Tieta Sonia Braga Perpetua Marilia Pera Ze Esteves Chico Anysio Leonora Claudia Abreu Carmo Zeze Motta Ascanio Leon Goes Cardo Heitor Martinez Mello
Two of Brazilian cinema’s grand dames, the gorgeous, sexy Sonia Braga and the brilliantly accomplished Marilia Pera, are at the center of “Tieta of Agreste,” a new romantic comedy directed by veteran filmmaker Carlos Diegues, best known in the States for “Bye Bye Brazil.” In what might be described as a cross between “Auntie Mame” and Friedrich Durrenmatt’s noted play “The Visit,” this adventurous tale offers a light satirical look at a small Brazilian town torn between forces of tradition and modernity. Always buoyant and often erotic, pic has a good shot at making it in major markets internationally, provided it loses a healthy portion of its excessive running time.
“Tieta of Agreste,” based on Jorge Amado’s novel, is shapeless and overlong, yet extremely enjoyable. Pic examines the cultural contradictions that mark Brazil as a society at a crossroads. The film heralds the return of Braga, one of Brazil’s few international stars, to her native country after a decade in Hollywood.
Braga is perfectly cast in the title role, a wealthy Sao Paulo widow, returning to her provincial village 26 years after she was denounced by her father for her “immoral” conduct. First sequence hilariously intercuts the town’s elaborate preparations for Tieta’s arrival with flashbacks (in black-and-white) of her amorous exploits as a voluptuous adolescent.
There’s a veil of mystery and intrigue about Tieta, who’s accompanied by Leonora (Claudia Abreu), a young woman she introduces as her daughter-in-law. Perpetua (Pera), her older, unattractive sister, who’s also a widow, speculates with her father (Chico Anysio) about Tieta’s past; the only contact the family has had with her is through letters sent from a Sao Paulo P.O. box. In addition to the correspondence, overseen by Carmo (Zeze Motta), a nosy post office employee and the town’s happiest spinster, Tieta has also sent money to help her father, sisters and nephews.
As expected, Tieta’s return, in a seductive red convertible, causes upheaval – and change – in the life of every resident of the village. Tieta’s first “Victim” is her hand some nephew, Cardo (Heitor Martinez Mello), a would-be priest who, under her encouragement, loses his virginity. Tieta also sees to it that Ascanio (Leon Goes), the young, progressive politician who asks for her help in bringing electricity to the town, is more aggressive in his relationship with Leonora.
Sant’Ana do Agreste is a dormant town, lost on the map and in time, but soon its hypocritically religious denizens are courting Tieta – the mad mayor, the “official” poet, the commander obsessed with ecological issues – and her repentant father, who desperately needs Tieta’s money to repurchase the land and sheep he’s lost.
Against this vibrant background, story’s emotional core is the complex relationship between Tieta and her stingy sister Perpetua. But the script, compressed from a substantial novel, consists of too many adventures and characters for its own good, resulting in a lopsided mix of strong and tedious scenes.
Nonetheless, if the quality of writing and direction is uneven, the acting of the two leads is impeccable. Unlike Durrenmatt’s heroine (Whom Ingrid Bergman played in a screen version), the good-natured Tieta is not vengeful, though she clearly gets a kick out of being courted by those who previously despised her. Braga exudes an earthy sensuality that charges the film with exuberant eroticism. Aware of Braga’s natural sex appeal, helmer parades her in dozens of tight, bright-colored outfits (designed by Ocimar Versolato).
It’s great pleasure to observe the magnetic Pera, Brazil’s most noted actress (still most vividly remembered for her heartbreaking turn in “Pixote”), convey the jealous sister’s volatility and vulnerability with such expertness and conviction.
Still, pic requires more than simple streamlining to make the story more engaging. The dense, disjointed plot needs to be reassembled in a more coherent way.