What makes up a city? The people? The locale? The flavor of the food, the smell of the streets, the sounds of the crowd? When author Reyner Banham concluded his exhaustive study of the city of Los Angeles in The Architecture of Four Ecologies, he described viewing LA from the vantage point of an aircraft:
Within its vast extent can be seen its diverse ecologies of sea-coasts, plain, and hill; within that diversity can be seen the mechanism, natural and human, that have made those ecologies support a way of life … Overflying such a spectacle, it is difficult to doubt that it is a subject worthy of description, yet at ground level there have been many who were ready to cast doubt on the worth of such an enterprise.
Banham’s words ring true in the penultimate story in the new omnibus city-symphony, Rio, I Love You, while a character hang-glides over the city of Rio de Janeiro. Up there, he is totally isolated from the world, and because of that, he lashes at the only being up there with him, Christ the Redeemer.
While this scene is designed to condemn the idea of a benevolent spirit — the gentleman’s disgust with the statue is due to his failure with his personal relationships — Rio, I Love You has done nothing to create the illusion of that spirit, absent or not. Instead, Rio creates a collage of a city and the people inhabiting it in hopes that the dots will connect. They don’t. Not by a long shot.
Rio, I Love You is the third film in a series of omnibus Cities of Love series which began in 2006 with Paris, je t’amie, continued in 2008 with New York, I Love You, and has two more in the works: Jerusalem and Shanghai. Of the three produced, Paris was the most successful of the bunch as the movie is a collection of short stories, most of which are complete. Stories that Rio desperately lacks. More a collection of magical realism vignettes, these ten segments — from ten different writer/director teams — follow a woman into the surf, an Australian pop star up the Sugar Loaf hill, more than one bickering couple, a prostitute and her vampire lover, an American actor and on and on. None of them make a lick of sense, nor does the eleventh story, which isn’t so much a story as it is, supposedly, the connective tissue between the other ten. All refuse to align, connect or illuminate.
Omnibus movies tend to present a fair amount of problems, as it is difficult to bring ten different directing rhythms in sync within the two-hour running time. This is most evident in Fernando Meirelles’s dialogue-free segment, where a sand sculpture (Vincent Cassel) falls in love with the music, rhythms and women of Brazil.
If the goal of Rio, I Love You was to present the city in a positive and seductive light prior to the world-wide attention it will gain later this year at the Summer Olympics, then it is a failure on all counts. The scenery is beautiful, but the construct is cheap and sleazy. Good travel photography should entice. This one repulses.