A genre-bending black comedy that floats by in an unpretentious puff, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” is the kind of evanescent charmer whose charisma works, like its characters, in modest but lingering ways. Donning her helming hat for the second time, scripter Anna Muylaert (“Durval Discos”) crafts a whisper-thin but satisfying tale of a couple of fortysomethings hitting it off, brought to life by a fine ear for dialogue and an absurdist sense of how to shake things up. “Smoke” swept the Brazilian national film awards in early June, and could possibly manage a small international run.
Whenever someone in a movie says they’re not interested in getting married, it generally means the opposite, which is precisely the case with the incongruously named Baby (Gloria Pires, terrific). She lives alone in her mother’s old apartment, where she gives guitar lessons in between cigarettes and conversations with her sisters Teca (Dani Nefussi) and Pop (Marisa Orth), which reinforce the sense that this is a woman who likes things to remain just as they were in her childhood.
When scruffy musician Max (Paulo Miklos) moves in next door, Baby flirts up a storm and wins him over. She’s thrilled with her new beau, though he doesn’t like her smoking, and Baby feels slightly threatened by his glamorous-sounding ex, a hand model. She starts attending a support group to kick her smoking habit, and although the formula has been milked to death, Muylaert manages to make it feel fresh and funny.
Suspicious of occasional lovemaking noises apparently emanating from Max’s apartment, Baby drills a hole in the wall so she can spy on him. Soon an unfortunate accident eliminates her suspicions, but her guilt sets off other problems, and not the kind she can discuss in group therapy.
Though pic is basically a two-hander, Muylaert peppers the proceedings with occasional side characters whose sharply defined roles keep them from feeling like add-ons. It’s this fine sense of how to structure her script, and keep it interesting, that buoys the entire film, helped in no small measure by Pires; her timing is perfect, and her changing expressions a joy to watch for the warm-hearted humor she conveys in the smallest gesture.
The same can be said for Jacob Solitrenick’s lensing (he and Muylaert also worked together on “Durval Discos”), which often keeps a sly distance without feeling distancing. Shots through windows or doors comment on personal separations, but do so with an amiability that keeps auds on Baby’s side even when she’s making some very foolish decisions.