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Cláudio da Silva,
The realities of life are harsh in Padre Cruz, a slum on the edge of Lisbon, and its inhabitants struggle with violence and poverty. João Canijo's latest feature portrays life in this decrepit Portuguese suburb through the story of a family attempting to transcend its hardships. Márcia (Rita Blanco) shares cramped quarters with her two young-adult children and her sister Ivete. Her daughter Cláudia shows promise in her nursing studies, but her son Joca (Rafael Morais) is a delinquent with a suspicious supply of cash. Márcia's hopes for her daughter's future are thrown into turmoil, however, when Cláudia announces she's having a relationship with a married professor, an admission that brings out the specter of Márcia's own past. Márcia is determined to bring the affair to an end, even if it means compromising her cherished relationship with Cláudia. In her late thirties and yearning for companionship, Ivete loves her family and has a soft spot for her nephew Joca, despite his frequent ... Written by
Joᾶo Canijo is indisputably one of the most interesting contemporary Portuguese movie directors. The four films seen to date, have left an indelible impression on me: Ganhar a Vida, Sapatos Pretos, Noite Escuro and recently Sangue do meu Sangue. His films send a punch to the viewers' guts leaving them breathless, knocked out; they abandon the moviehouse dazed by scenes that will haunt them for days to come.
Sangue do meu Sangue is set in the low working-class Bairro do Padre Cruz, a slum northeast of Lisbon, target to recent architectural projects and municipal efforts to efface its notoriously shady reputation. The film depicts a crosscut of three social classes: firstly the low working class Márcia and her family belong to; secondly the even less privileged Lisbon residents sharing with African immigrants a labyrinthine sub-world reminiscent of what Pedro Costa's trilogy on Fontainhas portrays. Finally the upper middle class represented by the Doctor and his wife living a Portuguese version of the "American dream": active professionals with a daughter who reside in an up-market dream home, two cars in the driveway and a servant at madam's beck and call.
Like Canijo's other films, Sangue to meu Sangue evolves around a central feminine character, Márcia, a single mother who has brought up and supported two children and a live-in sister. The women in Canijo's films are true heroines, resilient but nonetheless victims of their male chauvinistic environment; they inevitably fall prey to the violence perpetrated by men around them, be those pivotal male figures in their lives or simply placed in their paths by destiny. Indeed destiny plays an important role in the scripts Canijo writes. In Sangue do meu Sangue destiny has Cláudia falling in love with a married man linked in some way to her mother's past ─ I'll say no more, not wanting to include a spoiler. Destiny too has a devastating humiliation in store for Ivete, Márcia's sister, at the hands of a ruthless man she doesn't recognize at a karaoke; he remembers her from their schooldays when he had a crush on her. Likewise Márcia attempts to shake off her daughter's destiny, endeavouring at all costs to stop her daughter's love affair with a married man. Claúdia is gullible enough to believe an older married man will jeopardize the cushiness of his marital life, casting off wife and child in exchange for her. Márcia is above all most preoccupied with thwarting the oepidal twist in Canijo's script evoking Greek tragedy. In Greek tragedy no-one can escape what the gods have ordained for them. Canijo plays with the spectator, builds our hopes up that his characters trapped in their precariously balanced lives may just pull through, but just when Joca appears in a deus ex machina ploy to defend his aunt Ivete, we realize that his destiny was to end up behind bars as an adult for a crime graver than what had previously sent him to a reformatory as a minor.
Modern tragedy allows for pathos in ordinary men whose quotidian lives we identify with. The moving relationship between Ivete and her nephew Joca rings of incest. Márcia is busy salvaging her daughter's future whereas Ivete takes upon herself the mission of safeguarding her nephew whose life is jeopardized by an unpaid debt. An unforgettable scene is Ivete and Jaco making their way through the narrow, unsightly, claustrophobic streets of the slum to the house of the drug dealer to settle Joca's debt. We sense imminent danger and the foreboding uneasiness of walking into a maze with no exit, a throwback to the Minotaur of Greek mythology awaiting his victims about to enter his domain. This family's financial constraints oblige them to share a reduced space. Canijo plays and uses this limitation to his advantage; he places the characters in a trap. Márcia, the siblings Cláudia and Joca and her sister Ivete are forced to stretch their capacity for cohabitation to the limit. So reduced a space leaves no room for secrets, the characters learn to lower their voices to maintain a privacy of sorts ─ even when what would really suit them would be to seek relief in shouting out their woes at the top of their voices ─ secrecy is too rare a luxury in a house where mother and daughter share a a tiny bedroom and bed, four people share a tiny bathroom sometimes peeing with the door open, and watching TV means sitting cramped on the settee legs stretched out over the other occupant's lap. Conversation is interrupted by someone crossing the room to get something, by someone coming out of the bathroom, by the normal comings and goings that the house by its nature and especially size imposes on the life of its occupants. Canijo at times divides the screen into two keeping discrete but parallel conversations going simultaneously; not unlike when in an opera a quartet sings, each couple busy with their own theme. This requires the spectators'maximum attention opting for the conversation which contributes more to unfolding of the melodrama.
Above all Canijo's great sense of tempo never lets a scene drag (a common trait to Portuguese cinema). His has an uncanny ability to build crescendo. We become entranced despite the ominous certainty that the ending is bound to be harrowing.
Rita Blanco, Anabela Moreira and Teresa Tavares render magnificent performances. Due praise to Anabela Moreira for what must have been an awfully difficult shooting experience of total frontal and back nudity picked up by the camera with the crudity Canijo's hyper-realism requires. Nothing like it since Isabela Rosselini in Blue Velvet. Mesmerizing and moving is the dignity Moreira imbues her character with, an air of "you can do what you like with my body but you'll never have my soul". The love she professes for her nephew, blood of her blood, which is what the film's title means, elevates her above the sordidness her sacrifice plunges her into.
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