Times Staff Writer

Brazilian film maker Walter Hugo Khouri’s “Love Strange Love” (at the Beverly Center Cineplex) inescapably brings to mind two of Louis Malle’s finest films, “Murmur of the Heart” and “Pretty Baby"--the first in its mother-and-son incest, the second in its placing of a child in a brothel.

If Khouri is not the assured, buoyant stylist Malle is, he nevertheless shares the French director’s discretion and taste in handling potentially explosive material. “Love Strange Love” makes up for its occasional awkwardnesses in its considerable sensitivity and insight. The result is an absorbing, thoughtful experience for adults.

A 60ish, distinguished-looking man (Walter Forster) is strolling through a Sao Paulo mansion when his memories take him back to the crucial 48 hours he spent there in 1937 as a pubescent youth. Deposited at the estate’s looming wrought-iron gates by his grandmother, the youth (Marcelo Ribeiro) has no idea that the mansion is a brothel where his beautiful mother (Vera Fischer) works as a prostitute.

Fischer is actually the mistress of a political kingmaker (Tarcisio Meira), who owns the estate and allows her no other clients. Meira schemes to ensure the loyalty of a key politician by presenting him with a lovely, highly seductive virgin (Xuxa Meneghel), much as Brooke Shields was served up on a platter in “Pretty Baby.” All the while, Brazil teeters on the brink of revolution.


All this increasingly tense sexual and political intrigue is observed by the wide-eyed Ribeiro from secret passages that honeycomb the palatial residence. At the same time Ribeiro, in his innocence, attracts various prostitutes.

To his credit, Khouri carefully establishes all the forces that make it comprehensible that Fischer be the woman to induct her own son into manhood. There’s no lingering on this sequence, but rather an abrupt switch to the present as the film ends with a brief, ironic coda.

Much emphasis is placed on the highly prized blue-eyed Teutonic beauty of both Fischer and Meneghel, inviting us to identify the men who pursue them with Hitler and his Nazis, whose shadow looms ever larger over Europe with each fresh report over the radio. An elegant, ironic fable of innocence and corruption, “Love Strange Love” is Times-rated Adult. Even though there is no graphic sex (but considerable nudity), this is no film for youngsters or those easily offended by sexual candor.