Walter Presents TV review: Magnifica 70
Ivan Radford | On 27, May 2016
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Channel 4’s Walter Presents just might be the best thing to happen to UK TV screens since Netflix. For proof, look no further than Magnifica 70, a Brazilian TV series about sex, lies and video tapes. It’s the kind of thing that would never turn up in the weeknight ITV schedules, but here it is: the tale of a film censor, Vicente (Marcos Winter), who finds himself besotted with a porn star. It’s a reminder of just how broad the on-demand site’s horizons have become – and a seductive piece of TV in its own right.
The story, of the surface, is little more than smut: an uptight man finds himself unravelled by a woman taking her clothes on-camera. But there’s more wit to Walter Presents’ latest acquisition than that. Vicente, you see, is tasked with censoring films for the military dictatorship running Brazil in the 1970s, which means not just outlawing erotic movies, but also those subverting the status quo.
When Vicente sees The Wild Schoolgirl, a lewd flick about a naughty student, he’s so shocked by the sight of lead actress Dora Dumar (Simone Spoladore) doing adult things that he bans the thing outright – only for Dor to start appearing in his dreams, both when awake and asleep. And so he decides to visit the studio, Magnifica Films, and offers to help them get their film released. The plan? Shoot a different ending that can overcome the censorship board’s restrictions.
All this he does without the knowledge of his wife, Isabel (Luisa Mendonça), or her military father-in-law. But he’s soon head over heels, not just over Dora, but the whole world of cinema; thrust behind the camera, he unwittingly becomes a director on a seedy pornochanchada – and, intoxicated, can’t wait for another taste.
It’s a curious premise, one that playfully attempts to combine Cinema Paradiso and Boogie Nights, not to mention a whole heap of shadier productions – the shots of Spoladore often arguably cross the line between exploring a subject and exploiting it. But there’s class among the crassness, too.
That, of course, is what you’d expect from an HBO Latin American series. The period detail of São Paulo is gorgeously recreated in detail by director Claudio Torres, from the costumes and film sets to the streets and soundtrack. In the lead, Winter dives right into that world, squirming with believably buttoned-up awkwardness every time he gets hot under the collar, while Adriano Garib repeatedly steals scenes as Manolo, The Wild Schoolgirl’s entertainingly sleazy director. Spoladore, crucially, also manages to make her film star more than just an object of desire – we swiftly discover that she’s more concerned with the money than the movie business; while Vicente is falling in love with this low-rent showbiz, she’s plotting her way out.
As Vicente puts it, they suffer the irresistible draw of the forbidden – and, set at a time when the whole country was under a dictator’s thumb, that desire was widespread. Both characters want to do what they can’t: he longs to wriggle out of his censored existence, while she yearns to be free from her own straight-jacketed life. There’s a gentle social commentary underlying the whole thing, raising questions of freedom of expression and art’s value. Most of all, though, it’s just an impressively put-together piece of television. Torres’ direction is matched by some superb, stylish editing: black-and-white fantasy sequences bleed into scenes of the everyday, somehow making the coloured truth seem more drab (one cross-cut sex scene is particularly cruel). Seemingly imagined conversations, meanwhile, turn out to be flashbacks and even flashforwards, giving the whole narrative the hazy feel of a Hollywood dream.
As the boundary between what’s real and what’s not increasingly blurs, the show puts us in the shoes of Vicente, sliding further into the limbo between the motion pictures and mundane reality. It’s a place that wouldn’t normally be seen on screens in this country – full of smoke, clapperboards, scantily clad women and the potential to surprise. You’ll find it hard not to be seduced into watching a few more episodes.
All episodes of Magnifica 70 Season 2 are available to stream on All 4’s Walter Presents.