In the mid-70s, in the midst of a military dictatorship, a Brazilian filmmaker barely out of his teens brought a beloved magical realist story about food, sex and happy compromises to the screen... and nearly blew Jaws out of Brazil’s box office waters. Featuring interviews with the film’s director Bruno Barreto and Kleber Mendonça Filho, co-director of the Cannes-winning Bacurau.
Our first season, titled “Lost in Translation,” spotlights movies that were massive cultural phenomena in their home countries, but nowhere else. With episodes spanning nearly every continent, tune in weekly to discover unique film stories from around the globe.
Each episode, we publish a complementary piece in MUBI's online film magazine Notebook in a new series called “MUBI Podcast Expanded.” This week, you can check out Rico's extended interview with director Bruno Barreto, where he discusses his love for John Ford, Pietro Germi and Francois Truffaut and shares more behind-the-scenes details about the making of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Read the article here.
MUBI is a global streaming service, production company and film distributor. A place to discover and watch beautiful, interesting, incredible films. A new hand-picked film arrives on MUBI, every single day. From iconic directors, to emerging auteurs. All carefully chosen by MUBI’s curators.
[Rico Gagliano] This episode contains adult themes and explicit language. On the downside, it's also got spoilers. [Traffic, indistinct chatter] [Rico] These are the sounds of Times Square in the mid 1970s. And they were very familiar to a guy named Joo Luiz Vieira, when he left his home country of Brazil for a stint in New York City. [Joo Luiz Vieira] So, in 1977, I had a Fulbright scholarship to do my PhD Cinema Studies at NYU. And, when I arrived in New York, it was completely different than what it is today. [Lively instrumental music] [Joo Luiz Vieira] 42nd Street was not, let's say, the sort of Disney theme park that it can be today, right? It was X-rated movie theaters, one after the other, on both sides of 42nd Street. It was dangerous. [Woman] Hey, look at you. What a piece of meat. [Joo Luiz Vieira] But I would walk, I would go when I would go to plays on Times Square, on Broadway, I would pass by, because I liked this idea of movie theaters, one after the other, and that atmosphere was very live back in the '70s. [Indistinct clamour] [Rico] Of course, those weren't exactly theaters for cinema nerds. Instead, Vieira was a regular at the arthouse film mecca 16 blocks north - it's still there - called the Paris Theater. [Joo Luiz Vieira] And that movie theater was, I liked it very much. They had a kind of profile of a very artsy movie theater as well, that usually showed foreign films. [Rico] Including films from his home country of Brazil. And one night in 1978, he went to the Paris to see one. It was a sexy, magical realist comedy he'd actually already seen back home, a movie The New York Times had dismissed as having a quote, "uncertain" tone, but which had somehow become an arthouse hit anyway. It was called Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. [Joo Luiz Vieira] So, I went there. And then I had the film with this very, I would say, perhaps, upper middle class audience, I would say very well dressed for a Saturday night and very well behaved, also very elegant, patrons. [Projector whirs] [Joo Luiz Vieira] People were laughing, very, very, very... It's not a kind of explosive laughter. It was more...more polite, I would say. More polite kind of smile. And, then... But also giggling, giggling nervously at the erotic scenes. I would feel that. [Rico] And that's when something occurred to him. [Joo Luiz Vieira] This is my, this is a hypothesis I have. I think that word of mouth was spreading. The public of the Paris Theater that would never go down to 42nd Street to watch a film in an X-rated movie theater, you could go to this very respectable, artsy theater, but to see new nudity, to see sex, to see wild sex. You have... I have... [Viera chuckles] Yes, I have this impression. [Rico] Vieira's laughing because Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands is hardly some kind of porno. In a way, it was a snapshot of his gorgeous, troubled home country, in all its complexity. And, back home, this film that elicited polite smiles and titters at the Paris Theater had sold more tickets than any Brazilian film ever made. [Laidback instrumental music] I'm Rico Gagliano and, from the curated streaming service MUBI, welcome