August 21, 2008

Love for Sale


Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

There's a strong whiff of feminism to Love For Sale, the rather trite title given the US release of a Brazilian movie called O Céu de Suely (Suely's Sky). Fortunately, rather than weighing down this sad, slight (82 minutes plus credits) story, the sense of feminism that we get from the main character Hermilla (and her pseudonym Suely) is one of a damaged woman who must somehow find herself against heavy odds. She has trusted, loved and been betrayed by a man and now, with a young son to raise, she comes back to her hometown and family -- and tries to start anew.

As played by a lovely and strong young actress named Hermila Guedes, this character certainly does not make the choices you or I might. But given that the film is set in third-world Brazil, in a culture bound by machismo, tradition and (less so here) religion, her actions -- including the way in which she tries to have her cake and eat it, too -- make a certain psychological and, in fact, societal sense. As often as we might wish for another decision or action from Suely as she proceeds along her (at least halfway self-created) path, it is even more difficult to call what we see unbelievable.

The film's director and co-writer Karim Ainouz (Madame Sata) treats the material glancingly; he has a genuine feeling for and understanding of women. His generally short scenes establish action, motivation and character successfully without a heavy hand. And his visual eye -- with his gifted cinematographer Walter Carvalho (Central Station, Carandiru, Sata) -- is keen on beauty and simplicity. By the film's conclusion, I think you'll appreciate how Ainouz piled incident upon odd incident, sometimes feeding our expectations but more often subverting them. Best of all, he gives us neither a happy nor a sad end --not an end at all, really. It's more as if a new chapter has begun.

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Posted by cphillips at August 21, 2008 11:23 AM
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