Dir: Joao Botelho. Portugal, 2003. 90mins
This was not a very good year for Cannes openers. After the debacle of Fanfan La Tulipe in the Official Section, the Directors' Fortnight, evidently thinking a light intellectual entertainment with a political theme would be the best choice to launch the programme of the revamped event, made what is probably its most questionable choice in years. The political farce of the veteran Portuguese helmer Joao Botelho would have fared much better in a less visible spot, if only because much less would have been expected of it to deliver. A non-stop train of wisecracks delivered by a cast consisting exclusively of women, it is, if anything, a sort of satirical cabaret that overstays its welcome, despite what may seem a more than reasonable 90-minute running time. With the names of producer Paolo Branco and director Botelho attached to it, the picture will most likely have a modest festival career, but after that its prospects will be limited.
Botelho's account of one day in the life of a Lisbon woman who is convinced she is president of the US is supposed to pile up, one on top of the other, all his jaundiced observations on the Big Brother from across the ocean, whose oppressive impact is crushing European culture, trampling its traditions and threatening to install instead its ridiculous, hysterical, maniacal habits.
Short of quoting the entire dialogue from beginning to end, it would be impossible to mention all the topics, not always necessarily interconnected, that Botelho chooses to deal with. These range from the definition of public image to hopeless snobbish pretensions, the scandalous public vulgarity of American politics to all the embarrassing skeletons in the closet, and from capsules of wisdom like the secret of success being to 'feed, entertain or scandalise', the ultimate in satisfaction being to have a B52 bomb innocents who speak no English and the reason to learn Chinese is to tell them in their language to 'give it up, you yellow dogs'.
All these pearls are hurled at the audience as the 'president' meets her circle of supporters to plan her next PR offensive, is interviewed by a journalist, scolds her pot-smoking mother in the cellar where she is kept away from the public eye, or lectures a clutch of visiting kids, carefully picked to represent all the prevalent races of the nation, or in discussion with her harassed secretary, who lets her hair down once in a while and pours out her nightmares on a shrink's couch.
Presented in the loudest and most blatant fashion by a cast of actresses who have been encouraged to indulge in every exaggeration in the book - with costumes and decor to match - this has neither the gritty desperation of the German cabaret of the 1920s (Botelho mentions Brecht as an inspiration), nor is it witty enough to fly on its own wings.
Having only women on screen as a kind of premonitory notion announcing the changing of the guard may have seemed a good idea at the time, but Botelho fails to develop it into more than just another gimmick, which goes flat after a very short while.
Prod cos: Madragoa Filmes, RTP, Icam
Int'l sales: Gemini Films
Prod: Paolo Branco
Scr: Joao Botelho, Leonor Pinho
Cinematography: Ines Carvalho
Ed: Botelho, Pedro Marques, Waldir Xavier
Prod des: Catarina Amaro
Cost des: Silvia Grabowski
Sound: Philippe Morel
Main cast: Alexandra Lencastre, Rita Blanco, Laura Soveral, Helena Vieira, Suzana Borges, Paula Guedes, Sao Jose Correia, Patricia Guerriero, Conchinha Sachetti, Io Appolloni, Adelaide Joao