Quite a few filmmakers have attempted this kind of movie recently – the romantic comedy where a large group of disparate characters are thrown together by proximity and coincidence – but few are as successful as Bruno Baretto in Bossa Nova. A stunningly photographed Rio de Janeiro functions not merely as a picture-postcard backdrop. This impossibly romantic city serves as inspiration for the film’s love-deprived characters, who are about to regain their ability to swoon.
Mary Ann Simpson (Amy Irving, Baretto’s real-life wife) is an American widow living in Rio, who teaches English and enjoys the city’s natural beauty with a daily swim in azure ocean waters. She seems to understand the vibe of the place, epitomized by the gentle but seductive rhythms of the bossa nova, yet she maintains a careful distance from everyone, even friends like Nadine (Drica Moraes), who’s immersed in a steamy Internet romance.
Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes), a lawyer whose wife Tania (Debora Bloch) has recently left him, is unhappily overseeing the umpteenth divorce of his own roving father when he spies Mary Ann. Immediately entranced, he begins the pursuit by signing up for her class and – utilizing the skills acquired in a family of tailors – makes her a lovely blouse which fits to a T.
Their rather tender courtship quickly hits a number of speed bumps, as misunderstandings and crossed signals are perpetuated by those in their inner circle, including: Acacio (Alexandre Borges), a flamboyantly self-centered Brazilian soccer star; Pedro Paulo’s shy, lovestruck half-brother, Roberto (Pedro Cardoso); and Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), an immensely ambitious legal intern.
The script by Alexandre Machado and Fernanda Young (adapted from Sergio Sant’Anna’s short story, "Miss Simpson") gracefully shifts back and forth between English and Portuguese, and director Baretto (Four Days in September) seems to echo the language’s soft cadences in the pacing of the film, which is relaxed even during the most hectic screwball comedy moments.
This lovely film is about second chances and the rejuvenating powers of a new romance. Bossa Nova captures that first flush of feeling between strangers about to drastically alter each other’s lives, and those emotions are all the sweeter when they happen to people who didn’t expect they’d ever fall in love again.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.