back to the MUBI Podcast. MUBI showcases beautiful movies from every era and around the planet. We tell you the stories behind those films and any others with stories worth telling. This first season, we're diving into movies that were huge cultural phenomenons in just one country. And that is a fair description of Dona Flor. It definitely made a splash outside Brazil - as you've just heard, sometimes maybe for the wrong reasons - but inside Brazil, it was a national triumph. [Bruno Barreto] After the first weekend, Veja, which is the equivalent of Time Magazine in Brazil, wanted to have me and Snia on the cover. [Rico] That's the movie's director Bruno Barreto. The Snia he mentioned is the film's star, Snia Braga. This episode, we'll hear from him and many others about how Dona Flor made her an international icon, arguably set the stage for a whole arthouse movie genre, and how what seemed to me like a fun, straightforward movie on first viewing, contains all Brazil's multitudes. So, listen up, 'cause we're about to translate Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. [Music continues] [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] Elizabeth Lowe is a scholar of Brazilian literature teaching at NYU and she told me about a concept it's probably worth keeping in mind for the next 30 minutes or so. [Elizabeth Lowe] This idea of ambiguity. That is really the way Brazilians perceive reality - it's not black or white, It's not one thing or the other. It can be both. [Rico] Okay? Although that concept was probably easy to forget in the Brazil of 1964, when the story of this movie begins, a time when things seemed very black and white. [Man declaims in Portuguese] [Rico] This is Brazilian President Joo Goulart, giving a speech that year in which he announced a sweeping left wing political agenda. [Speech continues] [Cheering] [Rico] About a month later, he was deposed by an extreme right wing military coup. [Reporter] It was Goulart's leftist leanings, and the fear that he would turn Brazil into a Castro state that led to an army revolt and his downfall. [Elizabeth Lowe] Oh, it was terrifying. I was on a public bus coming home from school when the military took over and the country literally stopped. [Rico] Back then, Elizabeth was a teenager, living in Brazil with her folks. [Elizabeth Lowe] Tanks rolled down into the street, traffic stopped. We were surrounded by soldiers. We were held for hours before they would allow traffic to move again. And, after that, everything kind of was as if a pall, a great shadow had fallen over the country. [Joo Luiz Vieira] When the coup came, I was 15. [Rico] Joo Vieira again. Today, he is a film professor at Brazil's Fluminense Federal University. [Joo Luiz Vieira] The police would come and invade theaters, and would bring artists to prison. And then they would be submitted to interrogations. Some of them would spend some time in jail. You had this. [Elizabeth Lowe] It was terrible. And then people started disappearing, censorship crackdown, the rhetoric became very strident. It was, um... It was a very dark time. [Reporter] The deposed president fled to neighboring Uruguay, and it appears that the new rebel government will find quick recognition abroad. [Orchestral flourish] - [Rico] The regime would last... - [Music stops] ..for over two decades. But, just a couple years into it, 1966, came a little light in the darkness, when Elizabeth was gifted a newly published book. [Elizabeth Lowe] I lived for two years with a Brazilian woman who happened to be a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. And she educated me on Brazilian literature. And this book was the first book she gave me to read. She handed it to me and she said, "I want you to read this and then we'll talk about it." [Rico] It was called Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands. Elizabeth's first exposure to the author, Jorge Amado. [Elizabeth Lowe] Yes, Jorge Amado is one of Brazil's most well known and beloved writers. He's absolutely revered. There's a foundation that's very active in his name. When he first started writing, he was more concerned with themes of social justice. And then, in his later years, he started writing humorous novels with a wonderful array of characters and Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands belongs to that later phase. [Rico] And in mid-1960s Brazil, everything about this story must have felt...like a bomb. [Lively percussive music] [Rico] As in the movie, which you're listening to right now, the book is set in