Me You Them (Eu Tu Elos) (Brazil, 2000) ***
Directed by Andrucha Waddington. Written by Elena Soarez. Photography, Breno Silveira. Editing, Vicente Kubrusly. Production design, Toni Vanzolini. Music, Gilberto Gil. Cast: Regina Casť (Darlene), Lima Duarte (Osias), Stenio Garcia (Zezinho), Luis Carlos Vasconcelos (Ciro), Nilda Spencer (Raquel) A Sony Classics release. In Brazilian Portuguese, with subtitles. 107 minutes. PG-13 (non-graphic but scabrous situations)
The first thing I noticed was the ungrammatical translation of the title, which should be "I you they." But then I'm a member of the Language Police. The second thing was that the movie defies conventional morality but in a matter-of-fact fashion and without deifying its own non-standards.
It is set in the impoverished, city-less and sparsely populated "sertao," the large scrub-brush area in northeast Brazil which could roughly be compared to Australia's outback. In a village, Darlene (played by a very popular stage and TV actress) has become a single mother and left the area with her baby son. Soon after she returns with the child, some three years later. For practical reasons she marries Osias, an older man who is almost rich by the extremely undemanding local standards. He provides a roof. Darlene, says he "is strong, she can do everything," which is indeed the case. Beyond household duties she also labors in the fields.
Darlene is in her thirties --or at least she looks it. She is no beauty. Her lantern jaw almost duplicates Jay Leno's; her teeth might fascinate Dr. Kunas, my periodontist. But she has an easy, cheerful character, smiles a lot and likes men. Physically, she reminds me a bit of a most talented American actress who is no looker either but has been showered with nominations and prizes. I will not be so indelicate as to identify her.
At this point I am also reminded of that 1977 hit movie from Brazil, "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands." But that was a comic fantasy, in which a beautiful, sexy woman's womanizer-husband dies; she remarries a dull fellow.... then the dead man reappears in the flesh.
In "Me You Them," the now married Darlene accumulates husbands, that is, if you take this term to mean lovers or common-law husbands. Osias, her legal spouse, is a an old fellow who does not work and spends all his time in a hammock listening to his transistor radio. We can take for granted that the couple have occasional sex, but this is not shown or mentioned. However, when Darlene gets pregnant again, the child is dark, "much blacker than Osias." He is the outcome of a brief encounter with another man.
Then Osias's middle-aged cousin Zezinho, come to visit, makes himself useful and remains with the couple. Another child is born. Soon after, Ciro, Darlene's twenty-something co-worker in the fields comes to live with the Osias-Darlene-Zezinho triangle... and fathers another child yet. What we have here is a "Menage a Many" which except for rare peevish remarks, lives "normally" by the unspoken standards of its own logic. The child-count would actually justify an alternate title "Darlene and her five husbands," if you add to the men in the household the first, unseen fellow who had ditched Darlene at the altar and then the father of the dark-skinned baby.
Not much is spelled out during the film. There is in Darlene a sub-layer of lust for life as well as a special, quiet and unspoken kind of "joie de vivre." But nowhere do we encounter hints of moral indignation. One has to take facts as they are presented. This is no Hollywood film with great passions, "sins," dramatic events or retributions.
What prevails seems to be a special, matter-of-fact outlook (or non-look) on life in the barren "sertao." Its people are poor but not destitute. They are not shown subsisting in the lower depths The real poverty of the region not only goes unmentioned, it gets camouflaged by fine camera work, much Brazilian music, people dancing in a sort of bar and playing during a small, unexpected country fair
In addition to the total absence of contraception, there are no explicit traces of social protest. Yet the movie's viewers might wonder at the wisdom of making children destined for a life of poverty.
Whether Darlene is so fertile that she produces a kid per sexual encounter I cannot tell. The movie's text has its own brand of discretion. When night falls, the interior visuals go into most unrevealing darkness. Houses, lacking electricity are underlit by candles. These, in turn hide any sights of intimacy and don't tell you whether or not acrobatic sex takes place within the prevailing hammocks.
The film is skillfully photographed. At least some of its exteriors of nature shot in changing light give a certain beauty to the bareness of the views. Unexpected too is the non-violence of the story and its several sudden spurts of dialogue so fast that sometimes the subtitles don't stay long enough on the screen.
Director Waddington, who has done well with commercials and whose second feature this is, was 25 in 1995 when he had the idea of making this film. What triggered it was a TV special about a woman who lived with three husbands. "Me You Them" is an invented tale of polygamy but does a basis on facts. I think that one of its mottoes could be "the casualness of sex without casualties."