Sunday, February 08, 2009

Blame it on Rio

Did you wake-up naked on the beach? Blame it on Rio. Were you seduced by beautiful people? Blame it on Rio. While on vacation with your best friend, did you sleep with his daughter? Blame it on Rio!!

Blame it on Rio posterBlame it on Rio (1984) begins with Matthew Hollins (Michael Caine) recounting to the camera the tale of his eventful vacation in Rio. His commentary is witty, perfectly timed, and begins with his best friend Victor (Joseph Bologna), who is in the middle of a ruthless divorce. Sensing the anxiety in his friend, Matthew invites him and his daughter, Jennifer (Michelle Johnson), on the Hollins family trip. But to everyone's surprise, Matthew's wife, Karen (Valerie Harper), has already secretly booked a trip of her own to Bahia, Mexico, because she is dissatisfied with their own marriage and needs time to think. So Matthew, his daughter, Nikki (a young Demi Moore), Victor, and Jennifer decide to make the best of it and set out for a rented villa in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, taking on board the catchphrase: "Just one day in Rio and you'll forget all about it."

Just the thought of Rio appears to be a salvation for the men: white beaches, Afro-Brazilian beats, beautiful women, and bare skin everywhere! The two daughters dive right in to Brazilian culture and even go topless on the beach in front of their stunned fathers! Jennifer confides matter-of-factly to Nikki that she's always had a crush on Matthew, and the next night when Matthew shows up to a Brazilian wedding reception that the daughters have crashed, Jennifer seduces him in the seclusion of the beach and they end up sleeping together, with Jennifer removing her retainer and Matthew removing his thick glasses beforehand, an act that drives home their age difference even more! Afterward, Matthew unsuccessfully tries to convince her that it was all a dream while Jennifer declares that she loves him. What comes next is a secret affair between the two of them as Matthew attempts (again unsuccessfully) to evade Jennifer's advances, all the while trying to hide the affair from Victor, who, fortunately is caught up in his nightly womanizing. As Matthew continues to shirk her, Jennifer becomes frustrated and goes to her father to divulge that she is not a virgin. Victor becomes furious, but, much to Matthew's relief as he attempts to flee the house for Sao Paolo in lieu of her father's rage, Jennifer does not say who her secret lover is. Much to Matthew's astonishment, Victor actually enlists him to help find the older man who did this to his daughter!

As Jennifer is ineffectively persuaded to date younger men, and Victor goes around punching every suspicious male he sees, Matthew finds that he has actually fallen for the young Jennifer. He finally lays out his guilty conscience to Victor who, surprisingly, barely reacts at all. We discover the reason behind Victor's actions when Karen arrives at the villa after a frantic call from Nikki and it is realized that Karen and Victor had been having an affair all along. During this intense scene of confessions spilling out and blame being laid, Jennifer quietly overdoses on her birth control pills. The emergency soothes the situation and Jennifer recovers quickly and just happens to meet a handsome, young Brazilian at the hospital. Karen realizes that Victor is a playboy and asks Matthew to come back to Bahia with her, to which he agrees after seeing that Jennifer is well-invested in younger men now. The parents leave the daughters at the villa for the final week as the Hollins head to Mexico and Victor to Sao Paolo. The film ends with Michael once again giving his commentary to the camera of all things now past: he and Karen are still together (although they still aren't happy), and Victor ended up marrying his ex-wife once again. We are left with Michael reluctantly giving up his Rio fantasy as he says, "You only live once, but it does help if you get to be young twice."

So why choose Rio de Janeiro for a film that capitalizes on promiscuity and moral ambiguity? Known for its famous Carnival, Rio can be presented as a city of endless parties (where else could you have the scene with Jennifer and Nikki running topless and carefree along the beach?), as opposed to Sao Paolo which is described in the film as the "New York of Brazil," where work takes precedence over fun. But although Rio is shown as the skin-baring, seduction-filled hub of the coast, it also evidences strong cultural ties. While some of these ties are a bit clichéd, with witch doctors concocting love potions and the villa being filled with plants and animals of every species, other were more discreet, such as a street scene highlighting the Brazilian form of the martial arts dance capoeira, or the many Afro-Brazilian drum beats that permeate the film.

Three Latin American cities figure in the film: Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, and Bahia, Mexico. Karen jets off to Bahia to "find herself" and is observed in a luxurious resort in front of a sparkling blue swimming pool. In contrast, the fathers and daughters stay in a villa in Rio (albeit probably no less expensive than the Mexican resort) which draws attention to the natural beauty and variety of species found in Brazil. Sao Paolo, by contrast, is portrayed as a city of business to which characters flee from situations in Rio that prove to be too problematic. It's interesting that Mexico, being completely removed from the Brazilian setting, comes to be a refuge for a secretly unfaithful wife, Rio becomes a location for the fathers to be adulterous, and Sao Paolo transforms, if needed, into a shelter to house the accused (Matthew and Victor). This issue of Latin America as a refuge for infidelity becomes blatantly obvious as the characters impulsively release their passions and then, in the end, find their sins to be absolved through the simple act of blaming them on Rio.

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