Lady on the Bus (Neville D'Almeida / Brazil, 1978):
(A Dama do Lotação)

Nelson Rodrigues's savage shaggy-dog joke only needs to be filmed verbatim to scalp Brazil's middle-class order, Neville D'Almeida still adds his own subversive trump card by casting Sonia Braga in her sex-bomb pinnacle as a neurotic icebox. The ripe superstar is introduced in white, surrounded by children; it's her wedding, she's been engaged since childhood to her beau (Nuno Leal Maia), who impatiently endures counsel from his soused father (Jorge Dória). The union is celebrated with fireworks, the honeymoon is interrupted by an abrupt chill, the wife recoiling from the husband's touch: Braga asks for more time, but Maia feels patriarchy watching him and forces himself on her in the most harrowing scene of this supposedly flippant, softcore romp. Her aloofness is branded "frigidity," which Dória assures his son is fine since sex and matrimony are separate things anyway, using his own sanctified late wife as an example; it turns out she was not cold but a lesbian, however, and her old girlfriend suggests Braga try things out with "another man... or men." Facile analysis is skewered with a dolly from scowling old Freud to the heroine on the divan -- the problem lies less in knotted psyches than in retrograde gender roles, Braga's blooming sexuality dismantles the culture's saint/whore dichotomy, the turning point finds her ditching her pale undies for black ones in the forest. Her spread-legged gait at the bus stop has the driver sending the passengers packing, from there D'Almeida blows the lid off with a parade of raucous carnal jests, from the sacrilegious quickie in the cemetery ("I love to read gravestones... I often look for mine," the aroused Braga tells a middle-aged commuter before getting down behind a funeral procession) to the euphoric degradation in the motel, with Dória ridden like a bronco on a rotating bed. A dissonant, evocatively salacious film, which manages to anticipate Breaking the Waves one way or another while modulating towards erotic reveries caught in overhead tracking shots, Maia's hilariously literal paralysis of moral mortification, and Braga's essaying of freedom in her own randy terms. With Paulo César Peréio, Yara Amaral, and Roberto Bonfim.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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