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Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

(Brazilian • 1978 • 105 minutes • color • 35mm)
(In Portuguese with English subtitles)
Based on the novel by Jorge Amado

Directed by Bruno Barreto

Sonia Braga . . . . . . . . . . Dona Flor
Jose Wilker . . . . . . . . . . Vadinho
Mauro Mendonca . . . . . . . . . .Teodoro
Dinorah Brillanti . . . . . . . . . . Rozilda

The following film notes were prepared for the New York State Writers Institute by Kevin Jack Hagopian, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Pennsylvania State University:

This Brazilian comedy, based on the novel by leading Brazilian author Jorge Amado, follows the strange events that befall Dona Flor after the death of her wild, irresponsible husband. Attempting to marry more wisely the second time around, she weds a stable but boring pharmacist, only to be visited by the sexy ghost of her late husband. The movie, which was nominated for for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film, was the most successful Brazilian film of all time and an arthouse hit in the United States. "Almost 20 years ago, Bruno Barreto emerged from Brazil as the most precocious young stylist on the international filmmaking scene. He shot his third feature-- the exuberant, erotic comedy Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands-- when he was all of 20. The movie took Brazil by storm, grossing about $8 million on a production budget of $600, 000. It made leading lady Sonia Braga an exotic sex star for the better part of a decade. And its influence, particularly in interweaving culinary and carnal motifs, was evident in later imports such as Tampopo from Japan and Like Water for Chocolate from Mexico."

— Gary Arnold, News World Communications, Inc.

The Novel:
"Dona Flor is, after Gabriela, cravo e canela (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) probably the best known of Amado's novels, some of its popularity having come from the success of the film version. It tells the story of one Floripedes Paiva, a young, lower middle-class cooking teacher in Salvador, Bahia, whose marriage to a promiscuous, ne'er-do-well gambler, Vadinho Guimaraes, is suddenly terminated by his premature death. Despite his disgraceful habits and constant exploitation of her, Flor is devastated, for the rogue was also her greatest source of pleasure and spiritual fulfillment with his zest for life and his taste for fine foods and uninhibited lovemaking. Though modest and shy by nature, she had defied both family and friends to marry him and, with his death, she feels that her life has ended. "Within a short time, however, Flor finds herself emotionally and sexually vulnerable. Determined never to remarry, she tries to repress her sexual desires, which she considers unbecoming in a loyal, grieving widow. 'Only a shameless woman, without love for her husband, could still think of such disgusting things-- how disgraceful!' she reasons with traditional self-abasement. Yet her erotic fantasies persist. The more she tries to dispel them, the stronger her neurosis becomes. She begins to perceive 'disgusting' sexual interpretations in everything that she sees and reads. In her sleep, she is tormented by ever more vivid erotic dreams. Thus, although outwardly she appears to be content with her life of celibacy-- to be the 'perfect widow,' so to speak-- inwardly she is full of pent-up sexual frustration. . . .

"Some have seen in Vadinho a veiled characterization of Getulio Vargas, whose dictatorial government ruled Brazil in the 1930s and early 1940s. Others have felt the work to be an allegory of the clash between the leftist populism of the 1950s and the early 1960s and the positivist military and technocratic currents that came to oppose it. The very chronology of the novel's publication has always raised certain suspicions as to what may have been Amado's underlying purpose in writing it. It seems strange that a traditionally engagé leftist author, so recently divorced from prescriptive Marxist aesthetics, should write and publish such an apparently frivolous work of fiction just two years after the imposition of a brutal military dictatorship. But Dona Flor's superficial frivolity may belie the author's serious, underlying intent.

"Much of the satirical humor of Dona Flor involves the novelist's skillful blending of spicy Afro-Bahian folk recipes and menus into the surface structure of the narrative. Such interpolations are meant to recall, accentuate, and complement the work's immoderate measures of sex and sensuality. Ultimately, they also seek to invalidate middle-class inhibitions and to enhance the reader's gusto for the free, hedonistic lifestyle that the author associates with the Bahian poor."

— Bobby J. Chamberlain, Jorge Amado

The Film:
"Modern Brazilian cinema can be dated from the Cinema Novo movement that burst upon that country's film industry in the early 1960s. Cinema Novo was a populist movement, emphasizing subjects and themes uniquely Brazilian, rather than those derived from European or North American cinema. The movement was stopped abruptly, however, in 1964 by the first of a series of right-wing coups which led to heavy censorship of the political contents of films, and ultimately to the voluntary exile of some of Brazil's best young filmmakers. "The political climate eased somewhat by the early 1970s; though political criticism was still off limits, other forms of censorship were relaxed. The result was a sudden vogue for lightweight sex farces. The best of these erotic comedies is Bruno Barreto's adaptation of Jorge Amado's novel, Dona Flor e seus dois maridos (1966).... "Jorge Amado has the greatest critical reputation of any Brazilian novelist; in bringing his lengthy novel to the screen, Barreto's script closely followed Amado's plot. Some condensation was obviously necessary to produce a film of manageable length, but the scenes Barreto chose to include captured the spirit of the book nicely. A substantial portion of the plot exposition occurs in an extended flashback, and although the flashback is a popular narrative technique among Brazilian filmmakers, in this film it mirrors that of the novel on which it is based.

"The part of Dona Flor placed [few] demands on Sonia Braga. The chief requirement of the role was an ability to convey sexual passion while wearing little or nothing at all. Braga, a prominent Brazilian model, was obviously up to the task. The film enhanced her popularity significantly, and she has become something of a Brazilian Brigitte Bardot, appearing in various states of undress in several subsequent films.

"Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands was a huge success in Brazil, outgrossing even such competition as Jaws (1975) and other North American films of the day, and it has proved popular with American audiences as well. Although its critical reception in the United States was mixed-- the film is clearly open to charges of sexism; beyond that, some critics argued that Barreto spent too much time setting up the final menage a trois, and too little time exploiting its comic possibilities-- Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands is best understood in its Brazilian context. The film is, at bottom, a celebration of the relaxation of government censorship. If Barreto occasionally emphasizes the erotic at the expense of the comic, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands still remains the most polished of the Brazilian boudoir comedies of its era. The breakthrough of that comedy heralded the resurrection of Brazilian cinema and paved the way for the international success of Brazilian films such as Xica da Silva (1976), Bye Bye Brazil (1980) and Pixote (1980)."

— Magill's Survey of Cinema

— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University

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