If you watch paint-by-numbers biopic Paulo Coelho’s Best Story with no knowledge of who the elusive title character is, you will leave the film without understanding what made the celebrated author of The Alchemist more than just another tortured artist.
Through chronologically jumbled flashbacks, Coelho (Júlio Andrade) is presented with a series of biographical clichés. First we see Coelho take inspiration from drugs: He snorts enough cocaine to power a small island nation, and is then somehow able to produce a flurry of short stories and plays. Next we meet teenage Coelho as he undergoes shock therapy because aloof father Pedro (Enrique Diaz) doesn’t approve of his bohemian attitude.
Coelho’s creative successes are then treated as meritorious compensations for betrayals he suffered from fair-weather patrons, like the book agent who dismissed The Alchemist as the worst thing Coelho wrote. Conversely, the strength of Coelho’s poetry is attributed to nurturing lovers, particularly doting wife Christina (Fabiana Gugli).
These trite assumptions about Coelho’s triumphs wouldn’t be so bad if they were presented with dramatic flair. Even Coelho’s sexual encounters, particularly when he screws/takes inspiration from mysterious lover Luiza (Sex and Lucía‘s Paz Vega), are unconvincing. Viewers may feel like they’re watching a lost episode of amateurish, pseudo-erotic TV series The Red Shoe Diaries when they see Vega and Andrade undulating atop each other while Andrade listlessly reads Coelho’s poetry. Coelho’s writing may be “more [widely] translated than [Shakespeare’s],” as the coda claims, but Paulo Coelho’s Best Story never successfully pins down its subject’s genius.
Paulo Coelho’s Best Story
Directed by Daniel Augusto
Music Box Films
Opens July 31, Cinema Village
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 28, 2015