Pedro and Rui kiss after a first-anniversary dinner; Pedro drives home, dying en route in a crash. Another pair of lovers, Odete and Alberto, split over her desire to have a child. Pedro ... See full summary »
Pedro and Rui kiss after a first-anniversary dinner; Pedro drives home, dying en route in a crash. Another pair of lovers, Odete and Alberto, split over her desire to have a child. Pedro lived in Odete's building. She attends the wake, stealing a ring, a last gift from Rui, from Pedro's finger. She behaves hysterically at the graveside, and later, wearing Pedro's ring, she insists she's carrying Pedro's child. Rui grieves as well, drinking too much and seeing Pedro's apparition. Odete's obsession intrudes on Rui, whose grief makes him vulnerable to her hysteria. Can this end well? Written by
It's clear that Portuguese gay director João Pedro Rodrigues, whose Two Drifters (Odete, 2005) recently came to this country, is the extreme example of something. Is he making "the artiest queer stroke movie of the year" as Dennis Lim said in The Voice of his first effort? Is he "the most exciting new voice in the world today" or "a major and audacious new talent" as David Fear and Nathan Lee, respectively, have just declared in print? Or are his films "silly and overwrought," "both grueling and dull," "preposterous," "arbitrary," "pointless," "insufferable," "sudsy" as several other critics have recently written? His new movie is highly allusive, and an admiring article* has listed his many presumable and declared influences, from Hitchcock to Fassbinder. But most of all he's just his own persistent, obsessive self, which is both his strength and his limitation.
"Two Drifters" (using the English word) is what two young gay lovers have had engraved inside twin silver rings they exchange to commemorate a year together. One of them, Pedro (João Carreira) gets in his car, drives off, and is immediately in a fatal smash-up. A strange, tall girl named Odete (Cristina De Oliveira), who slept with the deceased, quickly develops an unhealthy obsession with him, which becomes the chief focus of the movie and which she continually dramatizes by throwing herself on his coffin and screaming and by humping his grave in the rain. She has a job at a supermarket that involves wearing roller skates. While she is acting out, drawing the sympathy of Pedro's mother, getting fired from the job, and developing a hysterical pregnancy, Pedro's lover, Rui (Nuno Gil) is imploding with ill-expressed grief that a Warhol-style steam bath blow job fails to assuage.
The sequences show a strong visual sense. The framing is precise. David Fear feels that Douglas Sirk's "hyperventilating melodramas inform every frame of Rodrigues' irony-soaked opera." If so, the style that results is still even more remote from the period and mood of Sirk than Todd Haynes' overrated, anachronistic Far from Heaven, and if this movie's irony-soaked (and one would hope so), the humor is hard to grasp. Certainly it's rain-soaked too, and steeped alternately in bright sunlight and nighttime shadow. Since Odete, now equipped with an expensive pram, practically moves into Pedro's grave, and Rui is afraid to go there, they don't meet much at first except when Rui drags Odete off of Pedro's coffin at the time of the funeral. She's big and tall, but he's hunky, and so equal to the task. Eventually they do meet again at the grave, and now that Odete has begun to channel Pedro and wear his clothes and haircut, a strange reincarnation takes place. There's another man who's also had sex with Odete but she kicks him out. He seems to be involved for little reason other than one: he has a perfect body, which we get to see every inch of. Rodrigues' concern with the physical comes with an unwillingness to delve into the motivations or personalities or backgrounds of his characters.
Rodrigues is stingy with dialogue. His earlier O Fantasma, an obsessive S&M tale involving an ultra-handsome but mentally unhealthy garbage collector, is almost wordless. Two Drifters relies on the beautiful framing of its images, and on the symbolic use of the sound of rain and wind as well as syrupy songs like Banjo Moon and Moon River and loops of Mancini.
Maybe Sirk and Fassbinder are influences, as reviewers have suggested. But while extreme melodrama and gay concerns may link him with other directors of similar bent, Rodrigues' strength is that he's working on his own. He is true to his own peculiar obsessions and he lets nothing get in the way of following them through. Since he's working nearby, it might be worth considering that he's been affected by Almodóvar. There's something of the Spanish master in Odete's persistence, her willingness to assume a masculine role.
The trouble is that Rodrigues' "elliptical cuts" not only interrupt the "transgressive trance" as Lim said of O Fantasma, but simply slow down the action, here as well. The director isn't good at pacing. The writer who said that when both lovers start getting suicidal you wish they'd hurry up with it was not far wrong. Watching Two Drifters is a claustrophobic experience, a challenging exercise in sitting still. But Fear and Lee aren't completely crazy. This filmmaker is worth following for his sense of craft and tradition and for the rigorous way he cleaves to his own concerns.
*"Double 'O'Heaven: The Vertigo Pop and Phantom Desires of João Pedro Rodrigues" by Johnny Ray Houston in Cinemascope.
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