Review: RIO, I LOVE YOU, A Pretty But Unsatisfying Travel Package

Featured Critic; New York City, New York
Review: RIO, I LOVE YOU, A Pretty But Unsatisfying Travel Package
Film franchises aren’t just for the multiplexes anymore, or for movies featuring the likes of Batman, Superman, and the Fast and the Furious road racing crew. The arthouse has them too, and one of the highest-profile ones is the “Cities of Love” series of omnibus films, the brainchild of French producer Emmanuel Benbihy.
The series started, naturally, in Benbihy’s home base, with Paris, je t’aime (2006), a very strong collection, and continued with New York, I Love You (2008), which was decidedly less strong. Now, after a considerable gap, comes the third in the series, Rio, I Love You, completed in 2014 but only now being released, presumably to coincide with this year’s Rio summer Olympics.
As with the other two films, Rio attractively shows off its settings, a film made as much for the tourist board as for movie audiences. Unfortunately, as pretty as everything is, this third installment continues the downward slide in quality currently suffered by this franchise, with the few stronger segments smothered by others that are as slight as they are inconclusive.
In an interview included in the press notes for Rio, Benbihy states his aims for the series: “This format is primarily a statement for cinematographic diversity … It is also statement for cinema as a universal medium for cultural understanding between nations and cities.” Lofty goals, these, but achieving them is difficult when the execution is as flawed and sketchily worked out as it is here.
Rio, I Love You consists of ten shorts directed by (in order of presentation) Andrucha Waddington, Paolo Sorrentino, Fernando Meirelles, Stephan Elliott, John Turturro, Guillermo Arriaga, Im Sang-soo, Carlos Saldanha, Jose Padilha, and Nadine Labaki, with transitional and connective scenes directed by Vicente Amorim. The first problem is the rather confusing nature of how these shorts are presented. Rather than appearing as distinctly demarcated entities with transitions in between, the shorts are weaved together with the transitions in a way that aims to make it all a seamless mélange.
However, the transitional material features some characters from a few of the shorts, which initially makes it seem as if the stories will be crosscut with one another, though later it gradually dawns on the viewer that this isn’t really the case. Instead of a consistent flow, the effect is rather more of a lumpy hodgepodge. It also doesn’t help that so many of the narratives of these shorts seem left unfinished. Whether this is by design, so that each of the shorts are made to be akin to puzzle pieces meant to be assembled later, or whether this is just a conceptual failure on the part of the filmmakers, is very unclear.
This is perhaps why the more successful segments dispense with narrative almost entirely, and focus more on visuals. The strongest piece is Fernando Meirelles’ The Muse, featuring French actor Vincent Cassel as a sand sculptor who makes derivative works based on well-known artworks such as Rodin’s “The Kiss,” who is inspired to do something much more original by a woman he sees on the beach and is instantly infatuated with.
This short has a percussive, rhythmic quality, alternating between overhead shots, and close-ups of people’s feet and lower bodies as they walk, march, and glide on the beach. Both visually and aurally striking, this one is a clear standout. Similarly, Carlos Saldanha’s Pas de Deux effectively uses bodies in movement, as well as shadowplay animation, to relate its story of a couple who play out their conflicts and disagreements during their stage routine.
Two other shorts derive their interest from idiosyncratic uses of movie genres, and from just plain strangeness. John Turturro continues his distinctive approach to the movie musical with When There is no More Love, in which a couple (Turturro and Vanessa Paradis) experiences a bitter breakup. Tense arguments and traded accusations alternate with wordless flashbacks to earlier times. Finally, as Paradis’ character leaves her husband for the final time, it becomes a full-on musical sequence, with Paradis singing her regrets and laments.
Im Sang-soo’s The Vampire From Rio gets major points just by being plain weird, telling the tale of Fernando (Tonico Pereira), a tourist restaurant waiter, his secret nocturnal life, and his lust for Isabel (Roberta Rodrigues), a local prostitute. Everything culminates in a carnivalesque dance in the streets, led by Fernando and Isabel, as well as all the people they’ve infected with vampirism. Im stands out by breaking with the largely sentimental and overly sanitized tone of most of the omnibus.
The less successful shorts suffer from serious flaws, both conceptually and in execution. The least of these is probably Paolo Sorrentino’s La Fortuna, starring Emily Mortimer as a woman married to a much older man (Basil Hoffman). Mortimer’s character is rather misogynistically portrayed as an abrasive, gold-digging hussy, whose eventual fate, rather than tragic, comes across as deserved comeuppance for her extreme materialism.
Andrucha Waddington’s Mrs. Nobody – featuring Fernanda Montenegro as a woman homeless by choice whose grandson tries to convince her to change – and Guillermo Arriaga’s Texas – about a boxer (Land Vieira) who drunkenly caused a car accident, losing his arm and crippling his wife, faced with an indecent proposal by a “gringo” (Jason Isaacs) – are initially promising pieces marred by basically having no endings.
In the end, Rio, I Love You, despite boasting pretty packaging, very pleasant, if rather bland, Brazilian music, and a few mostly well-executed pieces, is overall a disappointing misfire, one that doesn’t bode well for the future of this well-meaning franchise.

Rio, I Love You

  • Vicente Amorim
  • Guillermo Arriaga
  • Stephan Elliott
  • Sang-soo Im
  • Nadine Labaki
  • Fernando Meirelles
  • José Padilha
  • Carlos Saldanha
  • Paolo Sorrentino
  • John Turturro
  • Andrucha Waddington
  • César Charlone
  • Andrucha Waddington
  • Mauricio Zacharias
  • Paolo Sorrentino
  • Antonio Prata
  • Chico Mattoso
  • Stephan Elliott
  • John Turturro
  • Guillermo Arriaga
  • Sang-soo Im
  • Elena Soarez
  • Otavio Leonidio
  • Nadine Labaki
  • Rodney El Haddad
  • Khaled Mouzannar (collaborating writer)
  • Fellipe Barbosa
  • Basil Hoffman
  • Emily Mortimer
  • Rodrigo Santoro
  • Bruna Linzmeyer
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Andrucha WaddingtonCarlos SaldanhaCities of LoveFernando MeirellesGuillermo ArriagaIm Sang-sooJohn TurturroJose PadilhaNadine LabakiPaolo SorrentinoRio I Love YouStephan ElliottVicente AmorimSang-soo ImJosé PadilhaCésar CharloneMauricio ZachariasAntonio PrataChico MattosoElena SoarezOtavio LeonidioRodney El HaddadKhaled MouzannarFellipe BarbosaBasil HoffmanEmily MortimerRodrigo SantoroBruna LinzmeyerComedyDramaFantasy

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