With Brazil hosting this years FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games there is a lot of focus on the nation which has given the world samba, coffee, caipirinha, Copacabana, the Amazon and some of the worlds greatest ever football players. It is perhaps surprising though that very few international productions have taken place in this South American country. This series focuses on how countries are portrayed On Screen in film and TV whether it be real or faked somewhere cheaper and easier.
We start then with TV for once and a double dose of everyone’s favourite dysfunctional cartoon family, ‘The Simpsons‘. They have now visited Rio de Janeiro twice with the most recent season (S25E16) featuring an episode called ‘You don’t have to live like a referee‘ (a play on words from a 1980 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song which has the line “don’t have to live like a refugee”) whereby Homer is called up to referee games in the World Cup finals where he finds himself caught in a dilemna whether to accept bribes for fixing games or to remain honest as he doesn’t want to let Lisa down after she chose him as her hero.
Back in season 13 (S13E15) far more of a stir was caused when the family went to Rio in search of an orphan named Ronaldo whom Lisa had been sponsoring. ‘Blame It on Lisa‘ was criticized in Brazil because of its inclusion of clichés and stereotypes, and because the Brazilian culture was inaccurately mixed with the cultures of surrounding Latin American countries. There was even talk of the local tourist board suing the Fox Network for damaging the image of the city which they thought was incorrectly portrayed as having rampant street crime, kidnappings, slums and a rat infestation.
A scene with Homer’s kidnappers exchanging him for a case of money mirrors a scene in ‘Moonraker‘ (1979) as far as on screen interactions on cable cars going up Sugar Loaf mountain go! In that 007 film Bond confronted antagonist Jaws. The atmosphere shots of the Rio Carnival were filmed a year before the film itself was shot but the ‘Brazilian’ training camp was actually filmed in at a monastery at San Nicolo on Lido in Venice, Italy! The ‘Amazon’ boat chase actually started in Florida but culminated at Iguacu Falls on the border of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
‘The bend in the river’ was a 1984 double-episode of ‘The A-Team‘ (S03E03) on NBC which features more Amazon action as the team supports journalist and ally Tawnia Baker find an archaeologist (secretly her fiancé) that’s gone missing during an expedition on the river. The guys deal with local pirates and come across a plot that is far greater than any of them could’ve expected. In the end Baker weds her fiancé in what happened to be her final episode as the production team finally dispensed with the idea of needing a female character. I don’t know for sure where this was filmed but likelihood is that it wasn’t too far from the Universal Studios backlot in Los Angeles where almost every single one of its 98 episodes were shot!
One production that actually did take place in the Amazon was ‘Anaconda‘ (1997) which was principally shot in the jungle around Manaus although as the giant snake picks off members of a jungle expedition the lush foliage seems to give way to the palm trees of California.
Based on a true story, ‘The Emerald Forest‘ (1985) was set and mostly filmed in Brazil with Belém, Tucuruí and Carajás in Pará state in the north used alongside the far less glamorous Lincolnshire (UK)!
Returning to TV shows and witty, sarcastic and profanity-using American chef/TV personality Anthony Bourdain is no stranger to Brazil. Just ahead of the World Cup ‘Parts Unknown‘ (S03E08) on CNN saw him visit Bahia a.k.a. the African heart of Brazil. It’s famed for its Afro-Brazilian music, art, design and food. On his previous shows ‘A Cook’s Tour‘ (S02E04), ‘No Reservations‘ (S03E15 & S09E07) and ‘The Layover‘ (S02E04) he visited Sao Paulo and Rio a couple of times each. He once considered the former to be an ugly city but has changed his mind over time thanks to his ‘Paolista’ friends who showed him that the city is a vibrant mix of rich, poor, young and old. Rio is described as the perfect city that is almost impossible to not love. Tony just wishes he could enjoy the Brazilian paradise more but is nervous about his wife’s upcoming Jiu Jitsu fight in the country which gave birth to this martial art.
As for UK TV, Karl Pilkington was sent by comics Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant to see the seven wonders of the world in ‘An Idiot Abroad‘ (S01E06) which included the Christ Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. Of course things were never gonna be that simple as he also has to take part in the Carnival parade (too noisy, crowded, and stressful), go to a nudist beach, go to a gay beach, stay at a hostel, stay with a female impersonator and then he finally gets to see fulfil his main goal of the trip; to see the statue which he just describes as being like a big ornament!
More British comedy next and it’s ‘Mike Bassett: England Manager‘ (2001) which sees a second tier football league manager gain the big job after its previous occupant had a heart attack. He’s inept but flukily manages to get England into the World Cup which is in Brazil. (You can see it here.) We see a montage of clichéd Brazilian images and then its scenes at the Airport, the team hotel, on the team bus, training ground, changing room, press conference and on the sidelines. It won’t surprise you to know that none of the actors went anywhere near Brazil during filming as it was all done in the UK.
2011’s ‘Fast Five‘ (a.k.a. ‘Fast & Furious 5‘) was a bit of a guilty pleasure for me and following on from four fairly average films in the series it really made people look up and take notice of the franchise. Thanks to aerial shots and quick editing many viewers were deceived into thinking it was the real Rio but it was actually filmed in Puerto Rico as their government offered some very beneficial tax incentives to influence the decision to film there. Similar to ‘The Simpsons‘ episode, the locals were unimpressed with the Rio stereotypes that included heavily armed drug traffickers, corrupt police, laughable accents and sexy women.
Before that, one of the last movies to be set in Brazil (kind of!) was the long awaited fourth Indiana Jones movie. ‘Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull‘ (2008) was filmed 19 years after the last of the original trilogy and though often maligned I thought it was ok although the waterfall stunts did require an extension of belief. Another faked Amazon jungle for this one, with lush rainforests on private land on the Big Island of Hawaii filling in. A second unit was sent to film shots of Iguazu Falls which were then digitally combined with shots at the Universal backlot.
There’s something very exotic about seeing films or television shows set in Brazil and yes I did say exotic but maybe one letter can be changed in that word to tell us what kind of film ‘Emmanuelle In Rio‘ (2003) is!! Other movies to feature the huge South American country include ‘Fitzcarraldo‘ (1982), ‘Bossa Nova‘ (2000) and ‘The Incredible Hulk‘ (2008).
You can see previous On Screen articles by clicking on the links below:
On Screen #1 – Vietnam (Click here)
On Screen #2 – Istanbul (Click here)
On Screen #3 – Myanmar (Burma) (Click here)