In Praise of Joia Rara – Globo TV’s Buddhist Soap Opera

As a Brit living permanently in Brazil, one of the first recommendations you hear is that to learn Portuguese you really need to be watching Brazilian “telenovelas”. We don’t really have this genre in the UK, but they are perhaps half way between a soap opera and a mini-series. A telenovela only has one series, which will last for a number of months. The series will then end with a massive finale, and then it is on to the next telenovela. As a 40 something bloke, to be honest I did try and watch one or two but I just couldn’t do it. Pretty much every few minutes these highly passionate affairs explode into shouting, not just a bit of shouting, but major league screaming and shouting, and it’s just too much for my sensibilities.

Joia Rara

There is however one great exception to the regular telenovelas, and that is TV Globo’s Joia Rara which translates as Rare Jewel (it’s pronounced Joya Hara). This is a historical telenovela set in Rio de Janeiro, during and just after the Second World War. Before I talk about this in detail, it is important to note that Brazilian television for decades has had a set formula to evening schedules. Around 6pm telenovelas are often historical, i.e. set in a previous era. The 7pm telenovelas tend to be light and based on humour, and then at 9pm the telenovelas are much more adult in content, often dealing with sexual relationships, but also dealing with other hard-hitting issues such as prostitution and exploitation of women, as was the case with the recently finished Salve Jorge (which I did sit through and in places was OK).

In Brazil, education is still a huge issue, and so the historical telenovelas are actually one of the most important ways in which people can be taught about history. Joia Rara is the first historical telenovela I have watched, and I have to say the quality is absolutely mindblowing, hence I felt I really had to write about it. I am learning a huge amount of Brazilian history through it, such as the rise of communism in this era, but it is not so much the historical aspects that really make it stand out, it is the fact that it is also highly spiritual too. In such a Catholic country, here we have at primetime a historical telenovela about Buddhism.

Franz and Ernest

Franz and Ernest

The story centres around the young girl Pérola, who is played by the sensational actress Mela Maia. She has been born out of wedlock to her father Franz (Bruno Gagliasso), from a rich entrepreneurial family, and her mother Amélia (Bianca Bin) who comes from a much poorer background. The father of Franz is the angry, vengeful and devious Ernest (José de Abreu), devoid of any ethics and values, who forbids Franz from marrying Amélia, his true love. Franz ends up marrying the attractive socialite Sílvia (Nathalia Dill), and they and Franz’s other brother and sister all live together in the family mansion.

Credit: TV Globo

Credit: TV Globo

Unbeknown to Franz and Amélia, Pérla is the reincarnation of Tibetan lama Rinpoche Ananda (Nelson Xavier). Following a vision, three monks from Tibet travel to Rio de Janeiro to find the new Rinpoche, and begin to carry out tests with many children to see if they can recognise any of the artifacts previously owned by Ananda. After a long search, they finally realise that they should have given the test to Pérola, and to their delight, she passes with flying colours.

Joia Rara

The principle characters are of course backed up by a cast of actors who are utterly convincing in their roles, be they evil, flawed, in love, rich or poor. The attention to historical detail is exemplary, for example Maria pointing out to me that even the nail polish on the nails of the actresses copying the style which was in fashion at the time. The acting is complemented with some of the best direction and production values I have seen on Brazilian television, with the composition of some scenes exquisite.

This is not just a telenovela to teach history, it is also teaching the viewer about Buddhism, and the lessons are subtly woven into the dramas and crises which fall up on certain characters, including one of the monks who himself is still learning from his master. In one scene, Ernest hires an assassin to murder the younger Mundo (Domingos Montagner), who is the true love to Ernest’s wife, the suffering Iolanda (Carolina Diekmann), who Ernest married by force after her father failed to pay some debts. Mundo survives a blow to his head and a fall from a building, and ends up in hospital in a coma. Pérola is now in Tibet, but senses this tragedy in a dream, and demands to return to Rio.

Joia Rara

In a scene which gave me goosebumps on my arm, Pérola is taken to the hospital, and together with the monks and friends and family, she starts to sing a powerful healing mantra. Light shines down on Mundo, who not yet conscious begins to recall memories of himself with Iolanda. The mantra continues, both Christians and Buddhists singing it together, the energy of which is enough to bring Mundo back to a waking conscious state. Is it an absolutely beautiful moment.

