Brazil’s biggest blockbuster at the time, Dora Flor and Her Two Husbands was also quite the arthouse hit here in the US. It also turned Sonia Braga into an international star, and with hindsight, it’s easy to see why. In addition to being unassumingly beautiful, she’s quite adept at conveying the titular character’s growth, often without relying on dialogue.
Tonally, Dora Flor plays like two different films. Whether or not it successfully allows the viewer to shift emotional gears at the halfway point is certainly subjective. The sudden switch to lighthearted fantasy territory is jarring, especially since it involves the unexpected return of a character the audience has been conditioned to despise. Still, this sets-up an unusual love triangle that’s fairly amusing.
The first half begins with the sudden death of Flor’s husband, Vadinho (Jose Wilker). However, she’s the only one who mourns his passing. The rest of the family is relieved, and through an extended flashback - the entire first half of the film - we learn why. Vadinho is a chronic gambler, a con man, a womanizing drunk and physically abusive, as demonstrated in a particularly distressing scene where he beats Flor for refusing to give him gambling money. Still, Flor remains loyal, partially because of his charm, but also because he happens to be a spectacular lover.
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The tone shifts considerably during the second half, which is often quite funny when taken at face value. Vadinho is mischievous, funny and completely naked whenever he appears (even in public). During these scenes, Flor almost serves as a comic straight-person to his antics. But here’s the rub…at absolutely no point during the first half does Vadinho demonstrate a single redeeming or likable quality (aside from being a G-spot Jedi). Nor does he display any remorse for his actions when he returns. I suspect many viewers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to forgive Vadinho enough to welcome his return. Because of this, the numerous sex scenes, while tastefully erotic, might leave a bitter aftertaste.
Still, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands remains an entertaining film with a genuinely engaging protagonist (even if we question some of her life choices). Braga is excellent - and pretty sexy - in the title role, as is Wilker, turning in a brash performance that couldn’t have been easy, especially since he spends half of it in the buff. Thematically and aesthetically, the film is certainly a product of its era, but it’s been given a pretty good facelift with a 4K restoration.
VINTAGE BEHIND-THE-SCENES FEATURETTE
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By director Bruno Barreto
SUPPLEMENTARY BOOKLET - Features an essay, “Oh Bahia,” by producer/costume designer Mary Jane Marcasiano.