Bruno Barretto’s 1976 film is often seen as a classic of 70s-sexy arthouse film. The film chronicles Dona Flor, played by Sonia Braga. She marries young, to a real rounder, Vadinho (Jose Wilker). Vadinho loves to gamble and he loves prostitutes. He’s a true scoundrel. He beats her for money, steals everything, even goes to the roulette table on his wedding night. But he gives Flor what she needs in bed. He’s good at sex and she likes sex a lot. But his hard-partying ways have a price and he collapses and dies in the street after seven years of marriage.
After her mourning period, Dona Flor remarries, this time to a local pharmacist (Mauro Mendonca). He’s everything Vadinho is not. He’s respectable, he’s a bassoon player in a classical music ensemble, he treats her kind and gives her the material possessions she has always desires. He’s also terrible at sex. Thus Dona Flor is dissatisfied with her marriage. She seems to love her new husband, but she needs the old one. So she summons him back to the dead so she can have sex with his randy ghost while keeping the respectability of her husband.
Were this film focused on Dona Flor’s emotions about what she wants in life, I think it would hold up better. But it is so 70s. It is the male gaze on female sexuality. Even if she does make choices in the end by bringing back Vadinho’s ghost while staying with the pharmacist, the heart of the film is watching Vadinho carouse. The real message here is that a hot woman will put up with anything for a good fuck. It’s a male fantasy of a man being completely worthless yet still getting it all–great sex with a beautiful woman at home, sex with whoever he wants at the brothels, gambling, male camaraderie, etc. He’s presented as having so much much fun, his friends adore him, etc.
So for me, this feels really dated and little more than a male fantasy, even if it looks great.