Director Bruno Barreto and his wife Amy Irving attempt in their
latest collaboration to create a Brazilian version of the sort
of romantic roundelay that Max Ophuls managed so memorably in
1950’s “La Ronde.” The fulcrum of the complicated plot is a
middleaged Rio lawyer named Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes), who
falls for English teacher Mary Ann (Irving), who will also be
romanced by a randy soccer star (Alexandre Borges), who in time
becomes Pedro’s client while Pedro is himself pursued by his
ex-wife (Debora Bloch). Meanwhile, Pedro’s half-brother Roberto,
(Pedro Cardoso), a tailor working for their father Juan
(Alberto de Mendoza), is smitten by the attorney’s sultry
intern Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), who also catches the soccer
player’s roving eye, while the teacher’s friend Nadine (Drica
Moraes) is engaging in an internet romance with another lawyer
(Stephen Tobolowsky), who just happens to be a colleague of
Pedro’s and who, when he arrives in Rio, mistakes the teacher
for his unseen e-mail correspondent. And did I mention that
Mary Ann is still grieving over the loss of her beloved husband
in a drowning accident, or that Pedro is representing his aged
father in a divorce action, or that Pedro’s ex-wife, a travel
agent, abets her client Nadine in her efforts to make contact
with her internet beau?

As you can see, the plot of “Bossa Nova” is very complex, but
unfortunately it’s not terribly confusing. I say “unfortunately”
because a tale like this one needs to be effervescent as well
as elaborate, and that means it has to be light and airy,
moving swiftly enough so that the viewer is caught up in the
characters’ dizziness, too. Barreto’s directorial hand is
leaden, however, making the onscreen shenanigans seem more
forced and turgid than intoxicating. Nor does the cast play
the material with the delicacy needed to keep it afloat.

The result, despite the musical beat the setting lends to the
story, is about as appetizing as a soggy souffle. “Bossa
nova” has moments of sporadic charm, but it needs to fly, and
Barreto heavy-handedness keeps it resolutely pedestrian. It’s
nicely photographed, though.