Thesp Carlos Alberto Riccelli's sophomore helming foray -- his first to be released -- is an impressive but uneven ensemble piece overwhelmed by its eagerness to spin a multiplicity of stories.

Thesp Carlos Alberto Riccelli’s sophomore helming foray — his first to be released — is an impressive but uneven ensemble piece overwhelmed by its eagerness to spin a multiplicity of stories. Keeping all of them in play proves too difficult, though the kernel, about an astrologer reassessing her life and its impact on those around her, is worthy of amplification. Prospects at home for “The Sign of the City” should be golden, thanks in part to the presence of popular star Bruna Lombardi (Riccelli’s wife, who also scripted); offshore may see a scattering of fest dates.

Set in Sao Paulo, pic nicely emphasizes the multifaceted character of the vast metropolis. Core plotline involves Teca (Lombardi), an astrologist with her own call-in radio show. Recently single, Teca is drifting through life without much sense of purpose. Her lovelife’s no good, either: Gil (Malvino Salvador), the hot new neighbor making advances, turns out to be married.

Despite these disappointments, including the pressure of looking after estranged, hospitalized father Anibal (Juca de Oliveira), it’s only when crazed fan Luis (Thiago Pinheiro) kills himself in her apartment that Teca is forced to open her eyes and view her surroundings as an intricate web of connections, each path with its own consequences. She locates Luis’ self-mutilating g.f. Julia (Lais Marques), taking her under wing in the hopes that she can prevent her from continuing on her destructive path.

Woven through Teca’s story are others whose tales briefly touch upon her own. These include the woman who helped raise her, Adelia (Eva Wilma), with her own whopper of a secret. There’s Teca’s engineer Bio (Bethito Tavares), whose best friend, flamboyant transsexual Josialdo (Sidney Santiago), gets lynched, and depressed Isadora (Irene Stefania), whose son Gabriel (Kim Riccelli) eventually hooks up with Julia.

Themes of connection, responsibility and loneliness run through all the tales, but so many characters are introduced that inevitably many get lost along the way. Teca’s journey from irresponsibility to self-awareness deserves telling without being drowned out by everything else.

Still, there’s much to recommend. Beginning is especially well paced, and Riccelli maintains a nice feel for his locales. Certain scenes linger long in the memory, including a lovely sequence in which Anibal’s nurse Iolanda (Valeria Lauand), not exactly statuesque, volunteers to humor his dying wish and strips for the old philanderer. There’s more warmth in this one scene, more understanding of the palliative effects of reaching out to someone, than in most pop-psychology manuals.

With her pale skin and reddened eyes, Lombardi looks the picture of the stressed-out vegan, but gives her character warmth and depth without New Age kookiness. In general, thesping is strong, though Marques is too prone to acting with a capital “A.” Despite heavy use of Steadicam, lensing is textured and appropriate to the action.

The Sign of the City

brazil

Production

A Europa Filmes release of a Petrobras presentation of a Pulsar Cinema production, in association with Globo Filmes, Coracao da Selva. Produced by Bruna Lombardi, Carlos Alberto Riccelli. Executive producer, Ary Pini. Directed by Carlos Alberto Riccelli. Screenplay, Bruna Lombardi.

Crew

Camera (color), Marcelo Trotta; editor, Marcio Hashimoto Soares; music, Sergio Bartolo, Ze Godoy; production designer, Mara Abreu; costume designer, Paula Iglecio; sound (Dolby Digital), Romeu Quinto, Pedro Noizyman; associate producers, Daniel Filho, Georgia Costa Araujo; assistant director, Kim Riccelli. Reviewed at Rio de Janiero Film Festival (Premiere Brazil), Sept. 29, 2007. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Bruna Lombardi, Juca de Oliveira, Malvino Salvador, Graziella Moretto, Luis Miranda, Denise Fraga, Eva Wilma, Sidney Santiago, Lais Marques, Rogerio Brito, Marcelo Lazzaratto, Thiago Pinheiro, Bethito Tavares, Kim Riccelli, Fernando Alves Pinto, Cristina Mutarelli, Irene Stefania, Zecarlos Machado, Ana Rosa, Selma Egrei, Valeria Lauand, Wandi Doratiotto, Iara Jamra.
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