the 1940s, in Brazil's beautiful, multicultural city of Salvador, in the state of Bahia. More than one Brazilian described it to me as their New Orleans, where lives...the title character, [Joo Luiz Vieira] Dona Flor, she teaches, she's a cook, she gives cooking lessons at home. She's married, she's married to this typical, typical Latin, macho Vadinho, I would say violent and a womanizer. [Rico] And a compulsive gambler and drinker and...you get the picture. But Vadinho has one major saving grace. [Joo Luiz Vieira] He's a master in bed. Very good in bed. But, anyway, Vadinho dies. [Clamour, man shouts in Portuguese] [Man] Vadinho! Vadinho! [Joo Luiz Vieira] Vadinho, her first husband, dies, I think of a heart attack, during the carnival celebrations in Bahia. [Woman] Vadinho! [Joo Luiz Vieira] And then she becomes a widow. [Woman sobs; Mournful orchestral music] [Joo Luiz Vieira] Then she spends some time, I think about a year, and then she meets this other guy. This other man who falls in love with her. [Man speaks Portuguese] [Joo Luiz Vieira] He is a pharmacist. He is the total opposite of the first husband - very methodical, loves classical music, he has a job. So he brings Dona Flor a security. He brings security to her. [Rico] Flor quietly, happily agrees to marry this sweet, respectful guy, Teodoro. [Woman speaks Portuguese] [Rico] But... [Joo Luiz Vieira] But his sex life, I would say, is very dull, up to the point of making sex only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, Saturdays with the bonus of having sex twice. So, that's the kind of thing that makes Dona Flor feel regret for her first husband. [Lively, percussive music] [Joo Luiz Vieira] So, she goes to a ritual of Afro Brazilian religion, were supposedly they have contact with the dead and her desire is so strong that Vadinho, her first husband, materializes in front of her. [Rico] Yeah. Vadinho comes back from the dead, naked and visible only to Flor, which, at first, is pretty confusing. After all, she's a good, married woman. But, finally, she has sex with Vadinho's ghost, and ultimately decides, "Hey, this is a pretty good deal." [Sultry music; Woman speaks Portuguese] [Joo Luiz Vieira] She gets the best of the two lives. She has the best sex with Vadinho and also she has the respectfulness brought by Teodoro. Very happy. [Swooning orchestral music] [Rico] In the end, in other words, Dona Flor stops seeing the world in black or white. She doesn't have to choose the sexy scoundrel or the boring good guy. She can have the best of both, on her terms. In fact, in Amado's world, everything beautiful is a mix. Bahia, where the story is set and even, according to Elizabeth Lowe, the character of Dona Flor herself. [Elizabeth Lowe] Bahia is a heavily African-influenced culture, which has created the tradition of wonderful Bahian cuisine, which is the cuisine that Flor specializes in. In fact, Flor, she's mixed blood, so she has African heritage and the fame of Bahia rests on that cultural mix of African and Portuguese and indigenous elements that make up the Brazilian population as a whole. So, Dona Flor to many people, represents the country and its dualities and its contradictions. [Rico] So, Joo Vieira says the whole thing's a celebration of... [Joo Luiz Vieira] This Brazilian capacity, I would say, for conciliation, where for example, we have this expression in Portuguese "Tudo acaba em samba," "Everything ends in samba," in the samba. [Rico] Meaning kind of everything ends in a samba, "We have our differences, "but eventually we get together and dance"? [Joo Luiz Vieira] Right. Or, "Everything ends in pizza." A pizza, also. [Rico] There it is. In a time of political extremes, Amado had told a story about the joys of finding a happy medium. Or that's one way to read it, anyway. Nothing is ever just one thing or the other. [Sparse, striking piano music] The book was a hit around the world but in Brazil it became part of the cultural canon, and, in 1976, it would be brought to the screen by a film-maker barely out of his teens. [Bruno Barreto] I'm Bruno Barreto, director of Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands [Rico] Bruno Barreto is descended from Brazilian movie royalty. His parents are legendary producers, which may partly explain how, in 1973, Bruno had been able to shoot his incredibly assured first feature at age 17. [Girl speaks Portuguese] [Man speaks Portuguese] It's called Tati, a bittersweet story about a little girl and her single mom, who move from the outskirts of Rio to the inner