Fearful Symmetries

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21 April, 2010

WFF '10: Chega de Saudade



My Saturday at the Wisconsin Film Festival began with the Brazilian film Chega de Saudade by Laís Bodanzky. According to Wikipedia, "Chega de Saudade" is the first bossa nova song and roughly translates to "enough longing", of which there is plenty in the film.

It opens with a host of people including a well-dressed older couple, Álvaro and Alice, as well as a young DJ and his girlfriend, Marquinhos and Bel, arriving at an old dance hall for an evening of drinks, dance, and fun. Once in the hall we are introduced to an Altman-like menagerie of characters – men and women – who dance or are not asked to dance, drink, and reminisce about their younger days. People gossip with one another and relationships are exposed.

Among them are Álvaro who has a bum foot and we learn that he was a dance hall champion in his younger days winning multiple competitions. But now he is a curmudgeon who must be dragged to the hall and is content to sit and quaff his drinks while lashing out at others. Elza with her low cut blouse awaits a man to ask her to dance but there are seemingly no takers for this self-imposed wallflower. Gordo Ferreira, an older man with a gut we Wisconsonians can be proud of gleefully inveigles Bel to dance the night away with him.

This brings me to one of the interesting elements of the film. Excepting a waiter, it is only Marquinhos and Bel who are under 50. The older cast adds another dimension to the story that is lacking with most American films which are preoccupied with people in their 20s. There is a lot of sexuality and sexual tension in the air and the vast majority of it is among older people. Cinematographer Walter Carvalho uses yellows and oranges, which along with the sweat visible on actors, gives the viewer a palpable sense of the heat. Then we have Rita, the wife of a rich man who comes to the hall to rendezvous with her lover. At one point in the film, Alice, who is a matron, of sorts, of the dance hall tells Álvaro, "Some things only happen when you're young" and immediately following this we see Rita, no spring chicken, touching herself in the bathroom.

Chega de Saudade keeps the action inside the dance hall and it all happens on one night. This allows Bodanzky to explore multiple characters but hone in on a few of the aspects of aging. The need for love and physical affection never diminishes and being middle-aged doesn't mean the loss of one's sexuality. In addition to companionship, growing old means coping with the past. Some things are the province of youth but the films tells us to not let that distract us from making the present worth living.

In addition to the lively, vivid characters, there was some ribald humor to be had which lightened things up. And I can't forget the great music. Chega de Saudade was a wonderfully poignant film which dealt with a subject matter all-too often avoided.

|| Palmer, 11:10 AM

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