'Clown' Director Selton Mello Tries to Change Brazil's Oscar Image from Bloody to Dreamy

The country's 2013 Oscar submission is a departure from such famously two-fisted Brazilian contenders as "City of God."
Selton Mello

After a standing-room-only screening of Brazil's foreign language Oscar submission The Clown at Sundance Sunset Cinema Nov. 30, writer/director Selton Mello explained to viewers (including Rio de Janeiro-born Homeland star Morena Baccarin, who buttonholed him on the way out of the theater) about how his movie about a melancholy traveling circus clown's midlife crisis fits into Brazilian film history. "It's a fable," said Mello. "Movies are in a poetic way related to dreams. This movie has a dreamy quality." Despite its rural sense of place, the film's characters (a father-and-son clown team, a larcenous fire-breather, a cat-obsessed small-town judge, a crowd-enchanting child) seem to float in a sweet, sad world located in Mello's kindly mind. "He's one of our icons," Baccarin told The Hollywood Reporter. "He's been acting since he was a boy. He's … we have a word for it, 'querido.' It means, 'of the heart,' or 'a wanted person.' " The dictionary defines it as "dear."

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That's a far cry from the most famous Brazilian Oscar contenders, Jose Padilha's 2012 Elite Squad 2, Hector Babenco's 2004 Carandiru, and Fernando Meirelles' 2003 City of God -- all urban tales of violence and corruption. "This is a beautiful chance to show another side of our soul," Mello told the crowd. "There are movies like City of God, but we are much more than that. We can dream as well." Currently, Mello is dreaming up a new movie, Soundtrack, which is set to co-star City of God's Seu Jorge. The Clown swept Brazil's Academy Awards equivalent with 12 prizes, was seen by 1.5 million, and grossed about $7 million on a $3 million budget.

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Mello also corrected one common misconception about The Clown: that it's an homage to Fellini's dreamily peripatetic carnival cinema."Fellini? Of course. But another Italian director, Ettore Scola's A Viagem do Capitao Tornado [The Voyage of Captain Fracassa] may be more [of an influence] than Fellini. My main reference is Peter Sellers and the brilliant work he did in Being There. And Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. The Idiot and Chance Gardener are like cousins."