A Brazilian drama series set in the 1970s, Magnifica 70 is all about Vincente (Marcos Winter), who works as a film censor for the dictatorship government of Sao Paolo, censoring indecency and dangerous political themes and messages. One day, while observing an adult film, produced by the pivotal Magnifica studios, he finds himself transfixed by its lead actress Dora Dumar (Simone Spoladore) as she immediately reminds him of his wife’s younger sister Ângela (Bella Camero), with whom he had had a turbulent, dangerous relationship and who died under mysterious circumstances. From then on, he helps the studio get the film approved by the censorship office and eventually gets drawn into the world of adult films, writing and directing a film based on his relationship with Ângela and constantly trying to keep his two lives separate. It is also revealed that Dora and her brother Dario are planning a heist to steal the film’s profits.
A promotional poster for the series claimed this to be Brazil’s answer to Breaking Bad and there are indeed plenty of comparisons to be made. Much like Breaking Bad, Magnifica 70 is primarily about an ordinary man who gets sucked into a dangerous, taboo world, discovering a passion for a frowned-upon profession, realising that he’s good at it and that it makes him feel alive. There’s also the constant struggle to keep both lives separate, his wife soon becomes involved and there’s sex and violence aplenty. It is also similar to Boogie Nights, delving into a gritty, heated environment. It a consistently tense, exciting series, never failing to shock, engage and entertain, with a fair dose of dark humour throughout.
One of the biggest draws of Magnifica 70 is the character of Dora Dumar, a fascinating, complex, three-dimensional character wonderfully performed by Simone Spoladore. A woman trying to survive in a man’s world, more than once labelled a whore and often dismissed by the chauvinistic men in her life, she can be dangerous when she needs to be, knowing just how to use her body to manipulate men but there is also a definite sweetness and vulnerability about her as she often feels conflicted about the thought of betraying her friends, especially her producer “husband” Manny, who is clearly in love with her and cares about her more than anything. Spoladore performs these scenes excellently, effectively showing the inner turmoil in her eyes, saying more than words ever could.
Particularly wonderful is a scene where, having been told one lie too many, she decides to take control of the heist, asserting her dominance over the room full of guys. So much so that even hardened criminal Walter seems to shrink back and look intimitated by her!
And on that note, Magnifica 70 is certainly laudable for its female characters. Alongside Dora, there’s Vincente’s wife Isabel (Maria Luisa Mendonça); much like Dora, she seems to be overlooked by the men in her life, including her repulsive, sadistic, woman-hating General father and it initially seems that Vincente simply settled for her, leading to a troubled, loveless marriage. However as Vincente changes, Isabel does as well, initially by exploring her sexuality and by eventually assisting Vincente and the Magnifica crew and fighting against her evil father. Through all of this, Vincente comes to realise how incredible his wife is and the development of their relationship is wonderful.
Ângela is another interesting, important character; in the first few episodes, she’s shown as a dangerous, seductive nymphet who seems intent on luring Vincente away from his wife, not caring about anyone’s feelings. However, certain revelations are made over the course of the series and when we finally discover what made her the way she is, with a truly shocking, jaw-dropping end-of-episode discovery, we definitely see her in a whole new light and she becomes an important, sympathetic figure to both Vincente and Isabel. Ângela is a key part of the series and her presence, even in death, is felt throughout.
In the story, men seem to control everything but its clearly the women who have real power. Maybe it would be going a bit far to think of Magnifica 70 as a feminist text, but the series clearly has plenty of strong, intelligent, complex female characters, which is excellent.
Strange as it may seem, Magnifica 70 is something of a love letter to cinema as Vincente takes great pride in his work and seeks to recreate the methods of many recognisable filmmakers. He even takes inspiration from Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin (which he sees as part of a lecture on dangerous “communist films”!), which gives him the inspiration on how to effectively edit the ending of his own film. Vincente’s passion for filmmaking is admirable and, even though we know he’s clearly not making a cinema classic, we constantly will him to succeed and for the film to be successful.
The series effectively uses grainy cinematography to recreate the 70s and it definitely helps the series to look authentic, almost as if it were actually made in that decade; when I first started watching, I immediately thought of Dirty Harry, since the visual style is remarkably similar. The use of monochrome for the many flashback scenes is excellent and the films made within the story are also effectively created, believably low budget and seedy. The series’ music is also noteworthy; the incidental music is great and the opening theme is excellent.
My only negative points about the series would be that it does slightly peter out in the last two episodes as plot strands continue to be introduced and efforts are made to set up a subsequent series. Also, it can be rather difficult to figure out who’s on who’s side as more lies are told and the characters continually try to put one over on each other. You can indeed be left wondering “So is she actually betraying him? No, she’s just working him! Or is she? But then again . . !”