"Benjamim" is director Monique Gardenberg's second feature, following her interesting though not quite fully accomplished "Jenipapo" (1995). Based on a novel by the immensely talented Brazilian songwriter Chico Buarque (who is also a playwright/singer/writer), it tells the story of a man in his sixties, Benjamim (played by veteran actor Paulo José), who meets by chance young Ariela Masé (newcomer Cleo Pires). He is taken aback by her striking resemblance to his long-ago lover Castana Beatriz (also Pires) and flashbacks slowly unfold the truth of what happened in the past, with political innuendos.
"Benjamin" has professional qualities, an experienced crew working behind the camera, and a warm performance by one of Brazil's all-time great film actors (Paulo José). But there are major problems: a) we outguess the plot far in advance; b) there are totally expendable sequences, some of them because they're useless to plot development (e.g. Zeca Pagodinho's musical numbers, thrown in for commercial reasons) and some because they're really bad (the rape scene in the empty apartment, for example) c) although most sequences in "the present time" are OK in mood, the flashbacks simply don't work - they look terribly phony and poised; d) the casting criteria - although Benjamim is played by young Danton Mello in the flashbacks and by 68-year-old Paulo José in the present time, Rodolfo Bottino plays his character in BOTH past and present -- that's a stretch!!; e) Cleo Pires (daughter of TV and film star Glória Pires) fails completely in what was meant to be a star-making performance -- sorry, but she hasn't got (at least not yet) the talent, voice or screen presence to draw our attention to Ariela OR Castana, she is painfully inexperienced and is probably the main responsible for our detachment from the story and ultimately from the film.
In the end, I felt kind of sad, because it's a film I'd have liked to enjoy, if only for the talents involved - but it just doesn't deliver. My vote: 4 out of 10.
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