I was just 17 when I entered university, and my education at home was sexually repressed. Not that talking about sex was a taboo, but my parents wanted me to remain an untouched sweet girl for, let’s say, almost forever. My hometown, São Paulo, Brazil, has got one of the most eclectic and funky night lives of Latin America. So getting an early bus to university was a curious experience for the eyes. The route passed Roosevelt Square, now a meeting point for gays and artists, exhuding hot and creative energy, and mostly gentrified. But back then in the 1980s, the area reeked of decadence, dotted with strip joints, dark rooms, sex shops and… movie theatres!
At that time, I was naively in love with an older man who fantasised courting Nastassja Kinski. I wanted to be as sexy as her, before having sex for the first time. She was stunning, but I secretly hoped one day she would reveal her inner beauty to be as scary and repulsive as her father Klaus Kisnki in Nosferatu (Werner Herzog, 1979).
One day I bought the newspaper in search of a film starred by Kinski (the belle; not the beast). My eyes fell upon One From The Heart, a promising romantic story. Plus, the film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, an Italo-American filmmaker. All cool. My Italo-Brazilian father would approve and give me money to the screening. The problem was that the only cinema showing it was Cine Bijou, in the infamous Roosevelt Square. This meant I had to concoct a lame excuse in order to go out, which I did. My parents trusted me.
I remember the feeling of walking down Roosevelt Square for the first time. I wasn’t able to keep my chin up: both the building and the passers-by were scary. There were drunk men sleeping on the streets and homeless kids washing themselves in the fountains. Also a malodorous beggar approached me like a ghost. I could see dildos when I peeked inside some shops, and I wondered how they were used. When I got into the dark foyer at Cine Bijou I felt safe. There were very few people in the audience.
One From The Heart is a modern love story. The two main characters (played by Teri Garr and Frederic Forrest) inhabit a Las Vegas of disappointment and neon lights. For a brief time, they break out of their married lives and meet new lovers (played by Raul Julia and Nastassja Kinski), who tease them with new dreams and fresh fantasies. I thought that was so cool. Maybe I could even get married like that! I studied Kinski’s gestures and looks. Would my yet-to-be-found beloved spouse agree to an open marriage???
But what really struck me at that time – and now I am quite ashamed of my youthful taste – was the artificial atmosphere of Las Vegas. I associated libido with neon lights. Suddenly Las Vegas and Roosevelt Square were similar places. The blurry North-American setting intoxicated with gaudy neon looked like the smoky cabarets in the centre of São Paulo. But were the glitzy lights somehow related to passion and lust?
Looking now in retrospect, as a movie critic, it doesn’t matter to me that One From The Heart is a minor and often overlooked film in the Coppola filmography. People will always talk about The Godfather trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990) or The Conversation (1974) and forget his decadent love story. For once, Coppola was more worried about the lighting effects than about social issues such as the Vietnam War, the subject of Apocalypse Now (1979). From the bottom of my heart, after watching One From The Heart I was forever changed. That was my coming of age. Lust was born in the shape of a neon sign.
The image at the top is a strip joint in the centre of São Paulo, not far from Roosevelt Square. It was taken from the 1993 video clip of the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds song ‘Do you Love Me’, which is set entirely in the then derelict centre of the Brazilian metropolis