Wednesday, April 21, 2010

REVIEW: The Man of the Year

The Man of the Year
Director: Jose Henrique Fonseca
Year 2003

The Man of the Year is an excellent Brazilian film that exudes an undeniable and excruciatingly original tale about an ordinary man accidentally thrust into the spotlight and made a local hero among his people. The film stars a young man living in Rio named Maiquel, played by the charismatic Murilo Benicio, who has recently lost a bet and must dye his hair blonde. This seemingly harmless change brings about a cataclysmic shift that propels his life into unparalleled territories of unprecedented fame.

Maiquel before gaining his blonde locks.

This seemingly inconsequential event, provides Maiquel with the confidence to ask out a hairdresser by the name of Cledir, played by a beautiful Claudia Abreu, a woman that he has been pining over for the last year. In a self reflecting monologue, Maiquel describes the feeling of looking in the mirror and seeing a different person, one that he doesn't recognize. He feels that he is finally free from the person that he used to be.  This newfound personality thrusts him into action when asking the hairdresser out and it will further propel him in many other situations throughout the film. This domino effect drives the narrative forward and into some precarious and entertaining positions.

Checking out the new doo in the rearview. Slick man, real slick.

As the two go on their date that night, another random act occurs courtesy of his newfound hair color. A young local thug decides to tease Maiquel on his new stylistic change, sending Maiquel into a heated mindset that can only be quenched by killing this same thug later that night. After committing this act of murder he begins to receive gifts and condolences of admiration from the local community. Even the police congratulate him on a job well done, for cleaning up the streets and ridding the neighborhood of a prominent and proper scumbag, leaving Maiquel to ponder over his newly acquired fame.

No one makes fun of his hair... no one!

I really love how this one single change can bring about such an abundant change in Maiquel's life and personality. He would never have taken action before dyeing his hair in either asking Cledir out or killing the undesirable thug, yet this notion that he has been changed both outwardly as well as in his inner spirit is an interesting notion and one that really makes you think about what you would do, given this new look on life. Another interesting thing is how all of these consequences for his actions begin cropping up as the movie moves along. His life changes so rapidly and sometimes into the direction that he wasn't intending or ever really wanted. Murilo does an excellent job of portraying this reluctant hero in all of his confidently driven actions and through his contemplative doubt. Maiquel is a complicated character and Murilo tackles him with great skill and finesse.

So let me get this straight, you kill a guy and
you get tons of presents. Where do I sign up.

The look and feel of Rio is natural and ingrained in color from its blue skied days to its neon filled nights, there is never a dull composition to be had. The director knows what he's going for and presents it in such a lovely way. I was surprised at how vibrant this film looked and wasn't expecting such a visual treat when first suggested this film and it really is a treat. The sleek look of the nightlife in Rio is so enthralling and the colors that can be seen from Maiquel's apartment is like a viewfinder from a kaleidoscope, with the colors just bouncing off each other in pleasing rays. The Man of the Year is simply a beautiful film that really must be seen for its colorful flavor and appetite for striking visuals. 

The nightlife in Rio is bathed in color.

There's also some unneeded attention that Maiquel gets from killing that thug. He is greeted one day at his doorstep by a fifteen year old girl named Erica, played by an outstanding Natalia Lage, that says that the thug that Maiquel had killed was taking care of her so now he will have to take care of her. Without thinking straight, Maiquel takes her under his wing and lets her stay in his apartment. This later brings more consequences when Cledir and Maiquel become pregnant and marry. The tension begins to mount between the two women as each tries to vie for the attention of Maiquel.

She's just fifteen years old, leave her alone, they say.

I've been noticing with the more Brazilian movies that I view, that there's a sort of vibrant lifestyle that energizes itself onto the screen in Brazilian cinema and begins to take a life of its own from the celluloid frame. Every film I've witnessed has had this unmistakable energy and magic to it, I really can't explain it. From Black Orpheus, to Orfeu, and to City of God, they all have this humanly radiant style to their story and visuals that are just so appealing on film and shine when presented in this format. The Man of the Year is a perfect example of this unexplainable flare that Brazilian cinema has brought into the world and I'll definitely be searching for more films that have this same lust for life that the already mentioned films have in abundance.

The shot of Maiquel's apartment balcony is breathtaking.

As Maiquel falls deeper into his alter persona, we notice that he starts to revel in his reckless abandon of being a sort of lone ranger of the neighborhood. He sets out to put an end to the corruption and is commissioned by a few wealthy recipients in helping organize a clean sweep of the criminal organizations. You can tell that Maiquel loves being a somebody and having a purpose and even when he starts falling into some corrupt situations himself, you feel for him because you know that he's becoming lost in the persona and encumbered by this new lifestyle which bombards him from every angle and threatens to consume him.

