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Photograph by Ana Luz, courtesy of TLA Releasing

Replicant: Lázaro Ramos toils at the Xerox machine in 'The Man Who Copied.'

Poor but Dishonest

André duplicates the good life in Jorge Furtado's 'The Man Who Copied'

By Richard von Busack

TRUE FACT: I supported myself for almost two years photocopying documents, and so I'm probably in a unique position to appreciate The Man Who Copied. The film is at times fluffy and cartoonish and, at times, copies other movies, but some meat clings to its bones. Although André (the handsome copy-shop hero played by Lázaro Ramos) lives in the small southern Brazil city of Porto Alegre, he could be a stand-in for any McJob-stuck young man in America. Particularly universal is the beginning, an excruciating scene that shows him negotiating with the cashier at the grocery store as she gets closer to the exact sum of money he has. Throughout, there are bits of dialogue and imagery relating to how Brazil has had the marks of colonialism impressed on it. André lives on Franklin Roosevelt Street and uses a Xeroxed Eleanor Roosevelt as the face of an old-lady school teacher in the cartoons he draws. André wonders over the statues of gondoliers atop a nightclub—"I don't think we ever had gondoliers here," he narrates. And his new pal Cardoso (played by Pedro Cardoso) asks aloud why bars in Brazil have to give themselves English names.

It's not as though everyone in a colony wakes up every morning, thinking, "I feel colonized today." These subtler shadings of Andre indicate that he's living a life by proxy—that he's a copycat of long-gone Europeans. This, and some tony but appreciated quotes from Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 12, shade in a sometimes one-dimensional and silly tale.

Andre has a crush on a girl he has been spying upon, Silvia (the plump, slightly dorky Leandra Leal), a lingerie-shop girl. It presses on André's mind that he can buy Silvia's attention and good favor if only he purchases a robe from her. The robe costs $38, but André is on a rigidly fixed income between his wages and his support of his aged mom. When the shop picks up a color Xerox machine, André uses it to photocopy money. The trick works, but leads to further financial trouble with a local criminal (Júlio Andrade) who has been urging André to solve his problems by selling drugs. Eventually, André decides to turn to a one-time-only bank robbery to round up the money to marry his girl.

Director Jorge Furtado sometimes goes in for the hypertextual cinema made popular in Amélie. Sometimes, the story seems overwritten and wandering. At one point, we're supposed to see how trivial Cardoso is by his chatter about how iced glasses walk by themselves on a damp countertop. But what Cardoso has to say seems just as profound as anything André says. (Plus Cardoso has the best line in the film. Discussing the proper way to inform a girl that her dad spies on her while she's taking a shower, Cardoso suggests the indirect method: "Did you know, many fathers are perverts?")

Such a spied-on girl might not take an instant fancy to a man watching her in her room through binoculars, as André does. The Man Who Copied is a fairy tale, with a princess in a tower and a wicked stepfather. Grounding it all is the sincerely felt desperation about Brazil's all-stick, no-carrot economy.

The Man Who Copied (R; 124 min.), directed and written by Jorge Furtado, photographed by Alex Sernambi and starring Lázaro Ramos and Pedro Cardoso, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the May 25-31, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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