Complementing the release of Orson Welles’ unfinished Brazilian documentary, “It’s All True,” which made the festival rounds several years ago, “All Is Brazil” takes a close-up look at the director’s ill-fated trip to Rio in 1942, a trip made, in hindsight, at a huge professional price. Helmer Rogerio Sganzerla’s four-year labor of love editing together news clips is not a classically informative documentary, but an art film in its own right. Content (Welles) dissolves into form in a complex circular structure that challenges the viewer to follow and extract a meaning. A sure festival bet, docu initially will cash in on the Welles revival, but will ultimately sink or swim on its own aesthetic merits.
Pic completes helmer’s trilogy, which also includes “It’s Not All Quite True” and “Welles’ Language.”
Welles’ trip to Rio began right after shooting was completed on his second film, “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Taking a rough cut of the picture to South America with him, he cut it “by wire” in communication with editor Robert Wise (appearing here in a brief interview).
But while he was away, RKO cut the picture down from 140 to 88 minutes and changed the ending. The result was a critical as well as a commercial failure; “Rio was the central disaster of my career,” the director admits ruefully.
In “All Is Brazil,” Sganzerla shows how Welles took an active role in countering Nazi propaganda through his amusing radio broadcasts with personalities like Carmen Miranda. The fun-fun-fun of Welles’ popular broadcasts , the merry nonsense of Miranda’s songs and the samba dancers in the streets are constantly contrasted with the darker side of the war in Europe, while the director’s personal success in Brazil as a kind of American ambassador is juxtaposed with RKO kicking his Mercury crew off the lot back home.
Though there are tidbits for the film historian here, pic’s thrust is extremely personal and poetic, at times almost abstract. Using film clips, excerpts, rephotographed images, snapshots and graphic designs of the era, Sganzerla creates a collage in movement animated by radio voices and samba music.
If it is true, as the film suggests, that Welles had a great influence on Brazilian cinema as a pure filmmaker to whom money meant nothing and perfection was all, “All Is Brazil” is a shining, idiosyncratic example of his legacy.