My new year’s resolution was to only watch shows in other languages. This was in an effort to practice language skills (or maybe just a complex justification for my love of Spanish telenovelas). That led me to the Brazilian show “Coisa Mais Linda,” the only problem being I don’t actually speak Portuguese. But this show might just convince me to learn. The seven-episode Netflix series triumphs as an exploration of life in 1950s-60s Brazil, highlighting workplace issues, gender roles, and even music of that time.
The show centers on Maria Luiza (Maria Casadevall), soon nicknamed Malu, who moves from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro, she thinks, to rejoin her husband as they open their own restaurant. When she arrives, she discovers that he is gone, he has been cheating on her, and, as if that’s not enough, he took all her money. What begins as despair turns into an opportunity: she decides to open her own place, a live music club. She encounters an old friend, Ligia, who she renews her friendship with. Along the way she also makes new friends such as the sexually open Thereza and Adelia, Malu’s neighbor’s maid. Adelia teams up with Malu to help her open her club.
The role of Adelia allows the show to explore issues of race in Brazil. In 1959, the year the show takes place, there was vast inequality that persists today. The show confronts these issues not with grand political pronouncements, but by showing the day to day ways that black Brazilians were treated in a demeaning way. Adelia’s relationship with Malu is complex because on the one hand she is her friend, but she is also her employee.
A major one that I can’t get off my mind, though, is why Malu’s husband would tell her it’s time to come to Rio, give her his real address, but then escape before she comes and leave behind obvious clues that he has a lover. Something is fishy here. Maybe it’s not a plot hole after all, but a hint that there is some deeper, darker mystery to him…
The show is a cross between “Velvet” and “Mad Men,” two of my all time favorite shows. It tackles the sexism in culture and the workplace of the 1960s, while also promoting sexy love stories. The costumes are absolutely gorgeous. The way the film is shot is reminiscent of Tom Ford’s “A Single Man,” with lots of light and beautiful pastel scenery. It is incredibly aesthetically pleasing. The whole show feels like a spring break getaway.
But what keeps it from being just fluff is the complex and oftentimes wrenching storylines of characters such as Adelia and her baby daddy Capitan, Ligia and her abusive husband, and Malu’s despair over leaving behind her son Carlinho in Sao Paulo as she pursues her dream in Rio.
It’s also a wonderful exploration of a new place. Brazil is not a country I’ve seen highlighted in any other show or movie. The characters make jokes about Malu’s outsider status as someone from Sao Paulo now living in Rio. A huge part of the show involves bossa nova music, a popular genre that originated in Brazil, a mix of jazz and samba. A wonderful soundtrack accompanies the show. In fact, the script was inspired by the song “The Girl from Ipanema.”
If you’re looking to expand your TV-viewing horizons beyond the usual rewatching of that show you’ve already seen ten times, give “Coisa Mais Linda” a chance. It’s a fun report on life in Brazil during this time, featuring a variety of issues and intrigue ranging from sexism in the workplace to race relations, expressed through a cast of complex and lovely characters.