Bigamy has been the subject of film comedies in the past–remember “The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker” (1958), starring sharp-tongued Clifton Webb as a guy with two families, or “The Captain’s Paradise” (1953), with Alec Guinness as a steamer captain with a wife in each of two ports, or “The Bigamist” (1956), with Marcello Mastroianni as a young fellow wrongly accused of the crime? We’ve even had guys with more than two wives treated as a joke–Rex Harrison had five in “The Constant Husband” (1955), though as an amnesiac he didn’t remember them all. In “Me You Them” Elena Soarez and Andrucha Waddington tell the story, loosely based on a real incident, of a woman named Darlene (Regina Case) in an impoverished region of northeastern Brazil who, over the course of the years, acquires three “husbands,” along with a child by each one (she’d previously had a child by a fourth man, with whom she eventually leaves him)–all living together, in a small farmhouse and in relative amity by picture’s end.

It’s difficult to know what to make of the film. Certainly it’s beautifully photographed, capturing the parched but nonetheless impressive vistas of the rural countryside in spectacular wide-screen cinematography. But the emotional tenor of the piece is peculiar, to say the least. The distributor refers to it as a “bittersweet comedy,” but it’s certainly not very funny; there’s a droll matter-of-factness to the curious arrangement that develops among the characters, perhaps, but as a whole the film never becomes charming enough to elicit more than an occasional smile. Nor is it especially dramatic; while it captures the bleakness of life in the region nicely in purely pictorial terms, it nevertheless presents its characters as largely easygoing if sometimes a bit hard-pressed, and its lackadaisical, oddly somnolent tone doesn’t engage the viewer at all. The picture just meanders from incident to incident, with births and funerals sprinkled in from time to time, ending up as a rather desultory affair. Presumably we’re supposed to be struck by what each of the three “husbands” brings to the arrangement–the oldest, the dyspeptically tyrannical Osias (Lima Duarte) representing security, the second (his cousin Zezinho, played by Stenio Garcia) a naive sweetness, and the third (the young drifter Ciro, played by Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos–sexual power; but whether this is merely an elaborate fable designed to argue that a true man should possess all three qualities is never made clear. As for Darlene herself, the joke seems to lie in the fact that she’s basically a homely woman who nonetheless proves irresistible to all sorts of guys and, though occasionally railed at by them, can inevitably twist them to her desires; but as Case plays her she seems more torpid than seductive. This is one surprisingly lethargic Earth Mother.

There may be some in the viewing audience who will perceive “Me You Them” as a kind of vaguely feminist tale and embrace it on that basis. But despite its often striking images, the picture never manages to rise above the tedious and humdrum. (Of course, it means to depict the ordinary, day-by-day life of characters such as these, but it needs to do more than that.) It’s filled with shots of people sleeping in hammocks strung up within the farmhouse that’s its central setting; and long before it closes you might be inclined to doze off, too.