The devout Pilar (Teresa Madruga) gives her time to social causes and also tries to support the elderly Aurora (Laura Soveral), who gambles away her money at the casino and is convinced that her maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) is casting spells on her. As Aurora's health fades, she asks for a man to be summoned to her deathbed. When he is found, he tells an incredible story - one of an obsessive love, a melancholy crocodile, and a crime of passion with lingering repercussions.
Review by Louise Keller:
If you are still awake after the first hour of this challenging and at times off-putting film from filmmaker Miguel Gomez, you may find some unexpected ethereal rewards in the second half, when a curious, dialogue-free narrative is the vehicle that transports us into another realm, where desire turns to love - of the forbidden kind.
Without doubt, Gomez' film is daring. Some may call it pretentious with a vision that is uncompromising and that allows his audience no incentive to invest in the uphill first chapter. Shot in black and white, the film's two halves display a contrast in time and cinematography styles. The final chapter, set in 50s Africa, offers a lingering and nostalgic mood that is reminiscent of colonial times. As someone who lived in Africa in the late 50s, I can attest to the honesty of the depictions.
After a brief, baffling prologue in the African savannahs alluding to the poetic, the first chapter set in modern day Portugal, unfolds slowly and painfully. It is hard to fathom what much of it is about; who are the people and where is it all leading? Yawn. Scratch temple. Surreptitiously look at watch. Fumble in handbag for mints.
The focus is on an elderly woman named Aurora (Laura Soveral) who is convinced her black African maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) is using witchcraft. There is much talk of Aurora's daughter, who is notable by her absence. Bordering on the edge of sanity, Aurora recounts a bizarre dream to her caring neighbour Pilar (Teresa Madruga) that involves hairy monkeys - except that the monkey becomes interchanged with her husband. Okay. There is painfully stilted dialogue as different characters become stepping stones. The stepping stones eventually lead to Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo), who in voice-over delivers the emotions and passion that the images of the second half of the film reveal.
It is through Ventura's wistful recollections as he lifts the lid on Aurora's life as a young woman living in Africa (beguilingly played by Ana Moreira) that we learn of their torrid, forbidden love affair at the foothills of Mount Tabu. The young Ventura is played by Carloto Cotta, who is every bit as dashing as Errol Flynn in his day, or Johnny Depp in another. Ventura is the lover whose biggest crime is to love.
The extraordinary thing about this second hour is that there is no dialogue whatsoever. The soundscape is selective: music is used to great effect and there are a few local backdrop sounds and the occasional intrusion of a sound like a car engine. Or the plop of a stone thrown into the water, where Aurora's pet crocodile, Dandy lives. In some ways it is like a silent movie, with the calm voice-over replacing title-cards. The fact that Gomez manages to achieve an emotional oasis, into which we are lured, is a remarkable achievement. Assuming there is a still an audience to lure, after the first tedious hour.
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CAST: Teresa Madruga, Laura Soveral, Ana Moreira, Henrique Espirito Santo, Carloto Cotta, Isabel Cardoso, Ivo Muller, Manuel Mesquita
PRODUCER: Sandro Aquilar, Luis Urbano
DIRECTOR: Miguel Gomes
SCRIPT: Miguel Gomes, Mariana Ricardo
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rui Poças
EDITOR: Telmo Churro, Miguel Gomes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bruno Duarte
RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 16, 2013