Already picked as Brazil’s unsuccessful Oscar entry in a very tough year, Bingo is an intensely colourful tale of the ultimate sad clown.
Based on a true story and set in the 1980s, it’s about an actor, Augusto Mendes, having some success in popular sex comedies who then lands a big part on children’s TV, playing Bingo the clown, part of a US television franchise just opening up in Brazil. (I’m told everyone who grew up in the 80s watched the show and would recognise it – it was called Bozo the Clown, but names have been changed, for obvious reasons…)
Augusto( based on the life of a real actor called Arlindo Barreto) is contractually forbidden from revealing his true identity but shoots to fame and acclaim behind the mask of his clown. He gives Bingo a physicality and an anarchic edge (think Tiswas rather than Swap Shop) which makes Bingo the most talked-about show on TV, leading to awards and riches.
It all goes to Augusto’s head, or rather up his nose. The blur of cocaine and women is dizzying but all the while Augusto is wrestling with identity and reality – he can’t reveal who he really is, so is only famous as Bingo while Augusto remains a nobody. Plus there are the pressures of his own family, particularly his own son, whom he neglects and forgets to pick up from school. “You make every kid in the country laugh, except me,” remarks the child. Kids really know how to hurt, don’t they?
Augusto’s spiral of drugs continues, until that red nose runs with a trickle of red blood… not really the kind of look you want on Saturday morning national telly, but nevertheless a key image for the whole movie, cleverly replacing Pierrot’s tear.
Director Daniel Rezende is a former editor, the man behind the distinctive styles of such hits as City of God and Elite Squad. This is his first stint behind the camera and it’s a giddy ride, powerful, funny and oppressive, bright with the garish, clownish colours and playful with the various modes of video, tv and film stock (somewhat reminiscent of what Chile’s Pablo Larrain did with his political satire No).
As Bingo, actor Vladimir Brichta is lithe and liquid, manic and edgy. As Augusto, he brings the machismo, sex and melancholy. It’s an admirable performance of highs and lows and the film gets under the skin – and up the nose – of Brazil’s pop culture sensibilities.