Joia Rara

The telenovela is broadcast six days a week, so as you can imagine the plotting is intricate, but deftly woven and never contrived. It has been compelling the way in which Ernest creates his reality around him, plotting to destroy his enemies. We are at just about that stage where Franz is beginning to discover the true nature of his father, having been in denial for some time. Ernest is supported by his cunning henchman Manfred (Carmo Dalla Vecchia), a disloyal employee who Franz had always confided in, and yet now begins to realise that Manfred can no longer be trusted. Joia Rara is indeed a rare jewel of a Brazilian soap opera, and there are times where you really cannot wait for the next episode.

Credit: TV Globo

Credit: TV Globo

I should also point out that Joia Rara has a truly excellent sound track. It seems to be the case that each character in a Brazilian telenovela has one single song for the scenes in which their personal dramas are the focus. The producers of Joia Rara have selected some of the greatest Brazilian popmusic from the 60s, 70s and present, which although in theory should be incongruous, really does work. The other thing that is excellent is the official website of the soap opera - http://tvg.globo.com/novelas/joia-rara/index.html. This has a lot of clips from each episode so fans do not need to worry about missing any of the key scenes, and also it has a lot of information about Buddhism, including an animated story of how the Buddha came to be enlightened.

It’s funny you know because on the internet there are lots of blogs about say, the top 10 crazy things about Brazil and Brazilians. And on the other hand you have blogs written by Brazilians which are about the top 10 clichés  which foreigners think about Brazil. If these are funny, it is of course because there are elements of truth within them. If Brazilians want the world to stop seeing this country stereotypically, then it will have to Brazilians who will need to do the work to change perceptions. Globo as far as I know do sell their soap operas to other Latin American countries, and maybe Portugal, Italy and Spain too, but I just can’t see many UK broadcasters buying up the rights to these. Joia Rara is an absolute exception to this rule, and if I was an executive at Globo, I would really now be thinking about selling this to non-traditional territories.

In the UK we have Downton Abbey which I know is extremely popular, but at the end of the day, it is a little on the cheesy side. I myself would put Joia Rara way above Downton Abbey in terms of quality, so come on Globo, you need to play your role in changing global perceptions of Brazil and Brazilians, and Joia Rara, the jewel in your bag, needs to be seen by millions more viewers, with subtitles, no dubbing. It’s amazing.

Related Articles

Compassion, Forgiveness and Joia Rara - further thoughts

Love, Peace, Enlightenment – The End of Joia Rara

Links

Official website for Joia Rara

22 thoughts on “In Praise of Joia Rara – Globo TV’s Buddhist Soap Opera

  1. I love this soap, the production values are outstanding and the cast is amazing. I feel you also have to check out Side By Side (Lado a Lado), it was from the same timeslot of this one (Just one soap in between) and it featured Brazil’s history heavily. From the rising of slums, to the first setps of footbal and samba to several historical marks of the first years of the XX Century. In fact, the show won on Monday the International Emmy Awards of best show! Internet is your friend in this case. The entire soap is uploaded on websites. There is a possibility you will LOVE IT. Just check the trailer here at my blog: http://shiparker.tumblr.com/post/66934200815/side-by-side-official-emmy-trailer-with-english

    If you want more info and links to watch, my tumblr askbox is open :)

    • Thanks for your comment. I believe I did see one or two episodes of Lado a Lado and I am sure I would have enjoyed the whole series. We have recently had our Net box upgraded and can now record. The 6pm slot is difficult to catch due to work, but we can now record Joia Rara and watch later in the evening, meaning we can follow it each day.

