With a lively pace and stylish nods to 1970s Brazilian telenovelas, writer-director Odilon Rocha’s feature debut offers a surprisingly charming look at a dark period in that nation’s history.

In 1978, Brazil’s military dictatorship still has a stranglehold on the government, but the nation’s citizens are enthralled by the hot new telenovela Dancing Days. Amanda (Vanessa Giácomo), a high-class call girl, struggles to schedule her appointments around the soap opera, occasionally enlisting the help of her maid, Dora (Claudia Ohana), to ensure she catches each episode. But when a politically connected client unexpectedly dies in their apartment, the two are forced to go on the lam and hide out in Rio de Janeiro. Amanda’s thrilled by the chance to go to the real Dancing Days discotheque, but returning to Rio will force Dora to come to terms with the secret life that she had left behind.

With a spirited cast led by Claudia Ohana’s moving portrayal of Dora, Rocha manages to balance kitsch comedy, police corruption, and a sweet coming-of-age story to create a charming tale about how our lives must go on, even during the most troubling times.

Seattle International Film Festival