In case you hadn’t heard, Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting.

The good news is that Vladimir Brichta, the star of this Brazilian biopic about a cocaine-addicted clown, has more than a smidge of Day-Lewis’s left-field charisma.

He’s magnetic in this role inspired by the life of Arlindo Barreto, the man who played Bozo the clown for a São Paulo TV network for three turbulent years. But for obvious legal reasons, names, along with wig-colours, have been changed.

It’s 1983 and live-wire former porn star Augusto Mendes (Brichta) is desperate to make a splash. Live on air, as Bingo the clown, he improvises manic put-downs, spitefully settles old scores and gyrates with a barely clad woman. He does this while viewers are still eating their breakfast.

At night, he snorts so much cocaine that blood drips from his clown’s nose onto the studio floor. The network, having initially asked for sunshine and light, greenlight a man who’s all snow and shadows.

If Luiz Bolognesi’s script has a fault, it’s that it plays fast and loose with cultural history, suggesting Barreto/Mendes all but invented licentious children’s TV. Really? Britain’s very own Tiswas (which ran from 1977 to 1982) led the way when it came to mixing mayhem and sleaze. If you don’t believe me, check out YouTube clips of Sally James dressed as a schoolgirl in suspenders and high-heels. Yeuch! That’s what passed for anarchy in the UK. Brazil, via Barreto, just recycled the formula.

The film is on much safer ground when exploring Barreto/Mendes’s private life. His relationship with his retired-actress mum is both tender and spooky. Elsewhere, his attempt to seduce a savvy, female TV producer is genuinely charged as well as (deliberately) nauseating. You can feel the influence here of Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy and Pablo Larraín’s Tony Manero. The film’s tone is permanently in flux in a way that stimulates rather than jars.

Director Daniel Rezende is known for his editing skills (he worked on City of God and The Tree of Life). Transitioning from valuable crew member to director can be disastrous but Rezende is a natural. That his debut has been picked as Brazil’s entry for the foreign-language category at the Oscars suggests he and Brichta are about to join cinema’s elite.

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