      • These new devices definitely changed the way we watch TV. In days we didn’t have it, we couldn’t miss a single episode and it was an intense 6 months journey. I’m glad you can record the episodes, but you can also rely on the internet for some old work (Some writing wise as good, if not better, than some of the shows we air today… Well, miles better than Amor a Vida and Além do Horizonte. In fact, some people think that our early TV shows were WAY better, but I don’t quite agree). Entire soaps are uploaded and I’m catching up with the lost time (Missed too many shows because I migrated to US and UK television). Globo website also provide entire episodes of many shows and you can also find old and new shows in places like this: http://www.brasil.novela-clube.com/?p=9431 & http://cliptomaniabr.blogspot.com.br/p/blog-page.html. Lado a Lado has a special place in my heart because it was my comeback to the TV of my country, after being disappointed with Downton Abbey. In terms of displaying our culture and history, it does a better job than Joia Rara, but I think each work has its own style and merits and I appreciate both immensely. I love the teachings of Joia Rara and the aesthetics that the production team and Amora Mautner (The director) brings to our screens. In fact, I think Amora is a genius as director. I had a couple of complaints at the pace of the show in the first episodes and how the characters needed to be a bit fleshed out (And there was some clichês both in the story and the characterization), but the show came on its own and now it’s a show that anybody who likes period pieces and history and good writing can’t miss. Loved your little article. And one of the writers posted on her twitter, I bet she liked too :)

  2. Although I am Brazilian, I don’t like soup operas very much. But I have to agree with you! I don’t miss an episode of “Joia Rara”. The authors are the best! They also wrote “Cordel Encantado” (http://tvg.globo.com/novelas/cordel-encantado/index.html) and I really think you should see it! It tells the story about the “cangaço” mixed with fairy tales. It’s the same production and many actors are the same, but they are playing very different characters! You would love it! It’s a must-see!!

    • Thanks Nayara. In this article I could have written thousands more words in order to be able to talk about each member of the cast. Every part of the production belongs together with the whole, making it utterly convincing and believable.

  3. I, too, LOVE this novela! I feel like the 6:00 soaps get a bad rap in Brazil but this one is terrific. Living in the US and trying to connect with Brazilian culture via TV Globo can be depressing but this novela has been a joy. Thank you for your thoughtful review! I am going to send the link to all of my friends so that they understand what I’m loving about Joia Rara.

  4. Hi another brasileira here in the US, addicted to novelas. Agree with the excellent production values and the small moral lessons in each episode.
    We get GLOBO via Dish Network and record for binge viewing of 3 or 4 episodes at one sitting. Be sure to record at least 20 mins before scheduled as they can run late.
    Am intoxicated right now with Felix in Amor A Vida, the villain with a heart of….we shall find out,
    Viva a GLOBO por excelente programas!

  5. Joia Rara appears to have been conceived without the benefit and scrutiny of fact checkers that might have kept the otherwise realistic timeline that the novella true to its historical setting.
    The two cabaret numbers pop out immediately as wrong for the period: “Too Darn Hot” performed by Fabiula Nascimento and Simone Gutierrez and “Fever” albeit performed brilliantly by Mariana Ximenes.

    The novella at the point in time when the cabaret numbers are performed appears to take place post World War II, and though no specific dates are mentioned aside from an occasional “dias depois”, one would assume this to be 1946-47. The number “Too Darn Hot,” although premiered on Broadway in December of 1948, did not become a staple in the American musical culture stream until 1953 when Ann Miller performed the number in the film version.
    “Fever,” the number for which the spectacular and brilliantly conceived mise-en-scène surpasses even the performance of Ms. Ximenes, was not composed until 1956, and did not become internationally famous until Peggy Lee recorded it in 1958. Ms. Lee added considerably to the lyrics of the original song, and it is her version that Ms. Ximenes performs.

    However, the song did not exist in any way shape or form in 1946 when Joia Rara takes place.
    One supposes that the average Brazilian viewer has no idea of any of the factual background behind these musical numbers, and, as Thomas Gray wrote in his 1742 poem Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College, “ignorance is bliss.”

    A more era-appropriate musical number would have been the Rita Hayworth show-stopping “Put the Blame on Mame” from the 1946 movie Gilda. If the Brazilian producers were so eager to portray a little hot, sexy Americana for their viewers, they could not have chosen a better number than this, and it would fit perfectly into the chronology of the novella.

