Friday, February 19, 2010

Man of the Year

Every time I see a movie from Brazil I wonder if it will be the one that breaks the streak. See, I haven't seen a bad movie from Brazil yet, but there simply has to be one. There's a bad movie from every country, and for Brazil to have such a solid run of good simply has to be luck on their part. Well, after watching Man of the Year I still haven't found that elusive bad Brazilian movie. That said, I do have some reservations about it.

Now, this is the story about how Maquiel's (Murlio Benicio) life got flipped, turned upside down. In Rio de Janerio, born and raised, losing soccer bets was how he spent most of his days. Chilling out max and relaxing all cool, drinking some cola outside of a, err, bar. Well, a guy, he was up to no good, started making trouble in his neighborhood. So Maquiel shot him.

If there's one thing I learned from a class on Shakespeare, the difference between tragedy and comedy is the body count. Man of the Year, until about the mid-point of the film, could easily go in either direction. Maquiel trying to be a normal guy while everyone else is appreciative of him killing the local punk could lead to humor, and until a key death, it remains darkly comic, as Maquiel tries to be good and normal but keeps finding his life gets better whenever he engages in some light murder. It only goes tragic when we can see Maquiel begin to enjoy murder rather than simply stumbling into it.

It's a really neat story, and one can really understand Maquiel and his actions. His actions always seem perfectly sensible at the time, and one can understand how he can pave his path to hell. Murlio Benicio plays the reluctant assassin well, and one can tell when the film is taking a turn for the sad simply by watching how he becomes increasingly comfortable with the path of destruction in his wake. It's also a story that could be only told in Brazil, a country known for a volatile combination of poverty, drugs and a corrupt police force.

It's also a beautifully shot film. There's a conscious effort to film some scenes in an almost dream-like manner, to underscore how Maquiel just flows with the currents around him, instead of really making a difference in his life. All of the pivotal moments seem to be distant from what he would choose to do at any given moment. As he narrates, it seems like a conscious effort to distance himself from his actions, a clever choice.

I mentioned I had some reservations, but it's really down to one major one. This film needs a bit of tightening up in the screenplay department. While the various subplots actually do pay off, along with giving the audience an early indication of the motives of Maquiel's benefactors, it gets a bit lost. There are times when it just seems lost in the machinations of its plot, unsure of exactly where to move or how to get there. It gets stuck repeatedly, which can be a bit of a drag, especially since you don't know where they're going. As Maquiel's life is sorted into different boxes which don't touch, it's often a struggle to care that they will connect. I can't help but think that streamlining several scenes and tightening up others would make for a superior film.

That doesn't make it a bad movie so much as it becomes merely a decent one. It does have a good overall story, one born from the overall situation in Brazil. As a result, it's something that's worth watching, and continues Brazil's neat avoidance of bad films. I'm sure Brazil's bad film is out there somewhere, but I haven't found it yet.

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