Explosive scenes and dramatic confrontations make “Two Lost in a Dirty Night,” an adaptation of Plinio Marcos’ 40-year-old play about two Brazilian losers scrounging a living in New York, still a powerful watch for those who don’t mind staginess in movies. Well-crafted enough for fest play, it might find a few theatrical outlets before ancillary takes over.
Working against the film more than the play’s age – clandestine immigrants and the homeless still exist in NYC, after all — is director Jose Joffily’s decision to make one role, the sadistic Paco, into a femme in travesto, stretching credibility in many situations. The duo’s bravura spats are engrossing but leave film feeling more like an actors’ showcase than a persuasively rounded drama.
Tonho (Roberto Bomtempo) is a decent fellow whose American Dream has ended in cleaning subway toilets and sleeping in a storage warehouse on the outskirts of town. His green-card marriage is over and he’s terrified of being shipped back to Brazil a failure. When he meets Paco (Debora Falabella) offering oral sex for $25 dressed as an underage boy, it takes him a significant amount to time to realize the feminine-looking he is a she. Amazingly, too, Paco’s clients don’t notice it, though auds will have as much difficulty as spotting Jeanne Moreau under her poor-boy cap and charcoal moustache in “Jules and Jim.”
The lonely Tonho invites Paco to share his cage-home. Carrying a gargantuan chip on her shoulder, she suspiciously agrees to move in as long as Tonho keeps his hands off. He falls in love anyway, although her diabolical, drug-addled personality costs him his job, lands him in jail for prostituting minors and gets him involved in a wanton murder.
Low-key Bontempo makes a convincing babe in the woods to Falabella’s strung-out viper, though their attraction-repulsion relationship would have made a lot more sense had the latter’s role been male. Pic’s dramatic constant of Paco’s destructive aggressiveness and urge to humiliate Tonho is always a touch under-motivated, mainly because script never enlarges on the blows life has dealt her.
Nonato Estrela’s lensing emphasizes grim New York grays in the desolate streets and the warehouse’s empty space. Pic’s complicated flashback structure seems aimed at explaining away some glimpses of the Twin Towers as being in the past.