With amusement and a hint of anger, leading Brazilian helmer Lucia Murat’s “The Foreign Eye” looks at what the former journalist sees as false depictions of her home country in the movies. Doc’s thesis is that outside filmmakers paint Brazil as a land of bikinis, bossa nova and exotic locales without bothering to learn about this vast, complex South American nation. This exceptional fest doc deserves to travel beyond specialized Latino confabs, though commercial prospects are tied to the nettlesome task of clearing rights on numerous film clips.
Murat tracks down major film personalities involved in memorable and less well-known movies set in Brazil, including three key figures behind the light farce “Blame It on Rio” — writer Larry Gelbart (in fine form), co-writer Charlie Peters and star Michael Caine, who looks disarmed and a tad abashed by Murat’s tough questions.
Murat isn’t playing “gotcha” with movie stars, although she captures both Jon Voight and Hope Davis in stunned moments of realization that films they were in (he in “Anaconda,” she in “Next Stop, Wonderland”) involved egregious cultural goofs regarding Brazil. When Davis learns that, contrary to dialogue in “Wonderland,” there’s no beach in Sao Paolo, she reddens several shades.
Murat manages to get soft-core helmer Zalman King (“Wild Orchid”) and Gelbart to agree that there’s arrogance behind delivering phony national images on a mass-market basis.
Murat expands her theme beyond Hollywood movies to include telling interviews with such vet Gallic helmers as Philippe de Broca (“That Man From Rio”), Gerard Lauzier (“T’empeche tout les monde de dormir”) and Eduoard Luntz (“Hung Up”), as well as Swedish producer Bo Jonsson. All convey various aspects of a certain colonialist bias toward Latin American “exoticism” that seems to persist to this day.
Vid work is simple and basic, while some archival clips (including a fabulous item documenting Orson Welles making his sensitive look at Brazil, “It’s All True”) are extraordinary in this smart, compact doc.