Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing and Robert Altman's Short Cuts are great movies, but they've inspired a legacy of imitative films that simply throw together a bunch of characters, make their individual stories overlap, and hope it will somehow all add up. Witness Mango Yellow, the debut film from Brazilian director Cláudio Assis. Set in a none-too-posh corner of the coastal city of Recife, it follows its characters as they circle around a halfheartedly dressed-up flophouse called the Texas Hotel, a home to residents who run the spectrum from seedy to sadistic to merely unwashed.
Playing a voluptuous, sharp-tongued barmaid, Leona Cavalli anchors the film and delivers an opening-scene monologue that all too aptly sets the tone with a single line: "I wish the whole world would go fuck itself." Working from a script by Hilton Lacerda, Assis makes it all too easy to come around to her way of thinking: His vision of humanity encompasses a never-ending parade of unpleasantness. When not slaughtering calves (graphically, onscreen, and using a real animal in a single take that just keeps going), a butcher nicknamed "Cannibal" (Chico Díaz) cheats on his born-again wife (Dira Paes) with a local hussy. Díaz inspires lust in flamboyant hotel manager Matheus Nachtergaele, who plots to break up his marriage when not answering phone calls for Jonas Bloch, a local lowlife who shells out big bucks for corpses that he ecstatically uses for target practice. All of this happens early in the film. Assis reserves his treasures, like a scene in which a morbidly obese woman weeps while masturbating with an oxygen mask, for the back half.
It's a lot to suffer through for a film that has nothing to say, but insists on saying it anyway. Repeatedly. As soon as the Texas Hotel regulars stop hurting one another, they start talking to themselves. Lacerda's script gives virtually everyone a monologue, but no one has much to express except the anger and frustration already apparent in their every action. Mango Yellow would feel hopelessly theatrical if not for Assis' display of technical skill. Empathy, however, eludes him. He moves his camera like a pro, but his signature shot—looking down on his characters from high above—says it all. They're ants beneath his magnifying glass.