AKA Amor Estranho Amor / 1982, 120 min. / Directed by Walter Khouri / Vestron / NTSC VHS / 1.33:1 / Mono
Hugo (Walter Forster), an esteemed member of society, walks through an old mansion in Brazil which he's donating to a local historical society and reminisces of a time when, as a child, he was brought to live here because his grandmother couldn't stand his disorderly behavior. In this earlier (pre-revolution) time, the property served as brothel and the house's head mistress was Hugo's mother, Anna (Vera Fischer), whose association with the important government official assured her a level of importance within the house. The day of Hugo's arrival accidentally coincides with the date an enormous late-night party is to be held, with it's guest of honor being another high-ranking socialite official which the house is plotting to frame with Tamara (Xuxa Meneghel), a prostitute hand-picked to entice the government figure since she "feels exactly like a virgin." Hugo is locked in the house's attic to hide him away from the festivities but he soon grows restless and climbs inside the building's complex air vents where allow him peer into rooms full of orgies and various other affronts. As the sun comes up over this faraway country, the revolution has already begun and Hugo's views on sexuality will be changed forever.
Love Strange Love is a classic case of "art films getting away with murder"; mostly it's remembered today for it's nude scenes featuring Brazilian children's television host and adult movie star Xuxa but the film's graphic scenes of sexuality involving an adolescent Hugo would be enough to get the film banned outright today. Despite being the primary focus of criticism, Xuxa's striptease and tender love scene actually appear innocent when compared to some of the prostitute's teasing and dominant sexual advances early on, which are then easily topped by Hugo's graphic masturbatory fantasy of incestual sex. Finally all taboos are broken by an outrageous final meeting between mother and son which is both deviant and oddly passionate. In other words, the content of this film makes The Tin Drum look like Bang the Drum Slowly. Without a strong sense of Khouri's filmography (most of his films are difficult to see outside Brazil) and the context with Estranho Amor holds within it, it's difficult to judge whether the intentions were simply a pruriant fantasy or of a higher social and political ideal. Khouri definitely treats the subject matter in a calm and rational light which strongly clashes with allegations of pure "sexploitation." While the concept of a pubescent boy let loose in a cathouse conjures images of a more comical tone, Khouri's rendition is far more raw and desperate. The affection of these older women toward this boy often materializes as pure lust, with Hugo's facial expression and body language exhibiting a mix of a kind of mental paralysis, stuck between holding out and indulging in these new feelings he has. Indeed, the key image one gets from this film is definitely Hugo's piercing blue eyes, fully dialated, gazing at his own deepest personal fantasy and darkest nightmare. The concept of the brothel's political intrugue and social revolution are a defnite presense in the film but they're never allowed to intrude on Hugo's growing sexual awareness. Estrano... ultimately stands as a dark coming of age tale, as a young boy's sense of identity coincides with the end of a country's debauched fascist regime.
Vestron's antique video release states on the front that it's the "uncut version," and given the tape's running length (approximately 120 Minutes) thid statement appears correct. Many of the steamier portions of the film also seem to have been lifted from a grainer and faded print than the surrounding footage, indicating that Vestron actually did go to some lengths to secure a unbowdlerized version. The tape totally fails in the audio category, where a poor dubbing job further obscures the true emotion and meaning of this film.
Though the intentions of Walter Khouri, Xuxa and other participants seem to be obscured by the passing winds of apathy combined with the film's censorship and eventual out-of-print status, there's definitely one reason to track this one down: It's definitely fascinating material. Whether this film is ultimately the product of a deviant mind, enterprising provacatour or socio-political theorist, it's definitely never a boring experience for those who, like Hugo, are curious to peer into the lives of the sordid characters that inhabit this film.