Dir: João Canijo | Cast: Anabela Moreira, Rita Blanco, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto Portugal / France 2023 Competition | World premiere Drama, Portugal
An inheritance proves to be a poisoned challis and one that will flush out memories and deep-seated resentments brewing between five members of a close family in this immersive drama from Portuguese auteur João Canijo.
The property has seen better days. Once a lavishly appointed architect-designed Sixties hotel boasting extensive grounds a generous kidney-shaped swimming pool – that still provides the women with a regenerative backwater and a break from each other – the place is now in need of extensive refurbishment and the staff have resorted to using bleach and fly spray just to keep the place clean.
Conijo’s female-centric narrative provides fertile ground for a richly discursive and contemplative slow-burn drama whose languid pacing often bristles with insight and delicate observations in mulling over the women’s collective past together, and seemingly futile future touching on domestic themes of cooking, child-rearing and the inevitability of ageing, as well as wider issues that allude to the social malaise in modern day Portugal.
Other scenes focus on trivial squabbles that often flare up from nowhere between mother and daughter as they try on shoes, or compare haircuts. Often there is intrigue or enigma surrounding what is said – as much as unsaid – as we piece together the past and present of these relatable interlocking characters.
Many of the conversations take place offscreen and focus on the central character Piedade (Moreira) whose desperate cries for help fall on the deaf ears of her mother (Blanco), daughter (Almeida) and extended family who are too consumed with their own trivial lives to focus on her subtle call for help.
Pietade is often seen eavesdropping on her mother Sara while trying to keep her snappy emotional support dog from squeaking or barking, other desultory conversations unfold in the peace and quiet of this tranquil rural location.
DoP Leonor Teles choses a a vibrant aesthetic and a variety of camera angles to keep us involved: often viewing the characters from above or at waist level, or on the widescreen and in intimate closeup while a quietly triumphant score of Elgar’s Nimrod at one point plays in the background.
The ending comes as no surprise to those tuned in to Piedade’s particularly middle-aged female sense of futility – yet it provides a perfect conclusion to this mature and artfully framed family drama playing this year in the Berlinale main competition
BERLINALE 2023| 15 -26 February 2023