(Portuguese and Italian dialogue)
The Barreto family, the notable commercial dynasty of Brazilian cinema, has crafted a hit with international potential in this calculatedly charming saga of love among immigrants. Presently basking in good press from various festivals and excellent regional box office receipts in its native land, “O Quatrilho” is Brazil’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar. Made for $ 1.8 million (about a quarter of the budget coming from Brazilian state subsidy), pic boasts First World production values, regional stars and songs by celebrated Brazilian singer-songwriter Caetano Veloso, and could travel well.
The tale is drawn from a popular novel by the same title, which refers to a four-way card game in which partners must betray each other to win. Yarn, based on a true story, begins in southern rural Brazil in 1910, when Italian immigrants were flooding the area, and hangs on an obvious setup. Within the Italian immigrant community, doltish, thrifty immigrant peasant Angelo (Alexandre Paternost) marries coltish, romantic Teresa (Patricia Pillar). He then goes into business with the romantic, sexy Massimo (newcomer Bruno Campos), who’s married to doltish, thrifty Pierina (Gloria Pires).
Soon, both pairs have reproduced, and the business, a grain mill, is flourishing. But so is illicit romance among the romantic sides of the pairs. Reminded of the regional code of honor, romantic guy flees with romantic girl, leaving the doltish and thrifty to bumble into the discovery of their own attraction.
The locals, especially the parish priest, don’t take kindly to marital irregularities, and for a while it looks like business will suffer. But ultimately, both money and children multiply. Once the doltish and thrifty have triumphed, the romantic and sexy are revealed also to have increased and prospered, leaving audiences with that (increasingly rare) relief of a happy ending without major intervening trauma.
There are plot holes on this romantic road — the casual treatment of children (during the breakup of the original families, the kids involved virtually disappear), the central pair’s lack of any apparent inner conflict over their unsanctioned arrangement, and the erratic presence of subordinate characters.
More important, the roles of the four principals are hardly fleshed out in complex fashion. The doltish couple have anxiety-ridden, wooden expressions meant, apparently, to register peasant practicality, although the dark-eyed charisma of beloved film and TV star Gloria Pires peeks out occasionally. Newcomer Bruno Campos as the romantic male lead appears to have a near terminal case of bedroom eyes, and local favorite Patricia Pillar gushes to the skies.
There are moments when the efficient slickness of the production goes over the edge. Veteran Argentine lenser Felix Monti (“The Official Story,””The Old Gringo”) turns in work that is masterful in its high-gloss way. But there are moments — for instance, a shot in which lovers in silhouette are backdropped by a waterfall — when the images echo those of greeting cards.
The classic production values make “O Quatrilho” a pleasant film for viewers. Director Fabio Barreto, second son of executive producers Lucy and Luiz Carlos Barreto, is already a seasoned hand, with a near-decade of TV production and three previous features under his belt, and this reps by far his most polished work.
The historically accurate setting and the celebration of immigrant energy make the film both certifiably a product of national culture and also one that travels across cultural boundaries. While the immigrant theme has been addressed in Brazil by films such as Tizuka Yamasaki’s “Gaijin” and in documentaries, “O Quatrilho’s” unabashed romanticism distinguishes it.