Dir Aluizio Abranches. It-Brazil. 2002. 103mins.
Part Brazilian Western, part Jacobean tragedy in Tarantino sauce, Aluizio Abranches’ The Three Marias is a stylish follow up to the London-trained director’s 1999 debut, the festival-pleasing A Glass Of Rage (Un Copo De Colera). This was a surprise indie hit in Italy - which explains why Italian producers Vieri Razzini and Cesare Petrillo have stepped in to finance Abranches’ second. A tale of three sultry avenging angels, The Three Marias strives a little too hard for the quirkiness of the cult movie. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be a cult movie. With its moody soundtrack, strong colour palette and high camp aesthetic, this revenger’s tragedy will appeal to sophisticated filmgoers in the 20 to 30 age range, weaned on film-club Spaghetti Westerns. It should have no problems securing distribution deals outside its guaranteed home territories of Italy and Brazil.
Wealthy landowner and recent widower Firmino Santos Guerra (Carlos Verza) meets up with his old flame Filomena (Marieta Severo) on a windswept crag. He tries to persuade her to give him another shot at the cherry after so many years; but she indignantly refuses. So Guerra does what any reasonable, red-blooded male would do: he sends his two rascally boys out to murder Filomena’s husband and sons in a way that allows audiences to brush up on the anatomy of the human digestive system.
In her blue-stained villa, surrounded by fields of cactus, the anguished matriarch summons her three daughters and tells them - in declamatory tones that hover just on this side of the absurd - that they must revenge the deed. So the three Marias (Maria Francisca, Maria Rosa and Maria Pia), set off in three cars along three different roads to find three killers (their routes are plotted on animated maps - a stylish adaptation of this Western trope). One is a man obsessed by snakes, who hasn’t spoken to a woman since his mother died; the second a knife-wielding policeman with rabies. The third - perhaps the film’s most delicious creation - is a psychopathic jailbird with a scar down the middle of his face and a rather fey lisp.
It’s not easy to steer a straight line between high Catholic melodrama and high camp, but Abranches manages it with only the occasional lapse into hokum. He is helped along the way by the hyper-real, starkly lit sets, which take the Brazil of magic realist cliche and give it a modern twist.
The three female leads exude just the right amount of sex and tragic nobility - especially Julia Lemmertz as Maria Fraancisca, who strikes a good balance between solemnity and satire. But wrapping the spoof was always going to be a problem, and Abranches makes the mistake of demanding an emotional commitment at the end that audiences will be too amused to deliver. This is a minor hiccup, however, in a good-looking and atmospheric slice of Latin American cinema.
Prod cos: Lama Filmes, Teodora Film
Prods: Albranches, Eva Mariani
Ass prods: Vieri Razzini, Cesare Petrillo
Int’l sales: Wild Bunch
Scr: Heitor Dhalia, Wilson Freire
Cinematography: Marcelo Durst
Prod des: Bruno Schmidt
Ed: Abranches, Karen Harley
Music: Andre Abujamra
Main cast: Marieta Severo, Julia Lemmertz, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Luiza Mariani, Enrique Diaz, Tuco Andrade, Wagner Moura