Bingo: The King of the Mornings ★★★★ review

by Deryn O’Sullivan

Based on true events, the rise and fall of Bingo – Brazil’s most famous (fictional) TV clown – is brought to vivid life by a sizzling central performance.

Bingo: The King of the Mornings; dir.: Daniel Rezende; Brazil 2017, 113 minutes. Our Rating: ★★★★/5

If Martin Scorsese directed a Krusty The Clown origin story, the finished article might end up looking something like Bingo: King of the Mornings, an upbeat neon-lit ode to the seductive but seedy world of Brazilian television in the 1980s. In fact, Bingo is the first full-length feature from Daniel Rezende, industry-famous editor of The Tree of Life, City of God, and the made-for-Brazilian-TV follow up, City of Men.

Rarely pausing for breath, Bingo follows the meteoric rise and fall of single father Augusto Mendes (Vladimir Brichta), a day player starring in trashy telenovelas and soft porn who dreams of a bigger, better life for himself and his young son. In unorthodox fashion, Augusto catches the eye of a casting director looking to fill the role of ‘Bingo The Clown’, based on an American smash hit TV show of the same name.

Mercurial Augusto gets the job, of course, throwing himself into the role without a second’s thought. There’s only one catch – no-one can know the identity of the man beneath the greasepaint.

Early scenes in Bingo hint at his delusions of grandeur and utter dedication to self-aggrandisement. A real pain-in-the-ass on set, Augusto’s full-on antics land somewhere between Andy Kaufman’s reality-blurring schtick and Denis Lavant’s life-is-performance character in Holy Motors. Bingo is absolutely surreal at times, but that’s a significant part of the charm.

Vastly popular on home turf, Brichta’s dual role as Augusto and Bingo is fantastic viewing and a real treat to watch. It may turn out to be a breakout role in international terms, too. He has this kind of Matthew McConaughey-esque charm where he can switch from angelic to demonic in a second – he uses it to great dramatic effect in Bingo. A frantic and fearless performance is exactly what the film needs to keep up with the often-feverish pace set by sharp editing and clever transitions.

Brichta draws enough empathy that the consequences of his actions feel both infuriating and heartbreaking. As much as anything else, Bingo is deeply concerned with our human need to strike a balance between loss and gain. If only the characters of the film could appreciate his performance in the same way as the viewer. Like watching a natural disaster unfold one moment at a time, Augusto as Bingo is captivating whether from a distance or up close, but devastating to anything in his path.

Caught in the periphery of this particular human tornado are Augusto’s gifted director Lúcia (Leandra Leal) and his overfamiliar cameraman Vasconcelos (Augusto Madeira). Though religious Lúcia keeps Augusto at an arms length for her own sanity, Vasconcelos indulges him at every turn, whether it’s bawdy jokes between takes or a dash of the white stuff.

At the very eye of the storm is Augusto’s son, Gabriel (Cauä Martins), whose wide-eyed affection for his fame-seeking dad is unconditional, but tested throughout. One of the film’s major themes is the diminishing of the relationship between father and son as Augusto’s star power continues to rise. Young Cauä only has a handful of scenes, but every one of them is crucial in a way that holds the film together. Take for instance an early scene in which Augusto struggles to connect with his young audience. Gabriel flat out tells his father: “I wouldn’t laugh at it. My friends wouldn’t find it funny either.” But it’s one of the few times in Bingo that gives Augusto cause for self-doubt. It sparks off a lovely sequence where Augusto visits the circus to get tips on timing and character from the ringmaster. (In a neat nod to legacy, the actor playing the ringmaster is the son of Arlindo Barreto, the real-life inspiration for the film.)

Though sentimental in the tradition of most biopics, Bingo swaggers Scorsese-like through triumphant montages and lucid waking dreams. It shines a spotlight on the seedier elements of fame, and the side-effects of stardom and self-absorption. It’s nostalgic – even the subtitles are retro – but there’s no blind spot for the still-transgressive culture of sexism in film and television-making. We know it’s never just been limited to the thirty or so squared miles of Hollywood, California.

In Augusto, there’s a sense of privilege that knows no limits, and a lack of self-control to match. There’s no real effort made to sympathise the character, nor would it help. Bingo’s supporting cast get the heavy lifting where that’s concerned.

Augusto’s a likeable chap, for sure, but fame consumes him. It takes him further away from his son. He’s never shown to be some variant of the wounded martyr trope, nor stuck in a vicious cycle, though there is certainly a tragic element to his meteoric rise and fall. Nor is there any attempt to gratify the viewer by showing them the multitude of rotten ways in which everyone but the star of the show becomes objectified and replaceable. By the end of the movie, we know exactly who’s beneath the greasepaint.

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