city. [Overlapping voices speak Portuguese] It's a gritty, tender take on simple lives and it shows the influence of one of Barreto's favorite directors. [Bruno Barreto] Franois Truffaut. I'm a Truffaut guy, not a Godard guy. I'm a romantic and I... I don't know how I did it, 'cause, looking back, I was 17, how could I...? I should be doing something else. - But I was a nerd. I still am. - [Rico chuckles] And I... I...you know, the girls, I couldn't get arrested and, so, I think I had to, you know, become successful first, in order to get lucky! [Rico laughs] [Rico] it's the age-old story, you go into art to get a date. [Lively, indistinct chatter] [Rico] Well, he became successful. Both Tati and his second feature, The Rising Star, were hits. And, like many of his movies, they were about the struggles and aspirations of women. [Bruno Barreto] And that's Truffaut. For me, going to the movies was to start a trip, to go into a voyage, and, for me, women are magic, men are boring. And women are mysterious. And, so, I think it comes from, you know, I wanted to deconstruct them. But, at the same time, not understand them totally, because otherwise the magic would be gone. [Rico] So, it's maybe no surprise, when he started adapting Dona Flor, that the book's magic was one thing he was determined to keep. [Bruno Barreto] And that was the biggest challenge for the screenwriters and I, because we didn't want to say, "Oh, you know, "this is all, this is bullshit, you know, "there's no ghost of her first husband. This is just her wishful thinking. "It's a projection, a psychological projection." We didn't want to do that. We wanted it to be right, walk that line right on the middle. For those who believe in magic, or who believe in, in spirits and ghosts, you know, go ahead. And for those who are more rational like me, you know, it's her wishful thinking. [Rico] Either way, though, what do you think it means, the fact that half of Dona Flor's perfect relationship, the half that represents sex, is a ghost, that sex is this non-tangible, non-corporeal being? [Bruno Barreto] Catholicism. We are the biggest Catholic country in the world, so, sex, sexuality is like a ghost. [Rico] Oh, interesting. [Bruno Barreto] Very, very hidden and disguised, but, exactly because of that, very, very strong and very potent. That's really the essence of what Dona Flor is about. [Rico] That idea is right there in the famous last scene of the script. As bells chime, the doors of a church swing open and out comes Dona Flor along with a crowd of her neighbors, who are all oblivious to the fact that she's happily arm-in-arm with both her mortal husband and the naked ghost of Vadinho, who's got his hand on her butt. [Bruno Barreto] And that's not in the book. That scene was never in the book. And that was an ordeal, to shoot that. First of all, the author of the book was against it. He said, "You just want to be provocative, in a shallow way." And he was against it, when he read it in the script. [Rico] Eventually, though, Amado got the concept, Barreto got his way and, script in hand, he and his team went searching for someone to play Dona Flor and embody the people and desires of Brazil. [Bell tolls, indistinct chatter] [Rico] There seemed to be an obvious choice, [Bruno Barreto] Snia Braga? Well, Snia is like the Sophia Loren of Brazil and Sophia Loren is pretty close to God, so I guess Snia is up there. Snia is much more than an actress, because Snia becomes the character, she really becomes the character. I just have to be very careful to not get in her way. [Rico] She also happens to have Afro Portuguese heritage, like Dona Flor, and, Elizabeth Lowe says... [Elizabeth Lowe] Snia Braga, her lovely skin, her features, all are very evocative of the Dona Flor character, as she is described in the novel. Her description is that she has a delicate, round face the color of mat and eyes of oil. [Rico] Do an image search and you'll see - that's Braga. And Barreto was determined... not to cast her. [Music - "Modinha para Gabriela" by Gal Costa] [Rico] Here's why. In 1975, Brazil's TV Globo broadcast a telenovela called Gabriela, based on another novel by Jorge Amado and starring, in the title role... Snia Braga. [Bruno Barreto] So, the first thing we said, the producer, the screenwriters and I, said no, "Snia Braga, no, "because she's completely identified as Gabriela "and Gabriela couldn't be more different than Dona Flor. "Gabriela is a wild girl from the backlands of Bahia." [Woman speaks Portuguese] [Man chuckles] [Bruno Barreto] it was