A practically incomprehensible Portuguese farce, Joao Botelho’s “The Woman Who Believed She Was President of the United States” appears to be an indictment of the American government. However, the fact that the film uses an all-female cast in roles of exceptional silliness leaves the unfortunate impression that women may be the film’s real if unacknowledged target. But even this gives the pic credit for more meaning than it probably possesses. A boring head-scratcher in Cannes’ Directors Fortnight, it is likely to remain a very obscure footnote in veteran Botelho’s filmography.
The woman of the title (elegant blonde Alexandra Lencastre) lives in a luxurious Lisbon villa which she thinks is the White House. But then, so does everyone else, from her obedient secretary (Rita Blanco) to her pot-smoking mother, daughters, staff and re-election committee. Spouting conservative-to-fascist ideas and obsessed with her power to control the world from Kabul to Baghdad to Beijing, she is not a nice lady.
Around her is a farcical collection of catty, petty, back-biting femmes all wearing garish ’60s dresses (the costumes by Silvia Grabowski are genuinely amusing). Adding to the general foolishness of this theatrical talk-fest, the characters are wont to burst into operatic renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
One would say the gist is virulently anti-American, but it really doesn’t make much sense to satirize the Bush administration — or any other administration — as a bunch of vain, foolish women.