When Brazil’s greatest poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade died in 1987 and his collection of erotic works was made available to the public, the effect was akin to suddenly realizing that Robert Frost secretly wrote like D.H. Lawrence. A good deal of the author’s provocative posthumous texts are sampled in O Amor Natural, and it’s a testament to their ecstatic carnality that the verses retain much of their force even after being perfunctorily translated. Rather than examining the poet’s life, Heddy Honigmann’s documentary explores the effect his work has on the people who read it. Drummond de Andrade’s presence in the picture is limited to a record of a 1972 presentation; Honigmann is much more interested in the voices of the aged Rio de Janeiro citizens who, randomly asked to read from her volume of poetry, react with humorous and moving anecdotes about their own sex life and youthful days. A swimmer in her 80s approves of the author’s use of sensuous water imagery, while a couple of senior citizens lounging at the beach giggle like teens over recollections of their affairs; another septuagenarian recites an ode to the vulva and then weeps, gratified of being “reminded of my fuck sessions.” Breezy and playful, the film sees Drummond de Andrade’s tributes to the female ass and the “moist cavern of the vagina” being read with equal appreciation at both feminist theater performances and men-only barbershops, though Honigmann scarcely ignores the Brazilian sense of macho entitlement in several of the writings, particularly as voiced by an elderly actress who remembers being raised to think of sex exclusively as a way to serve her husband. Even so, O Amor Natural remains hopeful about the unifying potential of the author’s poetry of desire, culminating with a samba version of one of the poems that beautifully illustrates the passage of cultural heritage not just from one generation to the next, but also from one artistic medium to another.
The ordinary transfer is harsh on locations (Rio never looked so blah) but warm on skin tones. The rich variety of readings somehow makes it past the flat sound.
Come see Brazil's poet laureate get his freak on.