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[whitespace] 'Bossa Nova' Peek Experience: Amy Irving gets frisky in 'Bossa Nova.'

Rio Not So Grande

Nostalgia isn't what it used to be in 'Bossa Nova'

By Richard von Busack

NEITHER BOSS nor particularly new, the pale Bossa Nova out of Brazil is the latest from slipping director Bruno Barreto, whose 1970s films like Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands and Gabriela introduced thousands of American viewers to the Brazilian scene.

But Rio isn't what it used to be, and this romantic comedy can't hide the wrinkles or the stretch marks in the city, or the bars on the windows or the truth behind half-told jokes (surprised at her door, our heroine Mary Ann gasps, "Oh, I thought this was a robbery").

Working in English that definitely sounds like a second language, Barreto tells the story of a group of misplaced lovers in Rio in search of their other halves. Occasional stupefying views of Sugarloaf and the Copacabana don't infuse these tales with much interest.

Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes) is a middle-aged lawyer who can't get over his own divorce, even with the knowledge that his ex-wife is currently sleeping with her tai chi teacher. Taking an English class from the widowed Mary Ann (Amy Irving), he falls for the woman, hoping for more private lessons.

Meanwhile, Pedro Paulo's office gets an intern named Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), who is courted wistfully but perhaps with little hope by Pedro Paulo's stepbrother, Roberto (Pedro Cardoso). In Mary Ann's class is an arrogant soccer star, Acacio (Alexandre Borges), who is learning English in preparation to relocating to a soccer team in England. His exodus provides another underpinning to this story of Rio in decline. Acacio has the grand letch for Mary Ann, but he too must be disappointed, for the woman is still in mourning for her husband, who drowned years before.

The theme of hopeless love and journeys abroad abound in bossa nova music, and occasionally the film picks up on the spirit of that music. In some ways, Bossa Nova is Escape from Rio. (Three of the young lovers here are scheming to get out.) But this film doesn't capture bossa nova's inward quietude--the indefinable quality that roots you to the spot when Astrud Gilberto sings.

Bossa Nova is naughty farce, especially in a grossly mistimed bit where Mary Ann has to teach Acacio how to swear like they do in England ("Kiss it, my ass!"). Irving, the wife of the director, is terrifically fit as only a post-40-year-old Hollywood actress can be: she has the muscles of a track and field star, a butt you could crack walnuts on, skin apparently a size too small, a perhaps surgically modified jaw line that looks like it would cut hickory. Irving doesn't allow us to see the worldliness and shadows that makes age attractive; she's girlishness and flirtatious, a one-woman homage to the worst period of Doris Day.

With a title like Bossa Nova, couldn't we expect a little smokiness and not a grown woman being chased around the room by a pup like Acacio in those weird hot pants soccer players persist in wearing? Barreto does better in the scenes with Pedro Paulo's father, who is about to lose his tailor shop in a divorce (his fourth).

The moments of the doomed craftsman outlining one last suit--in pomegranate-colored cloth--has the right mood. It's reminiscent of the best movie about the decline of Rio, Heddy Honigmann's documentary O Amor Natural, all about the late discovery of a cache of erotic poems by the famed local poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade. One episode in Honigmann's film explored a once-renowned hat shop formerly patronized by Drummond de Andrade and included an interview with the elderly tailor whose skill in making fedoras was becoming redundant in our age of baseball caps.

Nostalgia for the high class of another time is perfectly understandable. But rephrasing that longing in crasser terms that the mass audience might want? Well, in the title of one of Jobim's most famed songs, how insensitive.

Bossa Nova (R; 95 min.), directed by Bruno Barreto, written by Alexandre Machado, Fernanda Young and Sérgio Sant'Anna, photographed by Pascal Rabaud and starring Amy Irving and Alexandre Borges, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema.

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From the May 18-24, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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