EIFF 2015 Review: Rio, I Love You

After the charm laden Paris, je t’aime and New York, I Love You, producer Emmanuel Benbihy sets his sights on Brazil’s Rio de Janiero for his latest anthology, Rio, I Love You. Like all anthologies, this latest one is a mixed bag with the shorts varying in quality and originality, but for the most part this is an affectionate, gently amusing, and visually sumptuous portrait of Brazil’s second largest city.

Rio, I Love You is comprised of ten main shorts crafted by a global selection of filmmakers and writers, each segment is linked with a wrap-a-round narrative which is explores the bustling vibrancy of Rio.

Opening with Andrucha Waddington’s amusing ‘Dona Fulana’ the light-hearted tone of the project is captured instantly in this tale of Mrs. Nobody (veteran actress Fernanda Montenegro), a woman who chooses to be homeless because she loves being out in the city so much. Waddington captures the beauty of the Rio streets but never really achieves the full charm it sets out to – purely because the concept is too silly. From this first segment it’s clear that this glowing vision of the city is produced by the Rio Tourist Board – so don’t expect anything remotely unflattering about this Brazilian locale.

‘La Fortuna’ follows from Youth and The Great Beauty’s Paolo Sorrentino. It’s a curious segment which sees a glamorous superbitch’s murder planned by her ageing husband. There is a fun central performance from Emily Mortimer and we get a looking at Rio’s stunning beaches, but there is something tonally off about it. Sorrentino plays it for laughs, but it’s more disturbing than amusing as a sinister geriatric (in the form of character actor Basil Hoffman) watches his wife drown. This could of have a Tales of the Unexpected/Roald Dahl like cheekiness but it all feels a little too malicious.

A more artistically ambitious segment follows from Fernando Meirelles (City of God, Blindness). Titled ‘A Musa’ it follows Vincent Cassel’s sand artist captivated by a gorgeous woman who passes by – however, this is a story told without dialogue and relies solely on expressive visuals and inspired musical creations. The artist watches the feet of those who pass, with each new pair producing an alternative musical sound. The combination of all these varieties of musical creates a vibrant symphony which helps Meirelles’ short standout as one of the film’s best.

Another personal favourite follows, this time drafting in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert filmmaker Stephan Elliot and True Blood hunk Ryan Kwanten for ‘Acho que Estou Apaixonado.’ This comical piece sees a Hollywood actor and his driver agree to climb Rio’s Sugarloaf Mountain where an amusing surprise waits at the top. There are some lush visuals on display, whilst Elliot captures some action-packed tension as the two men climb the peak, before unveiling a rather campy twist.

The latter half of Rio, I Love You experiences a significant dip in quality. John Tutturro stars in and directs ‘Quando não há Mais Amor’ featuring Vanessa Paradis, his co-star from Fading Gigolo. This sees two passionate lovers attempting to rekindle their love by speaking in overdone clichés, and being filmed alongside a woozy French musical ballad from Paradis. Screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga directs ‘Texas’ next, the closest that the anthology comes towards grit is this tale of a one-armed boxer attempting to fight bare knuckle to pay for his wife’s surgery. Jason Isaacs pops up for an Indecent Proposal style twist, but this one doesn’t really fit the established vibrant and whimsical tone of the film.

Rio, I Love You’s nadir follows in South Korean director Im Sang-soo’s ‘O Vampiro do Rio’, a tale of a leering old waiter with a penchant for blood. Brazil’s own Rodrigo Santoro pops up for Carlos Saldanha’s ‘Pas de Deux,’ a sweet tale of two ballet dancers pulled in separate directions. The penultimate segment ‘Inútil Paisagem‘ provides another glimpse at the beauty of Rio, this time comprised of aerial shot from Robocop filmmaker José Padilha. Things end on a relative high with Harvey Keitel lead segment ‘O Milagre’ directed by (and co-starring) Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki. This amusing short sees an American actor pose as Jesus over the phone to avoid disappointing a young boy whose prayers aren’t being answered.

Generally, Rio, I Love You is a charm-packed portrait of a gorgeous city and the varied characters that inhabit it. It’s a very flattering picture of Rio – so much so that it can occasionally feel over-corporate (perhaps that’s the large list of financial sponsors that the film unveils before starting), but the strong segments are good enough to transport us to the bustling beauty of Rio – it just would have been nice if there were more like Meirelles and Elliot’s.

Directors: Paolo Sorrentino, Im Sang-soo, Nadine Labaki, John Turturro, Carlos Saldanha, Stephan Elliott, Fernando Meirelles, Guillermo Arriaga, Jose Padilha, Andrucha Waddington, Vicente Amorim
Stars: Harvey Keitel, Ryan Kwanten, John Tuturro, Jason Isaacs, Rodrigo Santoro, Nadine Labaki, Vanessa Paradise, Emily Mortimer, etc.

Also featured on The People’s Movies.

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