The Caravan Rolidei tours Brazil, entertaining the masses or at least those in the small villages they visit, hoping they don't have any television to distract them. Lorde Cigano (José Wilker) performs the magic tricks, while his partner Salomé (Betty Faria) dances the rhumba and strongman Swallow (Príncipe Nabor) shows off his great strength. They make just enough to stay on the road, and tricks such as making it snow indoors (making it snow at all is quite a feat, even if it is observed by the punters that it tasted like grated coconut) ensures that the villagers are enthralled. However there are no guarantees in this world...
Bye Bye Brasil was scripted by its director Carlos Diegues with Leopoldo Serran and made the proud boast that it covered nine thousand miles to bring its story of the clash between new Brazil and old to life. In fact, so keen were they to pack every little observation on the state of the nation that they risked losing focus, so it was fortunate that Diegues found himself a reliable group of players, including local television megastar Betty Faria, to keep the tale on the right track. Such was the laid back approach, however, that it was difficult to really be engrossed.
This was not the fault of the actors, but when, say, the narrative took a darker turn halfway through, it was presented in such a matter of fact manner that the performers might have suffered nothing worse than a punctured tyre on their van. Before we reached that stage, we got to know Lorde Cigano (which translates as Lord Gypsy) and his merry band of players, recently joined by one couple who sees them as their ticket out of the middle of nowhere and into the glittering business we call show. Or at least, the husband does.
The couple are accordion player Ciço (Fábio Júnior) and his very pregnant missus Dasdô (Zaira Zambelli) who persuade Lord Cigano to take them along for the ride. We are well aware that the bright lights of superstardom are as distant as ever for all of them, but they are quite content to bring their ray of sunshine to the provinces, observing all the way the changes Brazil is suffering (or benefiting from). Race, poverty, migration and the new media dominating the citizens' lives are touched upon, but the impression is of a director revelling in his country and being able to bring its far corners to better attention.
This is a love story of sorts as well, but an unrequited love story because one of Ciço's motives for joining the travelling show is that he has fallen hard for Salomé, who sadly has seen enough of men that she doesn't need another in her life. Faria's world weary charm and Wilker's engaging personality go some way to keeping the viewer interested in what happens to these four, and for the first half Bye Bye Brasil is amusing enough, but when Swallow ends up losing the whole caboodle in an arm wrestling match that Cigano was encouraging him to do, he wanders off in tears never to be seen again, and the two women (Dasdô has had her baby by this time) are forced into prostitution, all of which is not exactly uplifting. A little more variation in the tone, a little less of the soap opera storylines, and the film might have been a minor classic. As it is, it's still diverting and valuable as a snapshot of a nation on the move.