Back in 2002, gritty Brazilian gangster-drama City of God put its nation on the cinematic map. Hailing not from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood backlot, but the colourfully violent favelas of Rio de janeiro, City of God was Brazil’s first global hit, receiving four Academy Award nominations amongst countless critical accolades. 15 years on, a Brazilian feature with the potential to garner even a hint of the international acclaim received by Fernando Meirelles’ instant classic seems long overdue.
Enter Bingo: The King of the Mornings, the story of a wildly successful TV clown loosely based on the life of Brazilian Bozo the Clown actor, Arlindo Barreto, and Brazil’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the upcoming 90th Academy Awards. An exploration of life as an anonymous celebrity, Bingo stars Vladimir Brichta as Augusto Mendes, a soft porn actor who goes on to excel behind the mask of Bingo, and is helmed by City of God’s Academy Award-nominated editor Daniel Rezende, in what is his directorial debut.
The concept and themes are certainly intriguing. As a clown, Augusto is given the success and adoration he craves, but at a cost; his contract forbids him from revealing Bingo’s true identity, leaving him frustrated at his lack of personal fame, and unable to avoid a breakdown in his relationship with his son, Gabriel (Cauã Martins).
Where the picture soon stutters, however, is the disjointed nature of its execution. Rezende attempts an in-depth character study, but ends up building it on the traditionally shallow, life in the fast lane, cocaine-fuelled beats synonymous with seemingly every cinematic rise and fall of the 1980s. In tandem is his over the top willingness to demonstrate his prowess behind the camera; a move that unfortunately ends up detracting from the overall experience, with a number of no doubt creative and technically impressive individual shots actually overshadowing the emotional tone of certain key scenes.
The core character study of Augusto also inevitably falls short. The slick, fast-paced nature of Bingo is ultimately entertaining, but tends to fare better in larger ensemble format (Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, The Wolf of Wall Street and, yes, City of God) rather than as a tool for deep personal and thematic examination. Another standout issue is that, while Brichta puts in a solid turn as Augusto, the character is simply not all that likeable. Right from the word go he is depicted as little more than a cocksure, desperate chancer, with little in the way of empathy-inspiring vulnerability or appealing anti-hero tendencies. Ironically, the all-too fleeting presence of Bingo himself becomes far more interesting than the man behind the makeup.
Though it lacks sufficient character development and is not the rounded, in-depth picture it set out to be, Bingo is well-paced, looks good, and is backed by the sort of foot-tapping eighties soundtrack that matches its overriding, quick-fire rise and fall qualities. Clearly capable of taking Brazilian cinema to the next level, here’s hoping everything clicks for Rezende next time around.