A portmanteau film that nominally illustrates the highs and lows of love, Rio, I Love You boasts 12 high profile international directors, and stunning scenery, but there’s sadly little else positive you can say about it.
Review by Katrina Conaglen at Edinburgh International Film Festival.
For those of you grappling with the eternal question, “what is love?” be forewarned that you’re not going to discover the answer, nor feel anything like affection towards this snoozer of an anthology film.
The latest in the “Cities of Love” franchise (the previous taking in Paris, New York, and Tbilisi), Rio, I Love You repeats the formula of enlisting high-profile directors to produce disparate vignettes about amour, this time set against the backdrop of the Brazilian beach town.
These vignettes are then woven together in the loosest possible sense. Whilst Paris, Je T’aime boasted a high-strike rate for successful stories (the Coen Brothers, Alexander Payne, and Tom Tykwer all delivering terrific short tales), Rio, I Love You is at best fitfully entertaining, and seems to suggest a franchise running on fumes.
Paolo Sorrentino provides a welcomingly sardonic section, with a spiky little tale about a trophy wife and her elderly husband holidaying in Rio. It feels like a carbon copy of a carbon copy of a Roald Dahl short story, but its cynicism is sharp relief in amidst the treacly sentimentality of the rest of the film.
To wit: Nadine Labaki directs a section that dispenses with the inconvenient issue of Rio’s slums and enormous wealth inequalities by having Harvey Keitel play-act being God (literally; he pretends to be God on the phone) and hand out a free football to a cute kid whose brother beats him. This is intended to be heart-warming, when in fact its your lap that ends up warm with fresh vomit.
It gets ever more tedious: John Turturro directs a sun-dappled tale of the end of his relationship with Vanessa Paradis, who marks the occasion by singing a self-penned ballad with lyrics so naff they’d make Savage Garden cringe. The nadir may be the paraplegic boxer with the dying wife story: the boxer gets a doozy of an indecent proposal from Jason Isaacs, and the proceedings manage to be both baffling and thuddingly dull.
That a huge chunk of the budget is announced to be paid for by the Rio De Janeiro tourism board comes as no surprise: this feels less like an authentic representation of the city’s heart and soul and more like a glossy travel catalogue brought to screen.
The Fernando Meirelles section – a wordless account of a lovestruck sand sculptor (Vincent Cassel), is set to a pounding, propulsive beat, but it is saddening to see the director of the electrifying City of God here render Rio in such sanitised fashion, free of grime, realism, or threat. The colours are saturated, but there’s no blood in Meirelles’ veins.
This may all sound like a hate-fuelled diatribe about a film about love, but hate is too potent an emotional response for a film as inert as Rio, I Love You. The response it rightfully provokes is indifference: you’ll forget it exists almost immediately. Which, as any potential suitor will tell you, is as far away from love as you can get.