I’m trying to get into the spirit of watching the Rio Olympics…really I am. I must admit, though, the opening ceremonies left me more than just a little bored–so much so that I ended up switching over to The Great British Bake-Off (hey it was the semi-finals!) about an hour into the broadcast. Maybe it was all the commercials and endless commentaries or maybe it was the surprisingly underwhelming production values (perhaps attributable to budgetary constraints?), but I simply wasn’t feeling it. Alas, I missed the glorious parade of nations…including the fabulously bare-chested flag bearer from Tonga, which was, according to Rina, her mom’s favorite part of the ceremony. I’m hoping that once my favorite competitions–women’s gymnastics and swimming–are underway my enthusiasm will get reignited. If not, I’ll have to settle for the highlights and entertain myself with movies (partially) set in Rio. Okay, to be fair, they don’t authentically reflect Brazilian culture–strictly popcorn Hollywood fare–but engaging nevertheless.
Flying Down to Rio (1933)
No one actually flew down to Rio to make this musical and very few people remember that it was really Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond who got top billing. What makes this otherwise lightweight musical noteworthy to film history buffs is the debut of perhaps arguably the most famous, most beloved onscreen dance pairing of all time–Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Now Voyager (1942)
Bette Davis at her melodramatic best, transforming herself from a dowdy neurotic Bostonian spinster heiress to a sophisticated, fashionable modern woman through intense therapy, who finds love on a cruise ship with a married man played by Paul Henreid. Their tentative onboard flirting culminates in a brief tryst while on a day trip through Rio de Janeiro (must have been something in air). No film at the time did more for smoking than Now Voyager. Paul Henreid’s iconic duo cigarette lighting became symbolic of the sublimated sex act.
Alfred Hitchcock spins a masterful tale of romance and intrigue centered around post WWII Nazi espionage in Brazil. To say the chemistry between Cary Grant (Devlin) and Ingrid Bergman (Alicia) was caliente would be an understatement. Rio provided the perfect setting for their love affair to blossom. The eroticism of their cleverly choreographed kisses, which danced around the Production Code restrictions of the time, were hands down some of the sexiest moments in film history.
If you’re in the mood for something completely offbeat, director Terry Gilliam serves up a big heaping plate of it in his fantastical oddball story about a low level bureaucrat’s (Jonathan Pryce) search for his dream woman in a dystopian, totalitarian world driven by rampant consumerism. It’s a film full of Gilliam’s trademark Monty Pythonish dark humor and imaginatively elaborate sets. Who knew how prophetic his vision really was in light of the recent controversies involving the IOC?
Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)
What was it about 1985? Here’s another film with dark political underpinnings centered on a riveting story about two prisoners in a Brazilian jail, involving political intrigue, espionage, sexual identity, love, and the power of storytelling.
Fast Five (2011)
If you’re just looking for some mindless fun, then Fast Five, the fifth installment in the Fast and Furious franchise, might be right up your alley. It’s an adrenaline rush of wildly preposterous car chases and high octane fight scenes set against the backdrop of modern Rio de Janeiro.
Whether you’re watching the Olympics or just a movie (sort of) set in Rio, you can always use some refreshments and snacks–two of the most characteristically Brazilian being the Caipirinha and Pao de Queijo (cheese bread). I added whole frozen blackberries and fresh mint to my Caipirinha, topping it off with a little soda water for a refreshing twist on a Brazilian classic.
- 2 oz. Cachaca
- 2 tsp. turbinado or raw sugar
- 1/2 lime, quartered
- 3-4 fresh or frozen blackberries
- 2 sprigs fresh mint
- chilled soda water
Place the sugar, lime pieces and one sprig of mint at bottom of a highball glass and muddle together to release the essential oils. Add the Cachaca along with 4-5 ice cubes and the blackberries. Top off with soda water and garnish with the remaining mint sprig.
I would describe the Pao de Queijo or “cheese bread” as a cross between the cheesy French gougere and a popover on the outside, with the chewiness of mochi on the inside. It’s made with tapioca flour so it’s gluten-free. To jazz it up a bit, I seasoned the batter with a tiny sprinkling of garlic powder, smoked paprika, cayenne, and ground black pepper.
Pao de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread)
Yield: 1 dozen
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup oil (e.g. canola, light olive, grapeseed)
- 2/3 cup whole milk
- 1 1/2 cups tapioca flour (aka starch)
- 1/4 tsp. sea or kosher salt
- 1/8 tsp. cayenne
- 1/8 tsp. smoked paprika
- 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
In a blender, process the egg, oil, and milk to combine. Whisk together the dry ingredients then process into the wet ingredients until smooth. Add the cheeses and pulse just to combine. Pour the batter evenly amongst twelve well-greased muffin molds. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 22-25 mins. until the cheese breads are golden brown and puffy. Cool in the tins for few minutes before unmolding.