|Index||4 reviews in total|
There is a widespread emotional richness and intellectual fascination
for cinema in Brasil that, strange as it sounds, probably exceeds that
of any other country I've visited. Queues of hundreds festooned a
midnight festival screening of a Lars von Trier movie (I searched the
crowds offering double, till someone sold me a ticket). In the film
shops of the many well-appointed art house cinemas, shelves of books on
movie history are wall-to-wall with film memorabilia and works by Jean
Paul Sartre. Yes, a vibrant lower-middle-class revels in its freedom.
Millions of Brasilians. Not represented by City of God. Any more than
America is by Boyz in the Hood. Or Scotland, by Trainspotting.
To taste the real passion of Brasil, not just the stylised, marketable niche, you might want to experience A Casa de Alice. With an authenticity influenced by Dogme and documentary background, director Chico Teixeira shows the passions of real life to stand on their own feet. Without extraneous murders or Motorcycle Diaries style soundtracks.
The towering performance by Carla Ribas (Alice) left me visibly shaken. Her all too human self-delusion is uncomfortably easy to identify with. We see real drama in our lives can stem from understandable mistakes. And ordinary chance. Not tortuous scripting.
The title translates as 'Alice's House.' The publicity poster shows Alice, who is the mainstay of her close-knit family, with her back to a wall. The door is next to her, but we see through it as if it was part of the wall, brick-blocks freshly cemented. The person closest to each family member, she finds herself emotionally locked out.
Alice and Lindomar have been married for 20 years. She works as a manicurist in a salon. They live with their three teenage sons and Alice's mother, Dona Jacira, who is slowly going blind. A client, Carmen, boasts of how she trims her pubic hair into different shapes and it drives her husband wild. Alice tries shaving. Her husband laughs and calls it 'ridiculous'. Should she make more attempts to revitalise that part of their relationship between the sheets, or should her feelings look elsewhere? As his probably do? Grandma sees everyone's secrets. One of her grandsons getting money and an affectionate squeeze from an older man as he gets out of the car. Explicit photos of a teenage girlfriend in Lindomar's pocket fall out as Grandma does the family laundry. She sees how other family members see only part of the picture and jump to conclusions. But she doesn't want to see what is happening to those she loves. In her lonely and isolated world, it is the presenter of her favourite radio program that brings warmth to her heart.
Love, passion and sex are so much part of Brazilian life yet they shy away from the vulgarity that the British are so comfortable with. Even the production notes to the film use taste and discretion to describe scenes that would be salacious in any UK synopsis. Production Designer Marcos Pedroso suggests it almost as a creed: "To accept what life observation has to offer and to rely on what's been observed in a delicate manner and with propriety." The addiction to the beautiful, to 'making love' rather than 'having sex', is reflected in Carla's capacity for self-delusion as she longs to fulfil her romantic dreams. But the production's reliance on being true to life gives the characters force and impact.
Casting for A Casa de Alice was accomplished through detailed conversations about each character - in personal interviews with the director and casting director /coach, Fátima Toleda. The actors had no access to the script at any time. Before each scene, they would run through the dialogue once. Director Chico Teixeira says his focus was on the emotions coming up. "I cried with a lot of emotion when the first scenes started to take shape. I also cried for the pain I felt through the actors. It was truly intense." Camera angles also emphasise characters, not surroundings. There are many close ups. Sometimes we even follow a character by observing their hands. Or level shots from waist height, that make us feel like a child with the weight of adult reality imposing on us from above. A reality we might want not to see.
Those expecting samba, shoot-outs, or an emotionally-contrived blockbuster ending should stay away. Otherwise, this Brazilian slice-of-life is definitely drama to treasure.
Surveys have suggested that unfaithfulness in America is obsessed over to the point of causing break-ups even when non-existent. The arms-folded, emotionally prurient British hold a stiff upper lip to such things while printing almost pornographic details in the tabloids. In Brasil, on the other hand, it might be almost normal for married couples to have a lover on the side. Sparks fly with a brilliance when they haven't been discrete enough and blind eyes can no longer be turned. Sparks as bright as falling stars. Carla Ribas' star, fortunately, is a rising one.
"A Casa de Alice", the first fiction feature film by docu-maker Chico
Teixeira, wouldn't be far from your regular soap opera if not for the
way the camera investigates the characters -- instead of concentrating
on facial expressions and dialog, it's the body language that interests
Teixeira and that ultimately gives us the insight on the various
characters (not unlike Susanne Bier's camera).
There's nothing about the story/plot/characters that you haven't seen before, except maybe that ALL the characters are ambiguous: Alice and her husband have affairs on the side; Alice's old mother has ailing eyesight but is the only one who sees every sordid thing that's going about; Alice's oldest son, Edinho, is a G.I. who's a male prostitute in his spare time; the middle son, Lucas, is granny's favorite but also a petty thief (that includes stealing from granny); angel-faced Junior, the youngest son, knows how to get the things he wants by being calculatedly adorable and cute. The ambiguity also applies to the supporting characters, like innocent-looking devilish neighbor Thais, or Alice's soft-talk lover Nilson.
