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Review: ‘Paulo Coelho’s Best Story’ skims surface of author’s life

Paulo (Julio Andrade) in a scene from the movie, "Paulo Coelho's Best Story."

Paulo (Julio Andrade) in a scene from the movie, “Paulo Coelho’s Best Story.”

(Music Box Films)

Paulo Coelho’s mega-selling novels and memoirs — allegorical, abounding in aphorisms and supplemented by a prolific social-media output — have made him a revered figure for millions of modern-day seekers. The screen version of the Brazilian author’s life, a period-hopping attempt to shatter the biopic mold, might resonate for those admirers but isn’t likely to draw new members to the Coelho fold.

Written by Carolina Kotscho and directed by Daniel Augusto, “Paulo Coelho’s Best Story” doesn’t put its subject on a pedestal, but neither does it disturb the aura of misunderstood greatness. At the expense of emotional depth, Augusto emphasizes the story’s sensory aspects. Sometimes this works, sometimes it’s overkill, and sometimes the lurid jumble of black magic and an obscure (or invented) Catholic sect feels like a new age “Da Vinci Code.”

The story jumps back and forth among three key periods: Coelho’s troubled teenage years in 1960s Rio de Janeiro; his success as a rock lyricist in the ‘80s, requisite self-indulgence included; and, in 2013 Spain, his return to a life-changing Christian pilgrimage route to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his bestseller “The Alchemist.”

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Coelho’s bumpy road to publishing superstardom is lined with extreme bouts of acting out, shock therapy treatments and kidnapping by Brazil’s paramilitary for writing anthems deemed subversive. But for all his tormented free-thinking, the protagonist never comes into focus.

In a performance that reveals little, Julio Andrade plays the conflicted midlife version and, under significant makeup, the elder statesman of inspirational prose; his brother Ravel Andrade portrays the angry young Paulo. It’s Enrique Diaz, as the father Paulo disdains for being conventional, who delivers the only affecting performance. Like his character, many viewers will find themselves on the outside looking in.

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“Paulo Coelho’s Best Story.”

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No MPAA rating; in Portuguese and Spanish with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle’s Music Hall, Beverly Hills. Also on video on demand.

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