Terribly dated, clichéd, inaccurate film biography is unworthy of Abreu's music or Tonia Carrero's beauty
"Tico-Tico no Fubá" is supposed to portray the life story of Brazilian composer Zequinha de Abreu (1880-1935), played by an awfully miscast Anselmo Duarte, but nothing could be less accurate. He is portrayed here as some kind of misunderstood music genius -- we see Beethoven's bust on his piano and he literally sweats and shouts to make his band musicians get things right. He can't decide whether to marry his small town sweetheart Durvalina (inexpressive Marisa Prado) or to elope with beautiful circus horse-rider/ballerina Branca (gorgeous Tonia Carrero, sadly wasted). One evening, at the circus, Branca inspires him to improvise the catchy melody of the title song, which he eventually somehow manages to forget entirely, until, years later, it suddenly comes back to him just minutes before his untimely death.
In reality, Abreu was a moderately successful composer/band-leader from small town Santa Rita do Passa Quatro (near São Paulo), who wrote mostly simple waltzes, "choros" and polkas and composed the title song in 1917 (at 37, not in his early twenties as in the film) -- FAR from anything Beethovenian. The instrumental theme "TIco-Tico no Fubá" enjoyed a mild success in dancing rooms of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in the 20s and 30s, until in 1942 (Abreu was already dead by then) a version with lyrics became a big hit in Brazil with virtuoso "choro" singer Ademilde Fonseca. Then in 1943 it suddenly became an international hit when organist Ethel Smith played it in Walt Disney's animated film "Saludos Amigos", later reinforced by Carmen Miranda's zestful rendition of the song in "Copacabana" (1947). The younger generation may recall Brazilian actress Denise Dumont singing it on-screen in Woody Allen's "Radio Days" (1987), in a somewhat Cubanized version, with Tito Puente's percussion.
Abreu was married to Durvalina (who was NOT from his hometown) from the age of 19 until his death at 55, had eight children (not three as portrayed in the film), and the character of Branca (the "muse") is fiction -- in fact, "Branca" is the title of one of his waltzes. Hardly anything you see in the film really happened the way it's shown. Well, to be fair with the guys who made the film, there's a warning in the opening credits stating what we're about to see is a "romanticized" (i.e. fiction!) re-telling of his life, not necessarily true events (!!!).
This is a terribly dated film, a fake biography with confusing script, awful dialogues, cliché plot, cardboard characters and awkward performances (especially by lead actor Anselmo Duarte, too old for the part and very unconvincing as a "naive" young man of genius), making it hard to be enjoyable in any level today, not even as a nostalgic relic. The DVD has not been restored, so the images are mostly blurred, dark or flat, and the sound is terrible.
Italian director Adolfo Celi was pretty inexperienced then this was the second film he directed (he would make just one more, 17 years later, in Italy). During "Tico-Tico", he fell in love with its star Tonia Carrero, they got married and formed -- with actor Paulo Autran -- a successful theater company in São Paulo. When Celi and Carrero separated (1963), he returned to Europe and began a belated but winning international career as a character actor in films like "L'Homme du Rio" (1964), "The Agony and the Ecstasy" (1965), as a James Bond villain in "Thunderball" (1965) and in scores of European films in the 70s and 80s.
"Tico-Tico no Fubá" was the most expensive Brazilian film ever produced as of 1952, a major release of then new VERA CRUZ Studio. A full town square was entirely built for "Tico-Tico", and though there are many crowd scenes (awfully messy!), the film looks unarguably cheap. That's because most of its budget was wasted on nearly one year of endless re-shooting. Most of the footage ended up on the cutting-room floor and as a result the scenes don't gel, the story is told in "jumps", despite the efforts of renowned editor Oswald Haffenrichter of "The Third Man" fame.
VERA CRUZ Studio was a wildly ambitious Hollywood/Cinecittà- like project which aimed to bring European movie industry's state-of-the-art equipment, technology and personnel to Brazil. It was put together in 1949 by a handful of wealthy entrepreneurs from São Paulo. They persuaded renowned UK-based Brazilian director/producer Alberto Cavalcanti (director of the magnificent ventriloquist episode of Hammer's "Dead of Night", among many other fictions and documentaries) to be the new studio's head of production/ artistic supervisor. Huge stages were built in São Bernardo do Campo (near São Paulo), expensive modern equipment bought, a fortune was spent in publicity, European directors and technicians were imported and kept on high salaries (Yugoslavian editor Haffenrichter, Italian actor/director Adolfo Celi, British cinematographer H.E. "Chick" Fowle, French writer Jacques Maret, Italian art directors Pierino Massenzi and Aldo Calvo, etc).
As a result, Vera Cruz film budgets skyrocketed and -- combined with inexpert accounting, high taxes, media over-hype and profit shares going to international majors for distribution -- led to the studio's bankruptcy only 6 years and 18 films later, paving the way to a radical reaction among young Brazilian filmmakers and reinforcing their agenda for the Cinema Novo (New Cinema) movement in the beginning of the 1960s -- the opposite of everything Vera Cruz Studios had stood for. Furthermore, it can't be denied that the studio's artistic results were mostly mediocre, with the possible exception of dated but historically important "O Cangaceiro" prize- winner of Best Adventure Film at 1953 Cannes Film Festival.
Sit through this only if you're REALLY interested in Brazilian film history or if you're beautiful Tonia Carrero's die-hard fan (my case); otherwise, don't waste your time, it's sadly disappointing and plain boring. My vote: 2 out of 10; the two stars are just for you, Tonia (though you deserve a thousand).
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