Listen up, children and gather ‘round, the amazing Caravan Rolidei has come to town. OK, amazing might not be the right word. In fact, the Caravan Rolidei may be the most pitiful traveling magic act you can imagine, the only discernible asset of the show being Salomé, Queen of the Rumba (Betty Faria). Salomé can't actually rumba, but she can shake her moneymaker… and her moneymaker is just about the only thing in the Caravan that makes any money.
Brazil just isn't what it used to be. Townsfolk used to line up for the Caravan, eager for any entertainment to break up the monotony of daily life out in the ‘sticks. But now they've all got television antennas (or "fishbones") and who needs a crappy magic show when you can watch a crappy soap opera instead? The show is headed by a self-described Gypsy Lord (José Wilker) who is one part Mandrake, two parts Anton LaVey, his Satanic beard and mesmerizing black eyes suggesting a reservoir of evil beneath the showman's veneer. He is particularly bitter about all the "fishbones" sprouting up in the countryside, and he leads the Caravan in a fruitless search for a town still unsullied by the stench of modern media. Along the way they pick up a bored young farmer and accordionist Ciço (Fábio Júnior) and his pregnant wife Dasdo (Zaira Zambelli).
"Bye Bye Brazil" (1979) is a lamentation for a disappearing way of life and a low-key rant against the homogeneity of creeping modernization, but it's not particularly convincing on either count. Blaming the idiot box for all that is wrong with the worlds is too convenient. It doesn't even seem particularly apt here since the television still serves to unite some of the smaller communities; rather than a TV in every household, the people gather in public to watch one shared screen. And what they're watching has simply got to be better than what the Caravan has to offer.
The film scores a more direct hit when showing the strain that overpopulation and encroaching capitalism place on communal resources; the free market closes as many doors as it opens, and you'd better adapt quickly lest you fall victim to the uncaring vicissitudes of Social Darwinism. To his credit, the ever-malleable Gypsy Lord figures this out eventually and switches tactics, breaking up the Caravan and deciding to whore out Salomé and Dasdo instead.
This sub-Fellini travelogue has its picturesque moments, but it generally left me bored. The biggest problem is the lack of any kind of center, both in terms of narrative and characters. In the Hollywood storytelling model, newcomer Ciço would serve as a window character for the audience to acclimate to this hermetic carnivalesque universe, but Ciço is a complete dud. He lapses between affection for his wife and a childish lust-mistaken-for-love for Salomé, changing his mind from scene to scene to the point where he becomes a major irritation. The Gypsy Lord is the most charismatic member of the crew, but his pseudo-Satanic shtick loses its charm pretty quickly.
Nostalgia doesn't always translate well across cultures, and I suspect that I would be much more moved by the film if I was more familiar with the old Brazil that director Carlos Diegues and the Caravan crew are waving "Bye Bye" to. It's difficult to tell just how whether Diegues intends us to really miss the "old" way of life, or whether he is simply chronicling his country's changes with resigned wistfulness. The film does offer a more hopeful ending than one would expect. Ciço and Dasdo move to Brasilia, still hoping to find their private Eden. They don't find paradise, but they find a way to get by well enough, and when the refurbished Caravan rolls into town, we learn that the Gypsy Lord and Salomé have also made their peace with the new Brazil. If only there was a single character to really care about.
"Bye Bye Brazil" is a road movie that never quite gets rolling. It has its share of modest charms that, much like the moribund Caravan Rolidei, eventually grows on you, but the lack of interesting or complex characters proves its undoing.
This is one of the weaker transfers New Yorker has offered in some time. The image is muddy and downright blurry in many spots, and the entire film looks unusually dark. The latter might stem from the source material, but this is not a pleasant transfer to look at. The carnival should be a whole lot more colorful than this.
The film is presented in Dolby Digital Mono. Optional English subtitles support the Portuguese audio.
Only a trailer.
I'm usually a sucker for road movies, but "Bye Bye Brazil" never pulled me in, in large part because I didn't find any of the characters as charming as I think they're supposed to be. On a positive note, Diegues and cinematographer Lauro Escorel capture a wide swath of Brazil (reportedly about 9,000 miles worth) on camera, leaving behind documentary evidence of the state of Latin America's largest country in the late 70s. I suspect that viewers who don't share my aversion to anything that can be described as "Fellini-esque" will enjoy the film a great deal more than I did.