There's serious misery-index in the film: everyone's frustrated and unhappy and in love with people who don't love them back. The single exception -- the one requited love -- is the urgent, possessive, alternately delicate and passionate bond (it's not clear whether actual intercourse is involved, though there are strong suggestions) between brothers Edinho and Junior. The camera lingers three or four extra beats on their mutual gazing and caresses and obvious horniness for each other -- so much so that their relationship nearly takes over the film.
The acting is fine all around, and Carla Ribas goes all the way in her bravura performance (she has won an array of awards for it), though she isn't quite convincing in the physique du role department: we're always aware she obviously doesn't come from the same world as Alice -- her fine skin, her voice, her accent belong to a higher social class. Theatrical legend Berta Zemel, as the elderly mother, shows all her skill in an almost silent part. But the finest, most thrilling acting comes from the three boys (all of them first-timers) who play the sons and nail their shadowy characters with perfection, with not one false note: they're the main reason to see "Alice".
The final third and the denouement are impossibly contrived (I don't want to enter spoiler territory); in such a realistic slice-of-life piece, it comes as a real disappointment. Anyway, the film may serve as a curio for non-Brazilian audiences who wrongly identify Brazilian films solely with favelas, drugs or gory violence -- Brazilian films about the struggles, dreams and frustrations of the middle classes are a century-long tradition and a big part of Brazilian cinema. Connoisseurs will certainly recall many that have more strength, insight and depth than this intermittently interesting, slow, grim, overrated and undeniably finely-acted "A Casa de Alice".
i watched this at the Sydney film festival and thought the performances were stunning. they do a lot with the little resources available to them. this film reminded me of new-wave french cinema with its existential predominance of the Greek tragedy theme. it was well casted and the subtitles were definitely done well. its a completely underrated film that should have been bigger but its not. perhaps it has been bad marketing? though if you are looking for a city of god type film, look elsewhere. this is independent cinema at its finest. i wonder what film makers such as these would have done with a larger budget!!! Alice is a women tied down with her family but longs for liberation of the boredom and monotony of her life. she wont find it in her taxi driver husband or her apathetic kids who most of the time watch television. yet we see a light and an optimism coming from the grandmother who is going blind, though most of the family ignore her because they are stuck in their own selfish ways.
This film is actually well-done for the "slice-of-life" style the
director seemed to be pursuing. And if you are into hopeless, mundane,
and somewhat plot less films with all the classic art-house,
kitchen-sink reality clichés (watching people go to the bathroom,
clipping their toenails, and washing laundry), than this film may be
for you. Now, the proponents of this film will exclaim, "But it was so
REAL!" Well true, but then again, so is your morning shower, you're
commute to work, or watching your neighbor eat his dinner or mow his
lawn. But that doesn't make it particularly interesting to sit through
for 90 minutes.
The director is a documentary filmmaker, and certainly does a wonderful job of taking you into the protagonist's world. But, whether it's a world most people would want to spend much time in, is the real question Here, he basically makes a scripted documentary, with professional actors (who, to his credit, are first-rate). However, I can't possibly think of a less interesting subject matter than what he chose to explore here. The script meanders, with no real purpose. Now, it's fine if a filmmaker wants to simply follow characters around, and see what they do (as is done here), but he/she had better make sure those characters are interesting enough to hold our attention. The main problem is that there really is no script to speak of. Potential plot lines are introduced, but then never explored (I'm not quite sure why the sons are in the film at all except to show the additional misery in the protagonist's life), various shots have no real information in them, aside from, "this is what happens in the typical day of a middle-aged woman and her family", and scenes are kept running long after the audience has grasped what little there was to take from them.
It is important for a filmmaker to think, "why am I making this film? What do I want people to take from this?" Personally, what I walked away with was a sense that working-class Brazilian life is full of struggle and sadness (as is often the case with working-class American life), middle-aged people have extramarital affairs when the flame begins to flicker out of their partnerships, and that the elderly are often taken for granted and treated as indentured servants by their own family. Unfortunately, these are all things I knew already. And I'm not sure if there was much else to take from this film.
People talk about how snobby critics are, but after reading the gushing reviews for this film, I'm beginning to think the bar is getting dangerously low. Now, there have always been plot less films (that is practically the raison d'etre of French Cinema), but from Godard to Cassavetes to Antonione to Fassbinder and Bergman, these directors gave their audiences engaging characters to watch, and beautiful photography to marvel at on screen, and something to think about in the days after one left the theater. And I'm afraid that with more films like this receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews, we are getting into a level of "reality" where people will not even need to go to the movies anymore. They can simply wake up, grab their video camera, film the everyday banalities of their day, and save themselves a trip to the theater.
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