    • Hi Philip

      Thanks for your comments. I do actually agree that the music can jar a little, but I guess for the majority of people watching, the small anachronisms will not be noticed. I am actually really enjoying the incidental music – I think this really adds to the atmosphere.

  6. Another annoying facet of Joia Rara is the portrayal of Tibetan monks by Brazilian actors who portray their characters speaking perfect Brazilian Portuguese. It is just mind blowing to me to see monks running around “acting” Tibetan, folding their hands, mumbling some phonetically-learned Tibetan phrase, and speaking fluent Portuguese much better than I can. Huh? Having worked with immigrants from this part of the world trying to teach them English, I can say this goes beyond just a stretch of the imagination. This feature is so absurd as to be charmingly laughable and, on that basis, acceptable. Far more realistic would have been to bring in Tibetan actors and run subtitles.

    I am looking forward, however, to the character Sonan losing his virtue to Mathilde. This could never happen unless the character were actually Brazilian and could speak the language. Otherwise, Sonan and Mathilde would have nothing to say to each other. Mathilde could only stare and grin, not understanding a word of Tibetan.

    “Where did you learn to speak Portuguese, Sonan?” “Uh, well, up in the Himalayas where everyone speaks Portuguese.”

  7. Another weird annoyance is the character “Mundo” portrayed by by actor Domingos Montagner. The absurdity here is the guy’s beard never grows, and apparently is never shaved, even when he is lying in a hospital bed for 6 weeks in a coma! How come is beard is always — what, a four-day growth? The director and crew must go to great lengths with the right 21st century shaving tool to keep his beard trimmed at exactly the same length, somewhat reminiscent of a finely manicured putting green.

    And pity poor Carolina Dieckmann having to kiss and smooch with this guy. God, I know the producers are trying to portray the guy as a blue collar communist. But we get it already. Let the character change a bit and get a shave one in a while, or let his beard grow out. I don’t care which. Again there is the brave Carolina, getting her lovely, tender, soft skin all cut up with that spiky beard! I can just see her complaining when he starts to roll his face over hers. Ouch! Cut!! Sorry, Ms. Dieckmann. Por favor….

    • Phillip, I agree with you about the songs from the wrong time-period, I didnt like it also, but as for monks, there`s an explanation of why they speak portugues. Franz, apparently surprised, asks lama Ananda Reimposhe about it in one of the first episodes of the novela. And lama says he used to have a portugues pupil/follower who taught everyon in there monastery to speak Portugues…. I am Russian and I love he acting and the ambient of this charmitng novela!

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  11. Hi Simon,

    We are writing from the viewpoint of Local Production Support Company for the preproduction and production of Joia Rara in Nepal.

    It feels nice to go through “In Praise of Joia Rara,” as a part of local production support from Nepal, where this telenovela was shot for 10 days. The matchless traditional set of Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, and Bungmati was shot by the crew and cast of about four dozens from Brazil.

    Hundreds of Nepali monks were used as extras. Other around 300 Sherpa extras were shot. And dozens of Nepali crew worked very hard for the period of more than one month for furnishing to TV Globo what it had come here for. Wonderful reception of the telenovela, even from those who are not always fond of telenovelas, has made us proud, too.

    The TV Globo Team got here very important shots of the novella. And they shot the remaining ones in Brazil and Chile as per our knowledge. Wherever they shot, they did a great job. Director Amora Mautner, and Simone, Andreia and Leandro from the TVG production are always in our memory.

    We would be happy and it’s reasonable, too, if they mention Nepal (wherever possible) where they achieved very important and historic shots for the novella!

    - Films & Adfilms Pvt. Ltd.
    http://www.films-adfilms.com

  12. Hi folks, many thanks for your comment. As you may have seen, I have now written 3 articles on Jóia Rara in total, and each time I find it hard as I have to just focus on one or two aspects (such as Compassion and Forgiveness http://transitionconsciousness.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/compassion-forgiveness-and-joia-rara-further-thoughts/) and I can’t mention everyone involved, although I do try to add one or two totally inclusive comments about the entire crew who have contributed.

    Thanks for this information about the shooting. The Nepal scenes were absolutely luscious, and in fact the story right now is reminding us of the time when Franz was there after the accident.

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