Maiquel's got a gun.

His life gets even more complicated when his new wife Cledir, cooks his pet pig for his birthday dinner party. You can tell that this is the point where the already reluctant Maiquel has finally had enough with marriage life and how his persona has led him to this point. He begins to break as an individual and starts to rely on his alternate persona to get him out of this situation. The story unfolds nicely to set up this demise of the pig, which was a gift from the neighborhood for his first murder of the young thug in the beginning of the film. His apprehensiveness to keep the pig, later grew into a love of the strange animal, and eventual acceptance of the creature as part of the family. The cooking of this family member by Cledir will not go without consequences, and you can really see the pain and the lost expression in Maiquel's eyes as he stares at his friend on the dinner table. It's kind of heartbreaking and a nice side of Maiquel that we hadn't gotten to see yet in this film.

Maiquel's birthday was shit. He lost his best
friend and didn't even get a Nintendo 64.

The devastating event of having his best friend cooked alive, really pushes Maiquel into another world, filled with adultery, deception, and finally murder. He finds comfort in Erica and consoles in her over the loss of his pig. They eventually fall into a relationship of their own and plot the demise of Cledir. Though when the murder actually happens it is more a spring of the moment type act, perpetrated by Maiquel as tempers flare between him and Cledir over the discovery of his affair with Erica. The sorted love triangle ends in a confusing mess and a sloppy murder that begs the question, can this local hero get away with the murder of his own wife. These situations seem deemed for an afternoon soap opera, but the direction and style that is infused into this film by the director, lifts it up from those drab surroundings and gives it a fresh edge and new voice that leaves those typical stories in the dust.

Maiquel finds himself in a strange situation.

As Maiquel tries to hide the evidence of his wife's murder and both juggle the demands of being a local hero, we feel the great weight that rides on his shoulders. He came into this situation just wanting to do what was right and make a change, but is now recanting on those decisions and is just wishing for a normal life, like the one he had before all of this happened. It's hard to not feel sorry for Maiquel's misfortunes, because we were there with him at the beginning and it's a testament to what the director has accomplished in this character. He was able to present a murderer as a sympathetic every man that just got way over his head and couldn't handle the new found fame that was thrust upon him. He isn't necessarily a bad person, but he is constantly doing bad things. Now in any other story like this one we would dub Maiquel's character as an anti-hero, but because he has such charisma and is intentionally just trying to do the right thing, he becomes something much more complex and far more interesting then a simple anti-hero.

You didn't think you'd get through The Man of the Year
without seeing a Man of the Year ceremony did you?

There is a turning point for Maiquel's character in which he realizes that he has gone astray and that certain people have been manipulating his impressionable persona and fame. He decides to right all of these wrongs by extinguishing these last few strands of his alter ego life, and then falling back into his original life, the one that he so longed to return too.  It's at this point that we see that Maiquel's character has made a complete circle back to who he originally was, yet he is still different in the fact that he made it through all of those experiences and learned a good deal about who he is and how the world reacts to you when you seem to have it all. This learning experience shines through Murilo Benicio's performance and you can see that he is a changed man by the way he carries himself in these closing moments. It's a credit to his craft and a great display of what he can accomplish by showing the wears and tears of his characters personality. Even though Maiquel is back to being the person he originally was, he has grown and changed and Murilo presents this metamorphosis with great class and skill.

Maiquel, righting all the wrong that he has committed.

To visually bring the change home to the viewer, Maiquel's character goes back to his original hair color, leaving the untamed blonde hair in the past and moving forward to his new future. With both Murilo's acting and the physical transformation of his hair color, we are given a poignant end to a film that tackled many issues and emotions with a vibrant sense of awe and skillful story telling.

Maiquel, feeling like his old self, yet strangely different.

The Man of the Year is a wonderful and visually pleasing journey through the life of one man as his life is turned upside down from one simple decision that ultimately changes his life forever. The ideas and themes presented in this film are all expertly executed by the director, and nothing is spared as he weaves this tale of a hero that makes all of the wrong moves while lamenting on all the decisions he has made in his alternate life. The concept of power and how it corrupts and how absolute power corrupts absolutely is displayed beautifully across this piece. The sudden fame that our character is given leads him down a path of destruction effecting everyone in his life. It is a lesson that is laid out with extreme care and given to us in a most vibrant package. I highly recommend this film for anyone who's interested in seeing one of the most outstanding films to come out of Brazil and for people who love their films to have a certain visual impact that drives the narrative along at an unrelenting pace.

4 out of 5 stars     A Powerful Brazilian Film With Matching Visuals.

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