completely different than Dona Flor. Dona Flor is a middle class housewife, conservative, short hair. Gabriela was very skinny, long hair, wild. And then I started to test many, many actresses and this took, like, almost a year, like, 10 months. [Rico] Until, finally, everyone was like, "You know, we could just cut Snia Braga's hair." [Bruno Barreto] "And she's an actress. Why not? Is this, like, a prejudice?" And... Yeah. So... [He chuckles] ..that's when we, "Oh, no, it's her. She is Dona Flor." [Joo Luiz Vieira] That was a thought of a genius, because she, Gabriela, was one of the most popular soap operas of that time, TV Globo was commemorating its tenth year when that soap opera came. One of the first soap operas broadcasted in color in Brazilian television, and which made Snia Braga a huge national star. One of one of the reasons, perhaps, I wouldn't say if not the main reason, of the popularity of Dona Flor is the presence of Snia Braga and the popularity of the novel itself. [Laidback instrumental music] [Rico] Of course, no-one knew that at the time. With Braga onboard, Embrafilme, Brazil's state-run film agency, had a feeling it had a hit on its hands. But before shooting began, Barreto's crew wasn't always so sure. [Bruno Barreto] The budget already was three times the most expensive Brazilian film ever made. So, you know, I remember the cinematographer, who was... I was 20 at the time and the cinematographer was 24 and we were in the final stages of pre-production and he said, "Bruno, let's get out of this," "because we're not going to be able to pull it off. This is too big. "This is... I'm scared shitless. Let's, you know, disappear." [Rico] He was, like, "Let's forget it." [Bruno Barreto] "Let's forget it," yeah, he was so scared. But I wasn't. I guess, when you're young, you know, you're fearless, you know? [Rico] It turned out he really did have nothing to fear. Brazil swoons for Dona Flor, coming up in a minute. Stay with us. [Music continues] [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] MUBI is a curated streaming service, production company and film distributor, a place to discover, discuss and celebrate beautiful cinema. Every day, MUBI premieres a new film, each one thoughtfully hand-picked by our team of curators, from brand-new work by emerging film-makers to masterpieces by cinema's greatest icons, there is always something new to uncover on the platform. Throughout this first season of the podcast, our online film magazine Notebook is publishing a complementary piece alongside each episode, in a series called MUBI Podcast Expanded. This week, you can check out my extended interview with director Bruno Barreto, in which he discusses his love for John Ford, Pietro Germi and Francois Truffaut, among others, and shares more behind the scenes details about the making of Dona Flor. So, finish this episode, then check out that interview on the Notebook at MUBI.com/notebook. And of course, to stream the best of cinema, simply head over to MUBI.com to start watching. [Laidback instrumental music] [Rico] Okay, so we're back in mid-1970s Brazil. Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, with its many sex scenes, is being shot. And, at this point, you may be thinking, "Hey... [Music stops] "..didn't you say there was a repressive, conservative "military dictatorship going on?" And the answer is, yes. Though Joo Vieira says you wouldn't have known it, if you spent a lot of time in Brazilian movie theaters. [Joo Luiz Vieira] It was strange, because the military regime tolerated and even encouraged the what we call pornochanchadas, which were this wave of vapid, erotic comedy, soft-core comedies, with titles such as - let's see, let me remember this - I Give What They Like and What They Like Isn't Soft, What They Like Is Hard, something like that. Or, let's say, A Bra For Daddy, another title, or... [Rico] A Bra For Daddy. [Joo Luiz Vieira] A Bra For Daddy or The Secretaries Who Do Everything. [Rico] A lot of pornochanchadas were low-low budget and high-high energy, like The Benny Hill Show on steroids. They weren't hardcore explicit or anything but they were...insane. [Man howls] [Rico] In this one, called 1001 Positions of Love, there's a scene where a guy who hasn't had sex for a while just writhes around in a public bathroom, clutching his groin and howling. [Howling continues] [Rico] For, like, two minutes. [Man chuckles] [Rico] Or how about a scene from The Virgin and the Macho, in which three fully-clothed, dirty old men watch a couple make out? The men are