Dir: Andrucha Waddington.Braz. 2005. 103mins.
No, this isn't 2003's HouseOf Sand And Fog after the mist has lifted but Brazilian director AndruchaWaddington's first feature since his well-regarded Me You Them (2000),which won the top prize at Karlovy Vary.
Set in northern Brazil'sforbidding state of Maranhao, now a conservation zone, it begins in 1910 andends, amazingly, nearly 60 years later. It's gloriously, perhaps a little toogloriously, shot, but unfortunately the stunning cinematography is not enoughto make up for a sketchy, uninvolving and sometimes implausible plot, thin,paint-by-the-numbers characterisations, and a pervasive and unspecific thematicblandness.
The film's principal cachetis the casting of real-life mother-daughter actresses Fernanda Montenegro (CentralStation) and Fernanda Torres (Parlez-Moi d'Amour) and while thisshrewd choice makes for some occasionally spirited encounters, it's notsufficient to redeem the weakness of other crucial elements.
The film recounts the livesof three generations of women, somewhat in the manner of Antonia's Line andSince Otar Left, but here the question is of sheer survival amid abrutal and hellish landscape, and the even more brutish humans that grandmother,mother, and daughter encounter over six decades.
Various 20-centuryinventions and startling news - like the airplane and the war that ragedthrough Europe that they finally hear about years after its end - impingeregularly on the characters' consciousness, but make little change in their barrenroutines in this windswept, godforsaken land.
At one point, theirmakeshift shack even begins to sink into the sand, recalling the Japaneseclassic, Woman Of The Dunes.
The best part of the movie -because it begins to gesture toward some larger themes - concerns theexpedition of some scientists, aided by a troop of soldiers, to photograph alunar eclipse. While spying on them, Aurea, the mother, meets and falls in lovewith a soldier named Luiz, thus setting up an ending that could have been verypowerful if Waddington had succeeded in having us care for his characters.
It's fascinating to watchthe two Fernandas interact, especially on a purely visual plane, given thatmovie mothers and daughters so rarely bear any resemblance at all to oneanother.
The elder Fernanda'sperformance is especially nuanced, but all of the film's characters, includingMassu (Jorge), an escaped black slave the women initially rely on for survival,remain types and never fully come to life.
Worst of all, audiences willbe at least temporarily baffled owing to the risky decision Waddington has madeto have his two leads play each other's characters at different times in theirlives.
In other hands or in anotherfilm, this could have added a tangy Brechtian complexity perhaps, but hereconfusion will reign until audiences realise that no, grandmother has not comeback from the dead; rather, mother is now grandmother's age when she died andhence is now being played by the elder Fernanda. This confusion recurs laterwhen the grown-up granddaughter is played by the same actress who originallyplayed her mother.
Waddington gives full reinto cinematographer Della Rosa, and their vista-filling long shots ofmonotonously picturesque sand dunes stretch endlessly in both senses of theword.
Della Rosa nicely alternatesextreme close-ups with telephoto shots that add to the location's paradoxicalcombination of claustrophobia and vastness. But Waddington over-relies onvisual composition to give an emotional heft to his story that should have comeat least partly from an involvement in the characters' lives.
Columbia Tristar Filmes do Brasil
Quanta Centro de Producoes
Leonardo Monteiro de Barros
Pedro Buraque de Hollanda
Ricardo Della Rosa