The lure of Brazilian telenovelas

WHENEVER I visit my parents I end up watching the soap operas that are on Brazilian television six days a week, from Monday to Saturday, from 5:30pm onwards. In our family we’ve always preferred the ones on the Globo network, Brazil’s largest TV network. Their novelas have always had the best production values and the most famous actors.

My current favorite on this visit is called “A Favorita”. It comes on at 9pm, the slot reserved for the more serious and heavyweight of the daily novelas. It’s the story of two women who despite not being biologically related were raised in the same household as sisters. Donatela, played by the super-famous Claudia Raia, is orphaned at a young age and is raised by her neighbor Pedro (Genezio dos Barros) along with his biological daughter Flora (Patricia Pillar). At the beginning of the novela, Donatela is introduced as being a rich, spoiled and manipulative diva who always gets what she wants no matter what. Flora has been in prison for 18 years for having killed Donatela’s husband, with whom she had an affair and gave birth to a daughter called Lara (Mariana Ximenes).

Lara was subsequently raised by Donatela as her own daughter in the house of her rich in-laws: Gonçalo Fontini (Mauro Mendonça) and his wife Irene (Gloria Menezes). Flora wants revenge for all the years she’s been in prison and plots to have Donatela framed for a murder she did not commit. Everything is set up so that Donatela ends up in an abandoned warehouse holding a gun in her hand in front of the dead corpse of a medical examiner. Although she didn’t kill him (Flora did), the police catch her at the murder scene with the incriminating gun and off she goes to prison.

The writers of this novela are masters at manipulating our emotions. When I first started watching it around three weeks ago I disliked Donatela and liked Flora. Now my allegiances have changed completely: I can’t stand Flora and find myself rooting for Donatela.

One unlikely ally that Donatela has is her stepfather Pedro. At the beginning of the novela I found him to be a sniveling loser, but lo and behold, I love him now. His hatred for his biological daughter Flora is fascinating and their scenes together, where she practically begs for some fatherly affection and the way she turns on him when he refuses, are some of the best acting I’ve seen in a while.

The scenes where Donatela and Flora confront each other have also been some the best ones so far in “A Favorita”. Since I’m leaving for Abu Dhabi on Friday morning I’ll just have to ask my mother what happened or watch little video clips from the episodes on the Globo website.