Roger, a learned and bookish Swiss ethnologist (Roger Wiedmer) has long held an ambition to travel from Genoa to Rio de Janeiro by ship in order to trace Claude Levy-Strauss' journey in his famous work "Tristes Tropiques." He decides to embark on the journey immediately because his wife wants to start a family after 10 years of marriage and he knows this may be his last chance to realize his dream. Once on the ship -- loaded with wildly individualistic travelers -- Roger meets Zaira (Zaira Gelbert), a Brazilian woman returning home after a few years of wandering around Europe as a part-time student and nightclub dancer. Zaira and Roger share French in common, but that is about all. When Roger tells her he wants to study Brazil's Native Americans up-close, Zaira takes him down to the engine room to introduce him to one. She also gives him the idea of recording conversations with the passengers on the ship, and voilà, a medley of off-the-wall types provide ample fodder for comedy. By the time they reach Rio, Roger feels Zaira is a lot more appealing than Levy-Strauss, but his interest does not seem to be reciprocated. Once this trip is over, the "Sad Tropics" might have a fully different meaning for Roger than for his venerated Levy-Strauss.
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