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Esoteric helmer Julio Bressane brings his singular, nutty vision to the story of an obsession in “The Herb of the Rat.” Shot with his striking eye for beautifully theatrical compositions coupled with soporific recitation, this vampire-like tale substitutes the usual fanged Dracula figure for the ravishments of a buck-toothed rodent who’s learned a thing or two from the gerbil of urban legend. Laughable in its ultra-serious tone, this one is strictly for Bressane die-hards.

He (Selton Mello) and She (Alessandra Negrini) meet at a cemetery. He brings her to his home, where he feeds her a special herbal tea as he recites endless passages she scrupulously copies down. Then he convinces her to undress so he can take nude photos. But a rat develops a fondness for photos of her pudenda, and then, well, She discovers the rat reaches spots He could never touch. There’s also an unintentionally hilarious “modern dance” number with cheese. Really. Bressane’s talent for striking lighting and pronounced shadows can’t compensate for such silliness. Thankfully, Petrobras has enough money to fund this kind of avant-garde exercise along with works of arguably more meaningful creativity.

The Herb of the Rat

Brazil

  • Production: A Republica Pureza Filmes, TB Producoes production. Produced by Julio Bressane, Marcello Ludwig Maia. Directed by Julio Bressane. Screenplay, Bressane, Rose Dias, based on the short stories "Um esqueleto" and "A causa segreta" by Machado de Assis.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Walter Carvalho; editor, Rodrigo Lima; music, Guilherme Vaz; production designer, Moa Batsow; costume designer, Ellen Millet. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 1, 2008. Running time: 82 MIN.
  • With: <b>With:</b> Alessandra Negrini, Selton Mello.
  • Music By: