High Museum of Art: Films

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Linda Dubler

SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES shows on Saturday, October 23 at 8 p.m. in the Rich Theatre as part of the High’s 25th annual Latin American Film Festival

by Julie Chautin

“I don’t want St. Anthony, I want Aunt Dinah’s red sofa,” Baby shouts into the phone.  She is a forty-something Sao Paulo native, a paulista, who fills her days fighting with her sisters about items from their dead aunt’s estate, such as it is.  When she’s not watching infomercials, she teaches guitar lessons in her apartment to various wannabe Segovias, from a boy who won’t practice to an elderly lady slowly pinging away at the strings.  Oh yes, all the while, Baby smokes — a lot.

Sao Paulo-born director Anna Muylaert’s award-winning dark comedy, Smokes Gets in Your Eyes, hits all the right notes, from its direction and screenplay to snappy editing.  Even the music of Muylaert’s countrymen moves the story along.  A guitar strums a samba as Baby’s cigarette smoke curls upward. Villa Lobos, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso take their turns.  Lovers differ on who they like better, the bossa nova style of Chico Buarque or the samba rock and funk of Jorge Ben.

Baby enjoys a smoke

One day a single guy rents the apartment next door to Baby.  His name is Max and Baby knows he’s single because the doorman told her.  How else do you get at the truth in a high-rise? Baby and Max meet outside her door.  He smiles.  She smiles. Guitar strings play Carmen in the background.  Poof, they’re a couple.

They have things in common.  They both play the guitar.  They also have differences.  She smokes, he doesn’t.  It doesn’t take him long to make that quiet request — to quit smoking.  She learns to chant that cigarettes are not her friends.

The further proof that Baby wants to make this relationship to work is in the plucking.  Her sessions with the hair-waxing ladies are not to be missed.

Muylaert struck the right chords with actors Glória Pires and Paul Miklos as Baby and Max. All the while she shows us the faces of Sao Paulo.  The city is filled with high-rise apartments where residents meet in the elevator.  In fact, it is the elevator security tape that becomes a player in Baby’s fate.

One day while she’s alone in her apartment Baby hears low moans that seem to come from Max’s place.  It turns out they are low female moans.  Another truth slowly comes out courtesy of Baby’s drill.

The moaner is Max’s ex-wife.  She won’t leave him alone, he complains to Baby.  Jealousy consumes her, until a tragedy happens.  And all the things that Baby wanted may slip away.

Brazilian film judges gave the film countless awards.  There should be a special one for nailing what it’s like to drive in Sao Paulo.  Traffic doesn’t move, it undulates likes waves on Rio’s Ipanema Beach.  A little forward, then back, a traffic samba that will slowly dance you home.

Director Muylaert noted in an interview her admiration for the work of Stanley Kubrick. That is a head’s up to be prepared for anything.  You will like Baby, laugh at her foibles, and ache for her too.  You will also want to see more of Muylaert’s films in years to come.