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    The Three Marias

    Rio trio

    Three temptresses from the Brazilian countryside are sent by their mother to find the country's most notorious killers for a revenge mission in the somewhat unreal "Three Marias."


    "The Three Marias" is so mythical in conception that you're not always sure whether to take it seriously. With epic quests, deadly feuds, heroes who draw their power from the animal kingdom, evil villains and grandiose revenge plots, you almost expect Xena Warrior Princess to leap into the fray at any moment and kick somebody's ass.

    Original title: As Tres Marias.
    Directed by: Aluizio Abranches.
    Written by: Heitor Dhalia, Wilson Freire.
    Cast: Marieta Severo, Julia Lemmertz, Maria Luisa Mendonca, Luiza Mariani, Carlos Vereza, Enrique Diaz, Tuca Andeada, Wagner Moura, Lazaro Ramos, Cassiano Carneiro, Fabio Limma, Andre Barros.
    Cinematography: Marcelo Durst.
    In Portuguese with English subtitles.
    Cinema Village 22 E. 12th St. (212) 924-3363

    This Brazilian import starts out looking like another "City of God," with a series of brutal ganglike confrontations that result in the murders of all the men in the Capadocio family. The widow Filomena declares that none of her three daughters is to cry at the funeral.

    "I want mourning, not tears. I want pain, not a flood," says the matriarch, who spokes mostly in grand-sounding pronouncements. At dinner after the funeral, she instructs each of the lithe daughters to go in search of a different notorious killer — Cobra Ze, Chief Tenorio, and the Devil's Horse.

    "Do all you can to conquer him," she tells Maria Francisca before her journey to recruit cobra man. "If that does not work, do more than you can."

    "Why don't we kill them ourselves?" asks the youngest, Maria Pia.

    "We have a destiny in life, and yours is not to kill," answers mother.

    Off go the three lovely but dangerous Marias, in search of the men who can vanquish their rivals, the three murderous men of the Santos Guerra family. Destiny will throw a twist into each woman's path.

    The film is meant to be an epic drama full of primal emotions, though still tied in with current-day Brazil, but its air of unreality and its soap-opera caliber performances take away from its effectiveness. I can't help wondering whether "The Three Marias," with its mystical Catholic imagery and local color, looks different to Brazilian eyes than to American ones. From our point of view, it's not a bad effort but it looks fable-like and detached. It's hard to say what we take away from the experience of watching it.

    MAY 16, 2003

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