Xica / Xica da Silva (1976)

Synopsis:
Xica (Zeze Motta), a black female slave in 18th century Brazil, gains freedom, wealth, and power by seducing the town’s new Royal Diamond Contractor (Walmor Chages).

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary’s review of this “popular [Brazilian] film by Carlos Diegues” is rather half-hearted. He finds it “not particularly interesting,” and largely “unsatisfying” in terms of its political exposition. Other reviewers have expressed similar opinions (see links below), lamenting the film’s bombastic sexual humor and labeling it thematically “messy”.

It’s true that Xica doesn’t fall into one or two neatly defined cinematic slots. In addition to the above-listed genres, for instance, Xica could be seen as a “femme fatale” film, given that the lead character selfishly causes the downfall of the men she seduces (though her joyous demeanor and intermittent goodwill towards others don’t allow Xica to fall into the classic noir categorization of such women). Also, while the story undeniably involves slavery, it doesn’t dwell on this as any kind of a serious thematic subject — Xica could just as easily have been a lower-class maid rather than a slave, without changing the overall thrust of the story. And though Xica has much of the feeling of a classic “Bedroom Farce” — with Xica bedding several cuckolded men at once — it’s more about sex as a source of power than sex as a harmless flirtation. Finally, while Xica experiences a drastic downfall at the end of the film (thus hinting at a “Rise and Fall” theme), she picks herself right back up and, oddly, seems undefeated — thus belying the traditional heavy-handed morality of most such movies.

Ultimately, then, Xica is more of a character-driven comedy than any kind of a serious statement about political, historical, racial, or gender-based issues. If you don’t expect such an agenda, chances are you’ll have a good time enjoying this film’s broad humor, colorful costumes, and unusual historical setting. It’s truly a unique movie-watching experience.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Zeze Motta’s dynamic, sexually charged performance as Xica
  • Unexpectedly ribald humor

Must See?
Yes, as one of the most popular Brazilian films of the 1970s.

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