a young woman from the great Northeast. Her dreams for a better life somewhere over the rainbow may reflect social trends, but they don’t seem very urgent, given the warm family relationships and chance for stability offered to her back home. Film has major assets in Walter Carvalho’s stunning landscapes and livewire young lead Hermila Guedes, but overall, it’s too uninvolving to migrate far from fest screens.
Under an endlessly colorful sky, 21-year-old Hermila returns to her native Iguatu with her infant son. The husband she is madly in love with has stayed behind in Sao Paulo, but is soon to join them. When he fails to show, or to send money for his child, Hermila takes off her rose-colored glasses.
Unwilling to become a hooker like her best friend Georgina (Georgina Castro), she hits on the scheme of raffling herself off to a lucky winner for “one night in paradise.” Being the hottest girl in town, Hermila has no trouble selling tickets under the nom de plume Suely. Word of the raffle spreads like wildfire. Her grandmother turns against her, while her aunt, who is gay, and her old flame Joao (Joao Miguel) take a more broadminded approach.
Guedes, who has done stage work and made her film bow in “Movies, Aspirin and Vultures,” is an uninhibited physical presence in the film, swinging from dead seriousness to manic joy induced by alcohol, drugs, dancing and her own emotions. Besides her looks, Hermila’s cleverness also makes the character appealing. When she conceives the idea of the raffle, it is to beat the macho culture she lives in at its own game, and Guedes has the audience with her all the way.
What the script forgets to do is give her a strong motivation to leave the town which, though dirt poor, is enchantingly photographed under a “Days of Heaven” sky and filled with love and friendship. Since the protag already left Sao Paulo because life cost too much, it remains puzzling why she would want to move on to another big city.
Linking Hermila and the extravagant male hero of “Madame Sata” is their irrepressible love for life and courage in facing down social disapproval. Current pic breathes a refreshing air of rebellion on the part of the strong women from this remote province.
Ainouz’s use of sound and music is interesting throughout the film. Apart from a few tour de force dance scenes, though, the rhythm tends to drag.