Savage Capitalism (1993): Brazilian Soap Opera, Starring Fernanda Torres

Capitalismo Salvagem

Toronto Festival of Festivals, Sept. 17, 1993–Inspired by Pedro Almodovar’s quirky, off-beat films, the originally titled Savage Capitalism is a Brazilian soap opera about a frenzied romance with political and environmental issues in the background.

Good acting by leading lady Fernanda Torres and some sporadic amusing moments should make pic part of Latin American film retrospectives (as it was shown in the Toronto Fest), but its humor isn’t riotous and boisterous enough to qualify for commercial release in the U.S. or offshore.

Elisa Medeiros (Fernanda Torres) is a young journalist engaged in an investigative report of a mining company, Jota Mining, run by Hugo Assis (Jose Mayer). In the midst of her research, however, Elisa suddenly realizes that the manager is actually a survivor of an Indian tribe, a perception that has implications for Hugo’s political identity–and her own feelings.

A wild liaison ensues, only to be interrupted when Hugo’s presumably “dead” wife comes back with greedy ambitions that involve extracting gold from the Indians’ land. This leads to Elisa’s growing consciousness as an environmentalist and protector of Indians’ rights. Soon, the coverage of the hot
issue by the media and national press turns it into a grand public scandal.

Helmer Andre Klotzel is successful in making Savage Capitalism the cinematic equivalent of a Brazilian TV soap opera, a most popular form of entertainment in Latin America, but he is less victorious in using this format as a political metaphor for modern-time Brazil–which is the ultimate goal of the picture.

As Elisa, Fernanda Torres, who made her mark in the international festival circuit in l986 with Love You, For Ever and Ever, has the genuine energy and temperament necessary for a comic melodrama. She is the kind of actress who isn’t conventionally beautiful, but exudes immense erotic appeal. Her wild sex scene with Jose Mayer in the woods is worthy of Pedro Almodovar.

In mode, the whole film aspires to be an Almodovar comedy-melodrama, though it lacks the latter’s skillfulness in rapid changes of gears and moods and making each one of them credible. The bold color scheme (handsomely designed by Roberto Mainiero and lensed by Pedro Farkas), also influenced by the look of Almodovar’s films, is most appropriate for the tale’s soap-operatic tone.