pretty aroused. One of them excitedly rubs a cat's tail, another puffs frantically on a cigar, until the cat guy's hand slips and hits the smoking guy, which makes him burn the third guy's cheek with his cigar. [Man chuckles, cat yowls] [Man yells] [Rico] There are dozens and dozens of these movies. [Joo Luiz Vieira] The Virgin and the Macho, The Virgin Widow, A Macho Among Women. These were all titles that were very, very popular. And Dona Flor comes within this wave of erotic comedies. [Rico] So, now you may be wondering, "Why would a censorious, "conservative military regime be cool with all this sex?" [Kleber Mendona Filho] Well, that's actually a very good question. This laidback gentlemen is one of Brazil's greatest critics and film-makers, Kleber Mendona Filho. His amazing 2019 film Bacurau won the Jury Prize at Cannes. [Kleber Mendona Filho] At the time in Brazil, one way of making the whole censorship thing work for their advantage was to ease on sexuality and expressions of sexuality and, of course, to be very strict about ideas. [Rico] In other words, scenes with heavy political content or that challenged the status quo? Those would get cut. Hardcore, quote-unquote, "deviant" sex would also get the chop. Some films weren't shown at all. [Kleber Mendona Filho] There was a whole wave of films from the late '60s and early '70s, which only made it to Brazil in 1979, 1980. Films like Last Tango in Paris and Costa-Gavras' Z. A Clockwork Orange had big problems. In fact, it was never released until 1977. And even then, you know, whenever nudity came up and full frontal nudity, they had these ridiculous black dots, which I can only think that Kubrick agreed to that, basically, to expose how stupid and ridiculous censorship is. [Bruno Barreto] Actually, I, the director, would fly to the capitol, Brasilia, where the board of censors, you know, is, and we would negotiate with them. [He chuckles] You know. [Rico] Example? A beloved scene where the naked ghost of Vadinho sits atop an armoire and mocks Flor's second husband and his pathetic lovemaking skills. [Grunting, groaning; Man cackles] [Bruno Barreto] That was, instead of making trims, I suggested that we just, like, in the color correction, darken and make it darker. [Rico] Having these conversations with suits, it just sounds like simultaneously a nightmare and hilarious. [Bruno Barreto] Yeah, I actually, I'd like to put that in a comedy, some film. I haven't come up with a story yet. [Man cackles, whistles] [Rico] By mid '76, the movie was in the can. And it had a lot going for it - huge star, hot, young film-maker, literary pedigree, the beauty of Bahia. And, yeah, it was sexy, at a time when sexy films were the rage. But it also had a secret weapon - that government agency, Embrafilme, which was actually run at the time by a respected film-maker himself, Roberto Faras. They decided to pull out all the marketing stops. [Bruno Barreto] I'll give you an example - Jaws had been released just before and a Brazilian film was never released with the same amount of prints, same number of prints that an American film was, above all, a blockbuster like Jaws. And they decided to release it exactly in the same format as Jaws, the same number of prints. [Rico] And what did that look like? Kleber Filho uses an example from his home city of Recife. [Kleber Mendona Filho] I'm doing research for a new project and I'm looking at a lot of old newspapers. And when you go back to 1977, in the city of Recife, it had a number of movie palaces and Dona Flor took two, two of them, 1,000 seats each, for 17 weeks straight. [He laughs] They were maybe a mile from each other. It was very unusual for one film to take two. One would do. [Rico] None of which would have mattered if those theaters were empty. But they weren't, and Joo Vieira says the atmosphere inside was not the polite smiles and nervous titters of the Paris Theater audience. [Projector clicks, whirs; Lively music] [Joo Luiz Vieira] Dona Flor was released in Rio, right a week before Christmas of 1976. So, I saw it at the Roxy Theater, which seats about 1,735 people. It was the first Saturday of the film being released. And I saw it with this huge, amazing audience, sold out audience. [Man cackles] [Joo Luiz Vieira] I mean, the vacation was coming, we were ready for Christmas, there was this carnival feeling. [Lively music] [Joo Luiz Vieira] Very cheering the films and laughing and singing the song at the end, people coming out of the theater humming the lyrics and humming the sounds of O Que Ser by Chico