You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!’

An adolescent Brazilian boy’s love for a Paraguayan Guarani girl is set against the pained historical residue of violent conflict in this over-heated, unsatisfying debut.

Cauã Reymond, Eduardo Macedo, Adeli Gonzales, Zahy Guajajara, Leopoldo Pacheco, Claudia Assunção, Ney Matogrosso, Marco Lóris, Marcio Verón. (Portuguese, Spanish, Guarani dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6103318/

If Felipe Bragança took as much care with his script as he did with his visuals, his debut as solo feature director could have signaled an interesting new voice in Brazil’s rich art-house choir. Instead, “Don’t Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!” aims for poetry yet, like its ridiculously clumsy title, manages only an odd mix of magical realism with over-heated Lynchian touches.

On paper, it had all the elements to make the Hubert Bals Fund quiver: rural Brazilians and downtrodden indigenous Paraguayans in a lingering battle with historical roots, overlaid with a cool motorcycle gang. Cinematographer Glauco Firpo (“Castanha”) makes it glow on widescreen, but Bragança is unable to smooth out glaring differences between amateur and professional actors, and the story itself, told in choppy chapters, fails to build to anything resembling genuine emotions. After scattered fest dates, “Alligator Girl” will indeed be swallowed up.

A helpful intro explains that the Apa River dividing Brazil and Paraguay was the scene of horrific battles in the 19th century, when hundreds of thousands of Paraguayans were slaughtered. Those events understandably continue to shape the lives of people on the border, which is Bragança’s jumping-off point as he conjures this ragged story of Brazilian adolescent Joca (Eduardo Macedo), madly in love with his Paraguayan Guarani peer Basano (Adeli Gonzales). She rejects his importuning, acting like a haughty Amazonian princess backed by loyal native followers.

Things at home aren’t so great for Joca either: His mother Joana (Claudia Assunção) has been depressed for 10 years, ever since her husband left the family, so the kid is more or less raised by his older brother Fernando (Cauã Reymond), called “December” in his anti-Paraguayan bikers’ posse whose members are named for the months of the year. All except for the leader, Telecath (Marco Lóris), who presumably has self-loathing issues since his mother was Guarani. The Calendar Gang, as they’re called, keep rumbling with their Paraguayan counterparts, headed by Alberto (Marcio Verón), whose girlfriend is sleeping with Fernando, though that’s not such a big problem since Alberto has set his sights on his cousin Basano, just turning 15.

Popular on Variety

As the narratives flow (or collide) into one another, Guarani bodies mysteriously float down the river in eerie imitation of the cadavers that choked the Apa nearly a century and a half earlier. It takes some time for viewers to realize these aren’t phantom corpses but real ones, their deaths ultimately connected to Joca’s family, yet the revelation is so poorly set up that it’s rendered meaningless. In fact, nearly all the elements of “Alligator Girl” meant to conjure an emotional response fall flat: Surely Telecath’s motorcycle funeral isn’t supposed to induce chuckles, and lackluster editing employed to lead up to his death in a truck accident fails to build tension.

The film’s heart should be Joca’s unquenchable love for Basano, but nothing ever makes us feel for them, even after a scene of the two kissing in the forest, surrounded by fireflies; though designed with a sense of pictorial thrill, the effect never quite achieves the required magic. Not helping things is the inescapable fact that Gonzales declaims her lines in stilted tones, with no light behind her lovely eyes. She’s hardly alone, and the contrast between popular Brazilian actor Reymond (also here as a co-producer), chomping on his sentences with the training of a professional, and the amateur performers clearly unsure of how to deliver unnatural dialogue, destroys any illusion of cohesion.

Visuals are the film’s strong suit, although the ultra-careful compositions have a shallow beauty about them, slick, stylized, and perfectly lit, yet the emotional tug is absent. Snippets of music, including the overture to native classical composer Antônio Carlos Gomes’ opera “Il Guarany,” are inelegantly inserted.

