I think many fans of exploitation will agree that one of the best things about the genre is its ever-changing nature. When exploitation meets a culture, the result is always something new. In Brazil, exploitation met comedy and what came out was a low-budget hybrid genre known as Pornochanchada. In the 70s, theaters were full of films that fell under this category and some of them eventually became classics of the sub-genre. One such film is Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos (Mrs. Flor and Her Two Husbands). The film brings together the best of what Pornochanchada had to offer, including Sonia Braga, who went on to become an iconic Brazilian actress and has been nominated for both a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award.

Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos
Brazil, 1976, Bruno Barreto

The film tells the story of Flor, a woman living in a small city in Brazil who marries Vadinho, a handsome man with an unquenchable thirst for sex, parties, drinking, and gambling. Although she is madly in love with Vadinho, Flor quickly learns that the bad-boy image only hides a good-for-nothing man who’s always leaving her alone, asking for money, sleeping with other women, and gambling away even the clothes on his back. One day Vadinho dies while partying and dancing. Brokenhearted and missing the company her husband gave her, Flor marries again, this time with a very proper gentleman who owns drugstore. While her news husband is a very good man and promises to be faithful to her forever, Flor misses the wild, erotic moments she often had with Vadinho. As if listening from beyond the grave, Vadinho’s ghost comes to satisfy Flor’s desires. With two husbands in the same house, things get complicated. In the end, she will learn to make the best of a very weird situation.

Good writing is at the heart of every film. In the case of Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos, director Bruno Barreto and writers Leopoldo Serran and Eduardo Coutinho did a great job, but they didn’t have to struggle too much. The film is based on Jorge Amado’s homonymous novel. Amado, whose work has been translated to more than 40 languages and has been adapted into films, plays, and television shows, is still recognized as one of Brazil’s top literary figures. The author’s typical humor and focus on Brazilian culture and religious syncretism are very well presented in the film, which also boasts a score by Chico Buarque, a world-renowned Brazilian poet, singer, songwriter, and playwright. The combination of all these great figures lead to a film that truly shines withing a genre that was mostly know for juvenile humor and lots of skin.

There is enough sex and humor to make this a good film, but what truly makes it stand out is a couple of elements that can’t be found in similar films. For starters, Vadinho, played by José Wilker, is an unforgivable character. On his wedding night, Vadinho makes love to his new wife… and then sneaks out of the house to go play roulette and then visit a whorehouse. He also dances with a dwarf, convinces a priest to give him money to gamble with, is constantly drunk, harasses Flor’s cooking students in his underwear, drinks shots without removing the cigarette from his mouth, and even manages to come back from the dead to have sex with his wife and sleep in the same bed and her and the new husband.

The second element that makes Dona Flor e Seus Dois Maridos great is the music. Buarque did a great job, but the best thing is the way some songs are worked into the narrative as if they were almost natural occurrences. The movie is by no means a musical, but a few scenes follow the musical aesthetic and give a welcome break in the action.

Pornochanchada is definitely a sub-genre worth exploring, and I’ll revisit it at some point in this same space. However, if you only have time for one film, make it this one. Most of the online versions have Spanish subtitles, so you’ll have to dig around if you don’t speak Portuguese or Spanish. That being said, you can get the DVD version online, or rent it through Netflix if you’re in the US.