"Xica" is a salacious little spitfire, a brazen period comedy that launched Brazil's post-cinema novo school. The film, directed by Carlos Diegues, opened the way for "Dona Flor," "Bye Bye Brazil," "Pixote" -- the new wave that followed a softening of the old military regime.
Basically, what's new below the equator hits below the belt, so beware: "Xica" is raw. It's a tar-brushed, sexist farce, which may reflect South American style and attitude, but may not suit North American sensibilities. It's in Portuguese with subtitles.
"Xica," pronounced Shee-ka, stars Zeze Motta, a kind of hostile Charo, as the slave who possesses her masters. Xica da Silva was the Diamond Lil of 18th-century Brazil's gem-rich interior, a legendary she- demon who scandalized polite white society. Tradition has it she was ugly and sour, but sure knew her Gee!-spots. Motta plays her haughty and high-strung. Her sexual hoodoo is heard, not seen, as her off-screen lovers scream.
A naked Xica seduces Joao Fernandes (Walmor Chaga), a contractor sent to monopolize mining for the King of Portugal. The smitten Fernandes forces the local hoi polloi to mix with his mistress, on whom he lavishes palaces, two-toned blond wigs, a sea and a ship of her own. Xica's 13-year reign ends when the scandalized court finally recalls her lover.
Her last hope is to stop the greedy fop who's sent to fetch Fernandes. She dances for him, wearing only a breechclout, bronze paint and gobs of eye glitter. They writhe around in the middle of an African-style banquet, which includes lots of mashed beans. The camera creeps off, but there's no scream. The sparkle's gone.
''Xica," with its colorful costumes, incredible vistas and interminable bossa nova, is Mardi Gras for Motta, a diamond-in-the- rough-cut film.
XICA -- At the Key.