Academic journal article Framework

A Carioca Belle De Jour: A Dama Do Lotação and Brazilian Sexuality

Academic journal article Framework

A Carioca Belle De Jour: A Dama Do Lotação and Brazilian Sexuality

Article excerpt

Introduction

A dama do lotaçao/Lady on the Bus (Neville D'Almeida, Brazil) was released in 1978. It was adapted from a crônica, published around 20 years earlier by playwright and journalist Nelson Rodrigues, who died in 1980. Rodrigues, as well as being a very successful newspaper columnist in Rio de Janeiro, and an excellent sports writer, was considered by many to have invented modern Brazilian theatre, with the staging in 1943 of the play Vestido de noiva/The Wedding Dress. His work has also had considerable repercussion in Brazilian cinema. A total of 19 feature films have been adapted from his work in Brazil, making him the most adapted Brazilian writer of all time, beating even the prolific and popular Jorge Amado.

While the critics might have rallied round in praise of Arnaldo Jabor's adaptation of Toda nudez será castigada/All Nudity Shall Be Punished2 (Brazil, 1972), cinema audiences clearly preferred A dama do lotaçao, making it the second most successful Brazilian film of all time, losing out only to Bruno Barreto's hugely popular Dona Flor e sens dois mandos/Dona Flor and her Two Husbands (Brazil, 1976). It could be argued, in fact, that it was partly thanks to the success of Dona Flor that A dama do lotaçao made so much at the boxoffice. Both films were sleek and expensive productions for their day, both were what can be loosely termed erotic movies, and more importantly, both starred Sonia Braga, who was arguably Brazil's biggest and sexiest film and television star. In the film she plays Solange, a sexually frustrated and recently married upper-middle-class woman, incapable of making love to her husband, who finds solace on Rio's busy buses, picking up strangers, like a carioca Belle de jour. On discovering his wife's philandering, the husband Carlos retreats to his bed and remains there, in a kind of living death, while his wife both dutifully assumes the role of nurse by night, and continues her sexual sojourns by day. (A naked nymphomaniac Sônia Braga having sex in the open air with complete strangers, not feeling guilty about it and not punished for it at the end-it is perhaps on one level easy to see why it appealed to so many male and female cinema-goers at the time). Because there is an undeniable element of titillation in the film, and because it was released at a time when the only successful national films were government-sponsored lightweight porn films, A dama do lotaçao was condemned by serious critics on its release, and scant attention has been paid to it since.

Socio-Political and Cinematic Context

By 1978 Brazil had begun the officially sanctioned but very gradual move towards a return to democracy, commonly referred to as abertura. Censorship laws were loosened, a political amnesty was declared, and the more unpleasant features of dictatorship, in place since 1968 and the so-called 'coup within the coup', were removed. In the interim years of severe political censorship, home-grown erotic comedies, or pomorhanchadas, had become the most popular national cinematic form. To simplify, the reasons for this were three-fold: the inevitable censorship of more politically motivated films, the fact that foreign porn was banned, and more significantly, compulsory screen quotas resulted in exhibition groups producing their own films, the result of which were cheap, mass-produced soft-core porn films, many of which were partly financed by Embrafilme, the state film production and distribution agency.

It was, perhaps, almost inevitable that the themes of sexual and moral deviation of writer Nelson Rodrigues would be picked up on by the cinema at that time, and what had often been implicit in his work would be made explicit in the new-found freedom (of sorts) of Brazilian films. By the late 1970s Rodrigues's work had ceased to be as shocking as it had been when his plays and writing first hit an unsuspecting public. Even the Left had ceased to look upon him with total horror, since his public criticism in the early seventies of the worst abuses of the dictatorship, and his frequentlyvoiced objections to censorship. …

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