×

Toronto Film Review: ‘Three Summers’

Brazil’s recent financial scandals are seen through the eyes of a rich family’s housekeeper in director Sandra Kogut’s laborious missed opportunity.

With:
Regina Casé, Rogério Fróes, Otávio Müller, Gisele Fróes, Daniel Rangel. (Portuguese dialogue)

Running time: 94 MIN.

Telling the story of Brazil’s ongoing money laundering and bribery scandal through the eyes of a rich family’s housekeeper is a capital idea that never fulfills its promise in director Sandra Kogut’s “Three Summers.” Brazilian actress and comedienne Regina Casé plays the housekeeper tasked with keeping the lights on at the summer condo of her one-percenter boss after he’s arrested for his part in a real-deal criminal investigation known as Operation Car Wash.

Casé looks the part of a workaday stand-in for millions of low-income Brazilians who toil away for scraps while the rich skirt the law to become richer. But she’s let down by a flabby and barely involving screenplay that misses too many opportunities to resonate in a meaningful way with the working class. Its prestigious slot in the Contemporary World Cinema program at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival notwithstanding, “Three Summers” is strictly a local affair not nearly galvanizing enough to rile up audiences in the too many other countries where such financial chicanery routinely occurs.

The story unfolds over three consecutive summers (in the southern hemisphere, where the season begins in December). First up is 2015, and Madá (Casé) is once again running point on the big-deal family shindig for wealthy Edgar (Otávio Müller) and his wife Marta (Gisele Fróes). Their vacation condo is filled with show-offy furniture including a vase that “a lifetime of [Madá’s] salary wouldn’t pay for.” Madá is the loquacious den mother of the house staff, barking orders in loving, if long-winded, fashion while also indulging her talent for making odd dishes like sausage sushi.

Popular on Variety

Key to positioning Madá as representative of the striving Brazilian underclass is her dream of opening a roadside kiosk where she’d sell bananas and pork loin. Purchasing a modest parcel of land for her kiosk is dependent upon Edgar. During their closed-door negotiations Edgar agrees to give her the money while also showing a nefarious interest in acquiring her out-of-date, pre-paid cell phone.

Skipping to 2016, the family party is canceled now that Edgar is in legal hot water, leaving Madá and the staff to finally sip from the same fancy stemware she traditionally handed to his guests. Later, Madá is shocked to see the authorities search the condo and cart her away on a bench warrant. Kogut’s direction is so wobbly when steering the performance of a comedienne into dramatic waters that when Madá frantically points out that she technically hasn’t been arrested, we question if the director’s intent was serious or if it was just a joke that didn’t land.

Kogut and co-screenwriter Iana Cossoy Paro’s talky script rarely comes into focus while the loose reigns of editors Sergio Mekler and Luisa Marques slow things down to a crawl. This becomes acute during an endless video shoot at the house whose purpose, when finally revealed, is to allow Madá to give a show-stopping, and quite moving, admission about her family history involving a very Brazilian type of tragedy. But if Kogut is asking us to believe that Madá has buried certain parts of her past under the plush furnishings of a rich family while talking as fast as she can to keep her demons at bay, we don’t buy it. She’s the same blabbering housekeeper at the end as she was at the beginning. So we’re left with a tiresome main character with no wisdom to impart, giving the aggrieved, laboring-class viewer no one through which they can process their anger.

The closest we get to real pathos are the effective moments with Edgar’s father, Lira. (Rogério Fróes). First seen as a doddering old man who stubbornly stays in his room during the 2015 party, he soon emerges as the film’s tragic figure. He wonders how badly he failed as a father when the sick boy he read to every night when he was stricken with hepatitis grew up to swindle money from schools and hospitals. Eventually, Lira and Madá become a bit of a team and with staff salaries not being paid, Lira suggests they rent the house on Airbnb or as Madá calls it, in one of Kogut’s strained attempts at making Medá seem adorably out of touch, “Harrybnb.”

