Talking about prodigy filmmakers, Xavier Dolan might feel threatened, at the age of 21, Brazilian director Bruno Barreto’s third feature DONA FLOR AND HER TWO HUSBANDS (adapted from Jorge Amado’s namesake novel), became the most successful film in Brazilian history, a record it would retain for about 35 years, and it launched its star Sonia Braga onto international stardom, who would reach the apogee in her iconic turn in KISS OF THE SPIDER MAN (1985) as the embodiment of the titular spider woman.
Death precipitately befalls during the exotic festivity of a cluster of people dancing and courting a mulatto in a Brazilian town, and the deceased is Vadinho (Wilker), a young man in his early thirties, and the causes of his death are multiple. He is survived by his wife Flora (Braga), and she starts to recollect their seven-year marriage and it turns out Vadinho is a complete good-for-nothing except his amorous sexual desire. He is a chronic gambler, an inherent womaniser, a boozer and whoremonger with a tendency for domestic violence. And Flora is a sultry beauty, but also a religious wife, she puts up with him in spite of all the suffering and abuse, since occasionally she can find the ephemeral satisfaction in their torrid love-making. But in the eyes of others, like Flora’s mother and her close friends, who keep grousing about why she is so submissive towards Vadinho’s tyranny, their marriage is a total mismatch judging by the face value.
When Vadinho is out of the picture, everyone is hoping for a new bright future for Flora, including herself, she is tormented by his sudden death, but is also looking forward to commencing a brand new chapter of her life. So she marries to a second husband, a middle-age pharmacist Teodoro (Mendonça), the exact opposite of Vadinho, a respectful man with a prospective future, but pedantic and boring, and worst of all, the sex is dreadful, comically marked out by Barreto in their wedding consummation with droll earnestness.
Commendably, the film focuseson a woman’s conundrum between two polarised types of men, edifies with the motto “happiness does not equal romance” and then establishes Flora as a token of woman’s sexual liberation by creating an imaginary ménage-a-trois situation with no rationale behind it. Barreto affirmatively betrayshis young age through mischievousness of twisting the irony of fate and whimsies in engineering its saucy sex scenes with inordinate indulgence. Especially Wilker is not such a hotrod gauging by today’s standard, watching him flaunt his flabby body in the buff and canoodle Braga again and again only solidifies one thing: she deserves someone much better, and the exploitation of her sex appeal outpaces the requirement for a committed performance, which she invests profoundly in the character development.
As far as the film is concerned, although sometimes verbosely executed, but who can resist its fetching charm of a strange land with all its whistles and bells function in full mode, plus a hindsight of Barreto’s young age can only attribute more to his precocious expertise, a creditable achievement indeed.