A wildcat of a film guaranteed to shock even jaded viewers, Claudio Assis’ debut feature “Mango Yellow” is a provocative tale of low-rent losers set in the coastal town of Recife, Brazil. Like characters out of some Carnival hell, a macho butcher and his born-again wife, a forlorn barmaid, a sinister sadist and the gay manager of a flophouse called the Hotel Texas run in and out of each other’s lives in a film as sloppy, sluttish, scruffy and vital as they are. Though pic struggles to reach a meaning beyond its own shock value, it has the kind of in-your-face transgressiveness that should fit the bill at festivals looking for original Brazilian fare.
As storefronts open and people pour out onto the street on a typical Recife morning, sexy but lonely waitress Daisy (Leona Cavalli) slips on a minidress and nothing else to start serving in a bar. Her lack of underwear will be recalled in an eye-opening scene much later in the film.
Flamboyant Dunga (Matheus Nachtergaele) revs up the Hotel Texas, among whose colorful band of misfits is a nasty foreigner named Isaac (Jonas Bloch). His hobby, illustrated in a graphic scene, is shooting corpses. Lusty Wellington (Chico Diaz), who works in a gruesome slaughterhouse — that will put many viewers off meat for a while — loves his dignified wife Kika (Dira Paes) but can’t resist the tawdry Daisy.
Dunga has a hopeless crush on the muscular Wellington and maneuvers to break up his marriage. Kika, who has turned to an evangelical cult to find meaning in her life, suddenly wakes up to the fact that she’s been dead inside for years, especially sexually.
Like a practiced barman, Assis mixes and stirs his characters around in their slummy but familiar surroundings. He gets much closer to them than most filmmakers shooting in Brazil’s shanty towns, who concentrate on crimes perpetrated against those on the outside. Here the people relate strictly to each other. If not for a few shots of tall buildings on the skyline, one would never know another class existed in Recife.
Mango yellow is both the jaundiced shade of their broken dreams and, when Kika cuts and dyes her long black hair in the last scene, the color is of nonconformity and feeling alive.
In this world of desperate eccentrics looking for happiness, pro actor Nachtergaele is a standout as the emotionally over-endowed Dunga, all flailing arms and neurotic efficiency. He embodies the film’s savage over-the-topness without flattening out as some of the other characters do.
Shot in revealing widescreen by top Brazilian lenser Walter Carvalho (“Central Station”) on a proverbial shoestring, scenes have raw vitality and a violent up-closeness to the characters. Renata Pinheiro’s sets, which reach their peak at the Hotel Texas, are littered with a lot to look at and underscored by a loud, strong music beat put together by Lucio Maia and Jorge Du Peixe.