Kogut herself is Brazilian-born so it’s doubly disappointing that “Three Summers” doesn’t include more pointed, homegrown commentary like the terrific scene where Madá gives a guided boat tour pointing out all the homes that have been confiscated from owners under arrest (“If it’s well-kept and functioning, it’s a foreigner”, she says). Otherwise, Brazilian audiences must keep waiting for the film they deserve, a cathartic reaching-out to the forgotten victims of high-profile, white-collar crimes, the ones who want nothing more out of life than a roadside kiosk to sell bananas.

Toronto Film Review: 'Three Summers'

Reviewed at UniFrance screening room, Paris, Aug. 26, 2019. (In Toronto Film Festival – Contemporary World Cinema.) Running time: 94 MIN. (Original title: “Três Verões”)

Production: (Brazil-France) A República Pureza Filmes, Gloria Films Prods. production. (Int’l sales: Urban Distribution Int'l, Montreuil, France.) Producers: Marcello Ludwig Maia, Laurent Lavolé.

Crew: Director: Sandra Kogut. Screenplay: Sandra Kogut, Iana Cossoy Paro. Camera (color, widescreen): Ivo Lopes Araújo. Editor: Sergio Mekler, Luisa Marques. Music: Berna Ceppas.

With: Regina Casé, Rogério Fróes, Otávio Müller, Gisele Fróes, Daniel Rangel. (Portuguese dialogue)

More Film

  • Farewell Movie 2019

    Five Reasons 'The Farewell' Flopped In China

    “The Farewell” has flopped in China with a dismal $261,000 opening weekend gross, and a cumulative of $580,000 so far, once again proving the difficulty of creating content that resonates equally on both sides of the Pacific — even when a story is set in China, features Chinese talent, and unfolds primarily in Mandarin. Although [...]

  • Loic Barche on Short 'The Atomic

    Loic Barche on Short 'The Atomic Adventure,' Upcoming Feature Debut 'Feu de Paille'

    “The Atomic Adventure,” a contender in UniFrance’s online MyFrenchFilmFestival, is the third short from Loïc Barché (“Goliath,” “Le Commencement”). Variety talked to the director about the short, and his feature debut “Feu de Paille.” “The Atomic Adventure,” produced by young French outfits Punchline Cinéma and Leonis Productions, is set in 1961 in Algeria, where France [...]

  • Will Smith and Martin Lawrence star

    How 'Bad Boys for Life' Escaped the Franchise Revival Curse

    Sony’s “Bad Boys” franchise proved a 17-year gap between installments means little for the right property. “Bad Boys for Life,” reuniting stars Will Smith and Martin Lawrence as drug-busting cops, beat expectations and debuted to a stellar $68 million in North America over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. The action comedy now stands [...]

  • Tony Hall, Director General of the

    Frontrunners Emerge as BBC Boss Tony Hall Set to Leave Broadcasting Behind

    As the U.K. industry reacts to news of Tony Hall’s intention to depart the BBC this July, top-level executives including Charlotte Moore and Tim Davie as well as external contenders such as Channel 4’s Alex Mahon are beginning to emerge. Variety understands that Lord Hall, who has headed the BBC for seven years as director [...]

  • The Isle of the Dead

    UniFrance Puts Spotlight on Emerging French VR Sector at Rendez-Vous

    France has a burgeoning eco-system of virtual reality and augmented reality producers, and is one of Europe’s leading VR/AR hubs. The UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, a showcase of French projects that wraps Monday, included a VR/AR showcase, with recent projects demonstrated by Wide Management VR, VRrOOm and Atlas V. UniFrance’s online MyFrenchFilm [...]

  • Los Lobos

    Watch First Trailer for Samuel Kishi Leopo’s ‘Los Lobos’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    FiGa Films has shared the first trailer for Animal de Luz production “Los Lobos,” the second feature from Mexican director Samuel Kishi Leopo, set to play in Berlinale’s GenerationKplus. Previously the film won the SIGNIS award at the Havana Film Festival and passed through various international festivals such as Korea’s Busan International Film Festival and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content