Hour of the Star

Brazilian filmmaker Suzana Amaral's acclaimed debut feature (1985), about a slovenly young secretary, 19 years old and still unhappily a virgin, searching for romance and fulfillment among the marginal employables of Sao Paulo. The story is almost too precious, with harsh urban reality grinding provincial innocence to dust, though to her credit Amaral eventually moves beyond dreary third-world stereotypes to meet underdevelopment on something like equal terms. Her (literally) unwashed heroine isn't always miserable (only sometimes) and resists the ideological obligation to be nobly oppressed: she entertains regressive fantasies of movie stardom, consults fortune tellers, and acquires a bizarre education by listening to the radio and watching TV soaps (she tries to impress her boyfriend with her knowledge of houseflies, but he just tunes her out). None of this is especially fresh, though it does open out in formally arresting ways, and Amaral's clean, precisely structured images (remarkably controlled for a first-time director) show that she's learned her Akerman lessons well. With Marcelia Cartaxo, Jose Dumont, and Tamara Taxman; based on a novel by Clarice Lispector.

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