Buarque. [Music - "O Que Ser" by Chico Buarque] [Rico] For Bruno Barreto, it was pretty immediately apparent his career was about to level up. [Bruno Barreto] Right away, because it was a first weekend, the first weekend went through the roof. And, exactly after the first weekend, Veja, which is the equivalent of Time Magazine in Brazil wanted to have me and Snia on the cover. [Rico] And for filmgoers, it was the talk of the country. [Kleber Mendona Filho] Well, the first thing I remember, I was not allowed to watch it because it was rated 18 and I was eight, but I remember this aunt of mine just laughing her ass off, just describing one of the scenes and she didn't know that the children were listening... [Rico] What was the scene? [Kleber Mendona Filho] It was the scene where Dona Flor is having sex with her new husband and Vadinho is up on the closet, watching, peeping. [Rico] It is a hilarious scene. [Kleber Mendona Filho] Yeah, it's the kind of scene that people would talk about and choose their words carefully in family gatherings, and I think that's when you understand that you're talking about a phenomenon. [Rico] And that movie-ending theme song you're hearing right now, the one that Saturday night audience left the theater singing? It jumped into the Brazilian music pantheon...and never left. [Joo Luiz Vieira] More than, I would say, more than a word, a phrase, a scene. I think what stayed, many years after Dona Flor is the perennial strength of Chico Buarque's music, O Que Ser. It plays all the time on the radio. It's one of the most accessed songs also on YouTube. That is a classic of Brazilian popular music, that one always relates, there is no way you cannot relate, that song with the atmosphere and the narrative of Dona Flor. [Music continues] [Rico] Dona Flor eventually sold nearly 10.8 million tickets in Brazil, more than any domestic film ever had and almost more than any film of any nationality ever had. Except, yes, Jaws. [Bruno Barreto] It almost matched Jaws. The difference was 200,000 people only. Jaws had sold 11 million tickets and Dona Flor sold at 10,800,000 tickets. [Rico] Just barely. Were you kind of, like, "Just leave it in the theaters, just a couple more months. "I can beat Spielberg." [Bruno Barreto] Yeah. Actually, I once got to meet Steven and I told him this story. Said "You beat me by 200,000 people. [Rico, laughing] What did he say? [Bruno Barreto] "In my own country!" He laughed. [Rico] Overseas, Dona Flor was a big arthouse hit and it played at the Paris for months, but it wasn't quite a blockbusting popular one. Still, over time, it exerted an international influence of its own. [Music strikes up, audience applauds] [Rico] First, by introducing the world to Snia Braga who'd go on to be almost as celebrated abroad as at home. [Robert Stack] The nominees for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture are... Snia Braga, Kiss of the Spider Woman... [Phil Collins] Snia Braga, Moon over Parador. [Emma Samms] Snia Braga, The Burning Season. [Rico] There were also adaptations of Dona Flor, in the form of a short-lived Broadway musical Sarava, an American movie version called Kiss Me Goodbye, with Sally Field, but, if you ask Joo Vieira, its longest-lasting impact was introducing the arthouse crowd to a very specific kind of cinematic turn-on. [Joo Luiz Vieira] Combining cooking with sex, combining cooking with sensuality, and the powers of cooking to gain sensuality or to create sensuality or to conquer people through sex. [Woman speaks Portuguese] [Rico] One of the most famous scenes from Dona Flor - the heroine is a cook, remember - gives us her recipe for moqueca, a crab meat stew, Vadinho's favorite dish. [Woman speaks Portuguese] [Rico] "Serve it hot, as I always did," she says, and Barreto crossfades from the sizzling pot to a flashback of Flor and Vadinho, undressing each other. [Woman speaks Portuguese] [Rico] Starting a few years after Flor's release, arthouse audiences started seeing an awful lot of this sort of thing. [Joo Luiz Vieira] I remember films, for example, this Mexican film called Like Water From Chocolate, by Alfonso Arau. A huge success. [Rico] There was also Japan's Tampopo in '85, Babette's Feast in '87, Italy's The Story of Boys & Girls in '89 billed, on its poster, as "a feast for lovers," Chocolat in 2000, and, that same year... [Joo Luiz Vieira] This 2000 American film, produced by Fox Searchlight, called Woman on Top, whose screenplay is written by a Brazilian woman from So Paulo, Vera Blasi, and whose main character, a