Dir: Ruy Guerra. Brazil. 2000. 95 mins.

Prod cos: Sky Light, Rio Filme, D&D Audiovisuais. Co-prod: Productora Cinematografica ICAIC. Int'l Sales: Serene Skylight International (001 801 659 8840). Exec prod: Jom Tob Azulay, Miguel Mendoza. Prod: Bruno Stroppiana, Bruno Cerveira. Scr: Guerra, based on the novel by Chico Buarque. Dop: Marcelo Durst. Prod des: Raul Oliva, Claudio Amaral Peixoto, Tony De Castro. Ed: Mair Tavares. Music: Egberto Gismonti. Main cast: Jorge Perugorria, Bianca Byington, Leonor Arocha, Tonico Oliveira, Athayde Arcoverde.

A magical realist fable of urban alienation, Turbulence follows the travails of a young Cariocan drop-out and his skirmishes with his wealthy family with undeniable technical brilliance, but it's a murky and emotionally unengaging tale that, even at 95 minutes, seems like a long slog. Festival invites should be forthcoming on the strength of Guerra's reputation as one of the founders of Brazil's cinema novo, but broader commercial prospects outside the Hispanic-speaking territories don't look bright.

One morning the anonymous narrator (Perugorria) is woken up from a hung-over stupor by an ominous pounding at the door which induces in him an attack of acute paranoia. Convinced he's being followed, he goes on the run, first visiting his disapproving elder sister (Byington) to touch her for some cash. With this he hightails it to the family's crumbling and deserted country ranch, which turns out to be squatted by a band of degenerate bikers despite the efforts of the property's ancient caretaker to keep them at bay.

His ex-wife (Arocha) is his next port of call, but here too he gets a frosty welcome and it's revealed that he sponged on her throughout their marriage and definitively lost her affections by his apathetic response to her pregnancy which left her seeking an abortion.

Matters take a turn for the worse when a gay prostitute is killed in his apartment and the protagonist becomes convinced that this was an old friend. And they go irredeemably downhill when he steals some of his sister's jewellery, with disastrous consequences for her. However he somehow continues to scrape his way out of a series of tight corners thanks to his family connections and a rich, if perpetually drug-addled childhood friend.

Scattered flashbacks fill in some of the reasons for our hero's unprepossessing and resolutely self-centred behaviour: his troubled relationship with his despotic late father, his repressed incestuous feelings for his big sister and his evident contempt for the moneyed, decadent circles which she now inhabits. But it's hard to see him as a character with whom one wants to spend an hour and a half of one's time, and the rest of the cast - with the partial exception of the two women - are depicted as strident grotesques. There's not much sense of the city, other than as a bleak, crime-ridden hell divided by an uncrossable chasm between the rich and the disenfranchised.

A moderate degree of diversion is supplied by the virtuoso hand-held camerawork (although this, like the liberal use of extreme wide-angle lenses can eventually become irritating), and by the intricate blend of voice-over and intertitles, flashback and fantasy to decorate what remains, in essence, a slight and trite narrative.