Friday, March 06, 2009

The Forbidden Dance is Lambada

The Forbidden Dance is Lambada posterIt appears as though the film-makers were confused when naming the The Forbidden Dance is Lambada (1990), as the movie should have been titled simply “So Bad, It Should Be Forbidden”, due to the appalling acting and B-movie storyline. The plot begins deep in the Amazon jungles of Brazil at the village of a small indigenous tribe where the Chief’s daughter Nisa (Laura Herring) is participating in an erotic ritualized dance with the rest of the village which captures the catch-phrase of the film: “If it were any hotter, it wouldn’t be dancing!” Suddenly, the festivities are cut short as a jeep roars into the clearing. A white man introduces himself as Benjamin Maxwell, representative of the Petramco Corporation which now apparently owns the land on which the tribe lives and has invested in burning through the Amazon for resources. The Chief spits on Benjamin, but conflict is prevented when Nisa yells, “Stop!” and tries to reason with the men that this is the tribe’s home. Benjamin is impressed with her English, but refuses to back down, while the jeeps continue to drive through several of the near-by huts, literally destroying the indigenous culture. After a small discussion, the Chief allows Nisa to go to America to facilitate an agreement with Petramco, under the protection and guidance of Joa (Sid Haig), the tribal shaman. The two bring their hope and foreign customs to Los Angeles and Joa is immediately arrested after an impressive pyrotechnics show in the Petramco lobby. Nisa escapes and is rescued in a park by a Mexican maid named Carmen (Ángela Moya) who immediately gets the penniless Nisa a job. Nisa’s employer is a stuck-up, racist snob who descibes her last maid as a “Mexican girl, thick as a brick”. As Nisa gets ready for bed that night, she sensually dances around in her nighty, using the dresser and lace curtains in her room as props, and is spotted by her employer’s son, Jason (Jeff James), who immediately invites her out to the club with him, as his girlfriend couldn’t make it.

At the club, Nisa feels uncomfortable with the foreign eighties, synthesized music, and not to mention the fact that Jason lies to his friends about her being a maid, when the DJ unexpectedly begins playing a Brazilian-esque beat. The dance floor immediately clears, but Nisa pleads with Jason to stay and dance with her as she shows him the sexy moves and gyrating hips of the Lambada. The dance is a hit as everyone joins in, much to the disappointment of Jason’s recently arrived girlfriend, Ashley (Barbra Brighton) who ‘accidentally’ rips the sleeve of Nisa’s dress, which Jason had borrowed from his mother. Upon arriving home, Nisa is immediately fired (much to Jason’s dismay), not only for the dress, but also for fraternizing with Jason. Nisa seeks refuge as a female dancer in the stripper joint The Exotica, where she naively believes she can dance for money, without men touching her. Ashley haughtily informs Jason of Nisa’s whereabouts after his friends mistreat her on The Exotica’s dance floor and he immediately goes to her rescue. At first Nisa is hardened to his assistance, but then begins to tell him the story of her tribe and their fight against Petramco. As Jason attempts to escort her away from The Exotica, the bodyguard jumps him. The fight does not go well for Jason until he is saved by Joa, who had stealthily escaped from police by using his skills as a ventriloquist to create tiger roars (of course). The three race to Jason’s home where they plead with his father to come to Nisa’s aid. His parents steadfastly refuse and disown Jason as he leaves the house. Now he is determined to help Nisa and they devise a plan to get national television via a dance competition for the Kid Creole Show so she can tell her story. Joa, Nisa, and Jason seek sanctuary at Carmen’s house, where the night turns to one of infatuation as Nisa and Jason finally give-in to their passions and Joa and Carmen also find companionship for the night. The next morning, they pool their funds and manage to send Joa home to speak with Nisa’s father about the situation, an act which Nisa fears because as of yet she has done nothing to further their cause.

Jason and Nisa relentlessly practice the Lambada to perfect it before the auditions. Meanwhile, Ashley has covertly contacted Benjamin of Petramco to tell him of Jason’s plan. As she is also trying out for the dance competition, it suits her own purposes to get Jason and Nisa out of the picture. At the auditions Ashley competes well, but the unanimous decision is for Nisa and Jason’s foreign spectacle of sexuality. Upon leaving the successful audition, the valet (and obvious flunky for Benjamin) hits Jason over the head with a champagne bottle and leaves him in his car in the dessert with Nisa nowhere to be found. Jason then tails Benjamin to an abandoned club where he has Nisa on stage. As Jason is breaking in through a side window, Benjamin asks Nisa to dance for him. When she refuses and he cites her family’s interests as collateral, Nisa becomes enraged and begins an exhilarating Lambada which enthralls Benjamin. At this point, Nisa spies Jason in the corner and continues to seduce Benjamin to dance with her so that Jason can come at him from behind. The two then flee, with their captors in hot pursuit. Before reaching the car, Jason falls and twists his ankle. They then arrive late to the national broadcast of the Kid Creole Show, but are unable to dance due to Jason’s ankle. Miraculously, Joa arrives backstage with the Chief and he immediately heals Jason’s ankle by using a live snake (the actual method we are not shown). Jason and Nisa perform perfectly and after the act Nisa tells the tribe’s story with the striking visual of her father beside her in indigenous clothing which sells her point even more. The charismatic Kid Creole immediately rallies the crowd in favor of the tribe and calls for a national boycott of all Petramco merchandise. The movie concludes with a relieved Jason and Nisa surrounded by a throng of crazed Lambada dancers.

Seeing as the film went from pitch to premiere in about three months, there’s a sneaking suspicion that The Forbidden Dance is Lambada was less a promotion of the environmental issues which surround the Brazilian rainforest, and more a movie that capitalizes on the so-called ‘Lambada dance craze’ of the 1980s. Although the plot is centered upon liberating Nisa’s tribe from international predators and is bookended at the beginning with shots of plumes of smoke rising from the Amazon and then ending with the caption: “This film is dedicated to the preservation of the rainforest”, the ignorance presented by the characters’ racist remarks, such as “wetback” and “Chiquita banana girl”, as well as the pigeonholing of Brazilian traits leaves much to be desired in terms of a film which truly supports the environmental and cultural issues which are presented. Brazil is displayed as a country buzzing with sexuality (where every citizen is born a dancer), but more importantly it is portrayed as a country with no political power whatsoever, seeing as Nisa needs to physically go to America in order to initiate any sentiment towards her cause. The white men are told not to fraternize with the Latin immigrants who are given the subordinate jobs of maids or concubines. In fact, the only true union is achieved when Jason and Nisa consummate their passions, but this is comically intertwined with Carmen making a grand show of slipping a condom under their door; a good deed to be sure, but also a symbol of an intolerance towards culture mixing. Above all, this film illustrates the “business is business” attitude which America displays towards the subordinate countries which supply the US with the resources it demands, no matter what the price.

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