Brazilian cook from Bahia, right? Look at this! This is the quintessential... [Rico] Hm, suspicious? [Joo Luiz Vieira] ..kind of thing. So, she moves from Salvador, Bahia, she has a husband that's also a womanizer. You see, you have all the sort of stereotypes that I think relate, in one way, relate to the success of Dona Flor, perhaps. [Laidback instrumental music] [Rico] Brazil's military regime finally ended in the midst of all this, in 1985. A civilian president was elected, democracy and rights were restored, darkness lifted. But nothing is black or white, or one thing or the other. Compared to the '70s, Brazilian film people tell me things were gained...and lost. [Joo Luiz Vieira] During those years where Dona Flor is located, 1976, we still had the quota system. Every year, every movie theater in Brazil had to show 112 days of Brazilian films. Now, just for a comparison, now I think we barely have 47 days. [Rico] It's interesting. So, you're saying, actually, even though there's a military dictatorship going on, this kind of period is better for Brazilian cinema, because it's getting more, you know, promotion, I guess, from government. [Joo Luiz Vieira] Right. I agree, I agree entirely. [Rico] And while international movies were chowing down and sexing up, Kleber Filho says Brazilian film started cooling off. [Kleber Mendona Filho] The interesting thing is, if you look at the Brazilian films in the '90s, and after that, they have become quite conservative, in terms of what you can show, because, for many years, Brazilian cinema was bad-mouthed as, "All you get in Brazilian cinema "is just sex and curse words," you know? And I think, in the '90s, films tried to distance themselves from that. [Rico] Under a repressive regime, ironically, certain aspects of cinema were actually more uninhibited. [Kleber Mendona Filho] Oh, yeah. Whenever you have a situation of censorship, I mean, I, myself, would definitely try a few things if I knew that there were limits, you know, to what I do. [Music concludes, resonates] [Rico] Not that Bruno Barreto looks back fondly at that time as an artist. There was repression, state censors did cut his films, but he says what they didn't do was keep them from even being made. [Bruno Barreto] I'm gonna be ironic. I mean, and I have to stress this here, I'm not being flip, I'm being just ironic, but I feel a lot more repressed today than at the time, a lot more censored today than at the time and I'll explain to you why. Because today, you know, we have a banana version of Trump, Bolsonaro. And we do have all this, you know, right wing movement, and they try to censor projects. The very few projects that are getting made and getting government funding, the government tries to stop it. And, on the other hand, you have the, you know, the dictatorship of political correctness. So, you know, I wouldn't be allowed today to direct Reaching for the Moon. [Rico] That's the film Barreto, a straight man, made about the real life lesbian romance between an American poet and a Brazilian architect. [Bruno Barreto] So, it's, it's very hard for someone who is not ideological today, who is not right wing or left wing, to be free creatively. [Rico] As in much of the world, in Brazil, once again, it's a time of extremes. And Bruno Barreto is waiting for everything to end in a samba. [Laidback instrumental music] And that's the MUBI Podcast for this week. Follow us to hear more deep dives into movies that became part of their home country's canon. Next week, the low budget video that launched Nigeria's exploding film industry. [Obi-Rapu] There are millions of people who are making their livelihood from the industry, and that is what Living in Bondage brought. [Rico] This episode was hosted, written and cut by me, Rico Gagliano. Jackson Musker is our booking producer. Our engineer was Andy Carson. Mastering by Steven Coln. Martin Austwick composed and performed all the music. The show's executive produced by me along with Jon Barrenechea, Efe Cakarel, Daniel Kasman and Michael Tacca for MUBI. If you're digging the show, please leave us a five-star review wherever you listen, It will make it easier for others to find us. We would also love you to e-mail us personally with your thoughts, congratulations and ridiculous memes. Our e-mail is [email protected] And, for an ever-changing collection of carefully hand-picked films, from iconic directors to emerging auteurs, subscribe to MUBI at MUBI.com. Till next week, it's a big world, watch globally. [Music continues] [Music concludes, resonates]