Film Review: 'Don't Swallow My Heart, Alligator Girl!'

Reviewed online, Rome, Italy, Jan. 15, 2017. (In Sundance – competing). Running time: 108 MIN. (Original title: “Não Devore Meu Coração”)

Production: (Brazil-The Netherlands-France) A Fênix Distribuidora release (in Brazil) of a Duas Mariola Filmes, Globo Filmes, Canal Brasil, Revolver Amsterdam, Damned Films, Mutuca Filmes production. (International sales: Mundial, LA.) Producers: Marina Meliande, Marcos Prado. Executive producers: Eliane Ferreira, Marina Meliande.Coproducers, Cauã Reymond, Mario Canivello, Raymond Van Der Kaaij, Dijana Olcay-Hot, Yohann Cornu.

Crew: Director, writer: Felipe Bragança, inspired by “Curva de Rio Sujo” by Joca Reiners Terron. Camera (color, widescreen): Glauco Firpo. Editor: Jon Kadocsa.

With: Cauã Reymond, Eduardo Macedo, Adeli Gonzales, Zahy Guajajara, Leopoldo Pacheco, Claudia Assunção, Ney Matogrosso, Marco Lóris, Marcio Verón. (Portuguese, Spanish, Guarani dialogue)

More Film

  • After Class

    Film Review: ‘After Class’

    Arguably the best thing about “After Class,” a purposely untidy and exceptionally intelligent dramedy about frayed family ties and academic contretemps, is writer-director Daniel Schechter’s refusal to ever let his protagonist off too easy. To be sure, lead player Justin Long’s graceless-under-pressure Josh Cohn comes across as more clueless than unsympathetic, less chronically selfish than [...]

  • Aubrey Plaza Spirit Awards

    Aubrey Plaza Returning as Indie Spirit Awards Host

    Aubrey Plaza will return to the white tent on Santa Monica beach to host the Film Independent Spirit Awards for the second consecutive year. Now in its 35th year, the ceremony honoring the year’s best independent cinema will be held on Feb. 8. The 2020 celebration will broadcast live on IFC. “Like all great independent [...]

  • New Republic Pictures

    'Suspiria' Producer Bradley J. Fischer Joins New Republic as President

    Bradley J. Fischer, whose credits include “Zodiac,” “Black Sawn” and “Suspiria,” is joining Brian Oliver’s New Republic Pictures as president and chief content officer. Fischer has signed a multi-year pact with Paramount-based New Republic. Fischer and Oliver will produce all New Republic projects, including film, television and streaming. Fischer will continue to produce his pre-existing projects, [...]

  • Alfre Woodard

    Alfre Woodard Reflects on Her First Oscar Nomination and Her Career So Far

    When Alfre Woodard was 22, she drove from Boston to Los Angeles, only stopping in her Tulsa, Okla., hometown. The four-time Emmy winner, now 67, has been acting ever since. Woodard’s career began in theater, despite her inability to sing or dance, with help from late choreographer Lester Wilson. An early play, “So Nice, They [...]

  • Julia Fox Uncut Gems

    Saoirse Ronan, Julia Fox and More Actors Discuss the Women Who Inspired Them

    In her first film role, Julia Fox blazes into “Uncut Gems” as Julia, the ambitious but loyal mistress of Adam Sandler’s jeweler. It’s a complex character the audience can’t always read. To play Julia, Fox says she had a couple inspirations. “My younger self, for sure,” she admits. “Looking at myself retrospectively, how I survived, [...]

  • Disney's MULAN..Mulan (Yifei Liu)..Photo: Film Frame..©

    Mulan Goes to War in Disney's Action-Packed Trailer

    Hua Mulan readies to put her life on the line for her community and family in a new trailer for Disney’s live-action “Mulan.” Based on Disney’s 1998 animated classic, “Mulan” tells the story of a woman (portrayed by Yifei Liu) who poses as a man to fight in the Chinese army. The footage, dropped Thursday, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content