Ace lenser Mauro Pinheiro Jr. is the real star of “Blue Blood,” Lirio Ferreira’s gorgeous-looking yet narratively weak drama about a circus performer returned to his island home. Auds endlessly drawn to big-tent stories perhaps won’t mind, but the themes here, including the leitmotif of an isolated populace and the enfeebling hothouse atmosphere of an island locale, needed more incisive scripting to overcome a strong sense of deja vu. Geographical and corporeal eye candy, along with a landslide win at Rio with awards for best film, director, and supporting actor (Romulo Braga), will certainly boost local play and sales.
The strikingly beautiful black-and-white prologue (the rest is in color), accompanied by Dvorak, sees a ship sailing to a headland and a group of men erecting a tent for the Netuno Circus. The location is Brazil’s stunning Isla Fernando de Noronha, off the coast of Pernambuco State — the birthplace of Zolah (Daniel de Oliveira), the circus’ “Cannon Man.” Unabashedly priapic — he gets a handjob from g.f. Teorema (Laura Ramos) before sitting astride the phallic cannon he’s shot out of every night — Zolah is a local celebrity returned home, to the delight of his mother, Rosa (Sandra Coverloni), and sister, Raquel (Carolina Abras), engaged to Cangulo (Braga).
The director shifts between the circus, using ringside acts as interstitials, and Zolah’s hesitant reintegration in the family. One of the problems, however, is that the circus numbers aren’t especially impressive, including Zolah’s rather limp cannon shot, notwithstanding the rapturous applause he receives. Leading the troupe as ringmaster is Kaleb (Paulo Cesar Pereio), a magician enamored with Marlon Brando’s character from “The Wild One.” He’s having a relationship with Inox (Milhem Cortaz), the strongman, but suddenly disappears one night with no explanation.
Kaleb’s literal vanishing act is just the beginning of the strange behavior that starts to infect the circus members: Even Zolah loses his potency the longer they remain on the island. Part of the reason is his feelings for Raquel, whose job as a diving instructor stands in pointed contrast to Zolah’s fear of diving. It becomes increasingly apparent that he’s trying to resist his incestuous attraction to his sister, which manifested itself when they were children, which is why Rosa sent him off the island at an early age.
Ferreira breaks the film up into chapters — “Insomnia,” “Anguish,” etc. — a device that allows him to neatly emphasize a particular stage in Zolah’s trajectory. The major themes, however, run throughout, and there’s a stated parallel between Zolah and birds (who either dive for their food or scrounge), which strives for poetry but can’t quite bring it all together in a meaningfully perceptive manner. As in the non-prolific director’s best-known pic, “Dry Movie,” the lack of script cohesion means that mood is better evoked than character.
Nevertheless, visual pleasures abound. Oliveira (“Cazuza”) has never looked better (there’s a lot of him to be seen), and he continues to prove he’s more than just an athletic body. Best of all is Pinheiro’s glorious lensing of the island’s natural beauties, beginning with the attractive monochrome opening, which teasingly promises a level of artistry that doesn’t return. Underwater sequences are a highlight.