When I couldn’t find the Brazilian movie I wanted a few nights ago, I settled for Blame It On Rio (1984). Maybe I should have read the synopsis beforehand, but I was craving scenery of Rio so badly that I didn’t care what the movie was about. It turned out to be very different than I was expecting – but that’s okay. It was entertaining in a special sort of way! There were a lot of full-frontal boob shots, not to mention the classic filo dental (dental floss) bikinis, in the beach scene. When my husband got home from the gym, he wandered into the living room and quickly snapped to attention: “What are you watching?” Then he decided to keep me company for the rest of the movie. I wonder why…
What’s interesting about watching an American film set in Brazil is that there’s an obvious obsession with the sexuality of Brazilian culture to the point of over-exaggeration. For example, Brazilians aren’t even into topless sunbathing; that’s way more of a European thing that some Brazilians even view with scorn, but North Americans love to milk Brazil for all its sensuality, always pushing it a bit further. After all, the whole premise of Blame It On Rio is that the city’s air of sensuality is to blame for a very shocking and inappropriate sexual liaison that occurs between an older man and his best friend’s teenage daughter.
Why is this, I wonder? I think it has to do with the fact that we’re both repulsed and fascinated by a culture that worships the body to such an extent. It makes us uncomfortable because we, generally speaking as a culture, hate our bodies and try to hide them. We slink around in our sweatpants and oversized hoodies, hiding our bodies beneath protective layers. As a result, we’re obsessed with people who flaunt theirs, accept theirs, and – horror of horrors – love theirs. That middle-aged women with saggy tummies are fully content to samba on the beach in a teensy bikini is unthinkable by North American standards, but not unusual in Brazil. Some might call it shocking, but I find it refreshing.
The film also hit a personal nerve because it seems to be a common theme to blame certain behaviours on certain locations. I could write a whole story about how my parents love to Blame It On Brazil – whatever limit-pushing that I did at 18 while living there. As frustrating as their attitude is, it was interesting to see the same approach toward Brazil being played out in Blame It On Rio – the idea that people will behave differently, and be allowed to get away with more, simply because they’re in Brazil. That’s not how it is. It has everything to do with where people’s heads are at. My desire to engage in (what my parents viewed as) rebellious behaviour had much more to do with my being 18 and suddenly independent than the fact I was in Brazil; no doubt the same actions would have played out on a Canadian university campus if I’d chosen to go there instead. They don’t believe me, so that’s why we never talk about Brazil. I avoid the subject like the plague.
As entertaining and quirkily out-of-date as Blame It On Rio was, it still makes me want to proclaim that Brazil really isn’t all like that. It’s a carefree, life-loving country full of breathtaking human and geographic beauty, but it’s certainly not just party central. The country has much greater depth and its people countless personal and cultural challenges than North American films make it out to have – or, at least, films like this one. And so I’ll resume my search for more edifying national films with fewer boobs. My husband might be disappointed, but at least I’ll keep practicing my Portuguese.