In perhaps the best foreign-language film of the year, Bingo the clown transforms Brazilian TV while indulging in whiskey, cocaine, and supermodels, all set to a glorious 80s soundtrack.
At first, the premise of Bingo: King of the Mornings may seem off-putting, especially for those who are less than fond of clowns. The film chronicles the rise and fall of the actor Augusto Mendes as he plays the most popular clown on Brazilian television, Bingo. However, behind the terror is a fine example of what Brazilian film has to offer.
Bingo, played by the charismatic Vladimir Brichta, quickly lets his stardom go to his colorful head as he sleeps with models and develops a rampant cocaine habit (because, after all, it’s the 80s). Meanwhile, Augusto Mendes, a former soft porn star, struggles with his lack of fame, due to his contract which states that no one can know he plays Bingo. He neglects his ten-year-old son, who becomes the only child in Brazil to resent Bingo.
The film is partially based on a true story, that of Bozo the clown, who was an extremely popular figure in American television in the 60s. Bozo was exported to Brazil and became equally popular twenty years later.
Daniel Rezende’s debut film spills over with passion and vitality, and best of all, color. The drab streets of Sao Paolo are contrasted with Bingo’s colorful set. To top it off, Echo & the Bunnymen’s “Bring on the Dancing Horses” as well as some Brazilian new wave hits a blast over the most joyous scenes.
Despite the joy, the heavy drug use turns Augusto’s tale into a cautionary one. The delicate balance between comedy and drama is handled well by Rezende and by screenwriter Luis Bolognesi, but the darker scenes verge on the overly terrifying. At first, the sex, drugs, and clown TV appear exciting, but it’s clear to us when Bingo’s had too much. Bingo does a lot of drugs, and just when you think he’s learned his lesson, he does some more drugs.
But despite the dark turns, Bingo takes, it is ultimately a lesson that a dream and a strong will to achieve the impossible can work. Augusto started out in soft porn, became the singular star of Brazilian TV, and nearly lost his life. And he did it by clowning around.
We screened the film at The Crosby Hotel on Sunday. A conversation with Vladimir Brichta moderated by Michael Hausman followed.