Cult Brazilian film delivers in the last half hour
Since I watched Prata Palomares without English subtitles, I do not feel comfortable assigning it a rating.
According to Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art, this film was twice scheduled to be shown at the Cannes film festival and was both times pulled under pressure from the Brazillian government. After having read about the film in Vogel's book and in an issue of Shock Cinema, I was willing to watch any copy of the film, even one without subtitles.
Prata Palomares opens with two guerrillas stumbling around the war torn countryside of Brazil. The two fighters fall asleep on a beach and find their dreams invaded by a woman figure (the Virgin?). Shortly thereafter, the two men find refuge in a deserted church. After a half-hour of wandering aimlessly around the church, the two men are joined by the mysterious woman from the beach. She sleeps with both men before the three make a discovery. The church is being used as a place to torture political prisoners. An electric chair resides in the confessional and ropes from a scaffolding end in nooses. Why these three do not flee is unclear. Instead, they stay at the church. One of the revolutionaries dresses up as a priest and beings to pass himself off as the legitimate Father of the parish. He meets with the (caricatured) local government and becomes popular with the locals. Meanwhile, his partner is not happy about his friend's spiritual rise. Eventually, the "priest" will have to make a moral choice. It is at this point when the film starts living up to its reputation as being both strange and graphic.
Much of Prata Palomares is talk, which sounds post-dubbed. The photography is surprisingly drab for being directed by a cinematographer. Furthermore, the film's startling images do not enter the picture until the final half-hour. Before that the film is shot in a somewhat stylized but overall "realistic" fashion. All of this makes evaluation difficult for a viewer unable to understand what the characters are saying. I found the talky first hour a struggle. Would the film have moved faster had I understood the dialogue? Perhaps, but I think I would have still found it slow. Prata Palomares is made in the final half-hour, which even without subtitles grabbed me. The final shot consists of a cover of the Rolling Stone's "Honky Talk Woman" playing over a memorably grisly image.
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