Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos
DONA FLOR E SEUS DOIS MARIDOS
(Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands)
Director: Bruno Barreto
Production: Produções cinematográficas L.C. Barreto; Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 110 minutes. Released in 1976. Filmed in Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.
Producers: Luis Carlos Barreto, Newton Rique, Cia Serrador, Paula Cezar Sesso, Nelson Potro; screenplay: Bruno Barreto; adapters: Eduardo Coutinho, Leopoldo Serran; photography: Maurilo Salles; editor: Raimundo Higino; assistant director: Jorge Duran, Emiliano Ribeiro; art director: Anisio Medeiros; music: Chico Buarque de Holanda; songs: Simone; sound: Walter Gulart, Antonio Cezar.
Cast: Sonia Braga (Dona Flor); José Wilker (Vadinho); Mauro Mendonça (Teodoro); Dinorah Brillanti (Rozilda); Nelson Xavier (Mirandão); Arthur Costa Filho (Carlinhos); Rui Rezende (Cazuza); Mario Gusmão (Arigof); Nelson Dantas (Clodoaldo); Haydil Linhares (Norma); Nilda Spencer (Dinorá); Silvia Cadaval (Jacy); Helio Ary (Venceslau Diniz); Mara Rúbia (Claudete); Manfredo Colassanti (Pelanchi).
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Irrespective of its other qualities, Dona Flor e seus dois maridos is noteworthy for having attracted an audience larger than any other Brazilian film. Due to the serious crisis curtailing the output of the Brazilian film industry over the last few years, the film's public of 12 million spectators is unlikely to be surpassed before the end of the century. Bruno Barreto was aged 21 when Dona Flor was launched in November 1976, but, despite his youth, was not a newcomer on the film scene. He is the son of Luiz Carlos Barreto, one of the most important Brazilian producers, responsible for several significant films during the Cinema Novo period. Bruno Barreto grew up in the film world; at the age of 11 he started to film in 16 mm, and at the age of 17 concluded his first feature film, Tati, a Garota, establishing not only his precocity, but also a propensity for easy communication with the masses.
What, then, is the secret of the incredible success of Dona Flor, whose impact in Brazil is unparalleled and whose repercussion abroad was such as to provoke a lackluster remake (Kiss Me Goodbye, directed by Robert Mulligan, with Sally Field and James Caan in the leading roles)?
In one sequence, Dona Flor (Sonia Braga) shows pupils at her tiny cookery school how to prepare a typically Bahian dish, spicy and exotic. Bruno Barreto used a variety of related ingredients in teasing the palate of the public: he took to the screen the best-selling novel of Brazil's premier popular author, Jorge Amado; he gave the title role to Sonia Braga, then a star of daily television series, whose greatest success to date had been the lead in Gabriela Clove and Cinnamon, also by Jorge Amado. To these, Barreto added other piquant—for their times—ingredients: the nudity of Sonia Braga and the bed scenes, which took on a forbidden flavour in a country traumatized, both culturally and politically, by the repression of the military regime.
A contemporary evaluation of Dona Flor, abstracted from the impact caused by its launch, reveals the keeping qualities of a delicious comedy of good and bad manners. It is set in the provincial city of Salvador, Bahia, in the early 1940s. The lightheartedness and folklore of Brazilian carnival are shared early on; beautiful girls dance for the camera and the men in drag so typical of street carnival are seen on their scandalous progress. The most outrageous of these revellers is Vadinho (José Wilker), who dies as he lived: partying. His lovely but much-abused young widow, Dona Flor, joins his grieving friends. In a vivid and sensual flash-back, she recalls with the viewer not only his gambling, drinking and womanizing, but also his talents in bed.
Dona Flor, whose dichotomous existence comprised not only the circumspect behaviour of the 1940s but also the liberated sexuality expected by moviegoers of the late 1970s, enters into a period of traditional mourning. When she finally emerges she is courted by the pharmacist Teodoro (Mauro Mendonça), a timid, hardworking and methodical man—the exact antithesis of the late Vadinho. Pressed by her mother and friends, she agrees to remarry, after a platonic courtship. Her second honeymoon is a far cry from her first, with Teodoro dressed in yellow pajamas talking about the stars and promising fidelity until death. They make love in the dark under cover of the sheets, which would have been sacrilege to Dona Flor's first husband. Vadinho, the eternal rake, had not hesitated in abandoning his new wife after some lively lovemaking on their wedding night to go gambling in the casino.
Dona Flor accepts the rules of her new marriage, at least overtly. Her sleep, however, is tortured by the ghost of her late husband, which emerges from The Hereafter to remind her of more exciting times, especially in bed. Vadinho's ghost can be interpreted either as a crystallization of Dona Flor's fantasy or as the return of a spirit which refuses to die, as in the Bahian religion, candomblé. The ghost is as irreverent as Vadinho was in life, and before long is making up a threesome with Dona Flor and Teodoro in the marriage bed. This unorthodox three-way relationship is the high point of the film. The scene in which Vadinho's ghost sits shaking with laughter on top of the wardrobe observing Dona Flor and Teodoro making love is priceless. Before long, Dona Flor and Vadinho are reunited in bed in a stormy outpouring of sexuality. Thus Dona Flor solves all her problems by acquiescing in the "presence" of Vadinho and welcomes him into her married life; in the fantasy world of Dona Flor all are free and all are equal—the living and the dead.
Freed of the pressure for narrative innovation which marked the previous decade and especially the Cinema Novo period, Dona Flor has won its place through its technical qualities and its outstanding popular appeal. Its success is also due to its easy consumption by the international market, captivated by the exuberance of the Bahian atmosphere, the postcard scenery and the intensity of its regional characters. The sound track is greatly enhanced by Chico Buarque de Holanda's "O Que será," a ballad laden with lyricism and sensuality.
Dona Flor turned Sonia Braga into a box-office phenomenon who was seen, for a time, as the epitome of Brazilian female sexuality. Bruno Barreto attempted, in 1983, to repeat the successful recipe with Gabriela, an international co-production, starring Sonia Braga in the role she had made famous on television and Marcello Mastroianni. Despite having some of the same ingredients, the production came nowhere near the spice of the delicious Dona Flor. Gabriela is to Dona Flor approximately what the dull Teodoro is to vital Vadinho.