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Over the top, melodramatic, tragic and sarcastic: get acquainted with Nelson Rodrigues' unique universe
Firstly, let me correct the plot outline offered here in IMDb: in fact, Herculano (Paulo Porto) is a middle-aged, respectable, strict Catholic bourgeois and recent widower. Desperate with grief, he moves back to his brooding family house, with his 3 MacBethian spinster aunts and his sleazy no-good brother Patricio (Paulo César Peréio), who introduces him to prostitute Geni (Darlene Glória). At first disgusted by the idea of betraying his wife's memory, sex-starved Herculano can't help falling head over heels for Geni -- and, amazingly, vice-versa. They decide to marry, but Herculano's bilious teenage son Serginho (Paulo Sacks) is ready to do anything to prevent it. Geni becomes an involuntary weapon in the father/son war, with tragedy waiting around the corner.
Tied with Nelson Pereira dos Santos' "Boca de Ouro" (1963), "Toda Nudez..." is probably the best film adaptation of a text (in this case, a play) by the great, controversial, inimitable Brazilian playwright and journalist Nelson Rodrigues (1912-1980) -- who, by the way, heartily approved of this version. Director Arnaldo Jabor manages to translate to the screen Rodrigues' tragic, melodramatic and satirical universe: forbidden sex, incest, greed, hate, envy, sin, rape, homosexuality, violence, sadism, masochism, all caused by the "Great Trio of Evil" (Family, Guilt and Catholic repression). It's a film of excesses, and rightly so; subtlety was foreign to Rodrigues. His characters don't just love or hate; they love and hate to death. It's a world of doom, extravaganza, consumption. And also of comic relief, in a sarcastic mode: instead of criticizing society through comedy, Rodrigues uses tragedy.
Non-Portuguese speakers will lose the special flavor of Rodrigues' incomparably flamboyant dialog: imagine the emotional impact of Tennessee Williams + the precision of David Mamet (Rodrigues also wisely uses short sentences, pauses and repetitions) + the tragicomic effects of Almodóvar + Buñuel's unpredictability and you'll have a hint of Rodrigues' style. The DVD's English subtitles are OK, but can't translate Rodrigues' vernacular wealth.
The film has major assets: Arnaldo Jabor's direction values first and foremost the dialog but is wise enough to avoid staginess (though he's less fortunate when there's a lot of people in the frame -- q.v. the confusing street and jail scenes). The art direction and set decoration, with crumbling walls, washed-out paint and old heavy furniture, expertly convey the putrefying world of the decadent characters. On the other hand, there's the usual lot of technical problems of 1970s Brazilian films: shots out of focus, visible shadows of lighting/sound equipment, harsh lighting, and imprecise voice-looping (which in a film where dialog is so important can be really distracting). The musical selection is fine (especially the Piazzolla pieces, dramatically perfect) but overused -- there's hardly a scene without music.
Great performances by most of the cast, especially the two leads, who are sensational in their best film roles ever. Paulo Porto not once "loses" his character; he's Herculano from head to toe, all the time. Darlene Glória is a fascinating mix of whore and martyr, with her fake blond hair, big eyes, big smile, perfect teeth, unashamed nudity and sexy voice; her Geni is THE archetypal golden- hearted but doomed prostitute. As the sullen Serginho, Paulo Sacks is surprisingly effective, considering it was his first and only film performance. Elza Gomes and Henriqueta Brieba deliver their usual top-notch turns; sadly, the great Isabel Ribeiro is miscast, wasted in a non-role. Paulo César Peréio and Hugo Carvana shamelessly go for easy laughs; they do get the laughs, but their tongue-in-cheek performances are closer to farce.
If you're Brazilian and/or a fan of Nelson Rodrigues, you must see this one -- it's fun, hilariously overblown, hard to dislike. If you never heard of Nelson Rodrigues, let me just say this: if you liked Almodóvar's "What Did I Do to Deserve This?", or Saura's "Mamá Cumple Cien Años", or Buñuel's "El" or "Tristana", you'll certainly enjoy this one. My vote: 8 out of 10
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