Blood Of My Blood

Blood Of My Blood

*****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

João Canijo’s epic yet intimate drama delves into the everyday life of a working-class family in Lisbon and plays out its tragic tale with a tender appreciation of just how dramatic the everyday can seem when looked upon with fresh and distant eyes.

The family in question seems unremarkable at first. A hard-working, disciplined matriarch lives with her younger sister and her two grown-up children, Joca (Rafael Morais) and Claúdia (Cleia Almeida). As the film slowly unravels we learn about its past and present in long scenes, with naturalistic everyday conversations revealing its fractures and mutual dependency. Joca is recently out of a juvenile detention centre and has already found his way back into trouble running drugs for a local thug. Claúdia is a nursing student, unexcited by her husband-to-be, who is seeking more adventurous thrills from her professor, Dr Vieira (Marcello Urgeghe).

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The tendency for her grown up children to find trouble of their own making causes Márcia (Rita Blanco) and her sister Ivete (Anabela Moreira) to take drastic action in order to protect their family from the vultures who seek to exploit the naivety of the young. That the threat comes from two disparate and socially incompatible sources, a middle class doctor and a drug dealing hoodlum – and speaks to two of our most destructive human desires, money and lust – is indicative of the quality and intelligence of Canijo’s script.

On this point it is worth noting that the programme notes for the film draw comparison with our very own Mike Leigh and his ability to draw out drama from the everyday. In particular, this film resembles his Secrets And Lies, in its exploration of the hidden past that we each carry with us and its ability to crop up unexpectedly and rather inconveniently.

Holding the film together, as well as her family, is the central performance of Rita Blanco as Márcia. It's a quietly brilliant depiction of a woman trying to make the best of a bad situation; no matter whether the situation is stepping in dog shit or trying to intervene in her daughter’s doomed relationship. In referencing Leigh, it’s also important to highlight Canijo’s approach to the script. He embraced the workshopping of scenes with his actors, prior to filming. This allowed each actor time to work out their character, and their way of living, to such an effect that their world is perfectly, painfully, realised.

The sensitivity accorded to the characters and their story carries over into the approach taken by Canijo to capture their lives on film. The camerawork is unobtrusive and gently reinforces the feeling of observation. Scenes play out in long takes with the camera moving around the room almost imperceptibly. Additionallly, the shot is often split down the middle by a door or window frame. We may have Márcia and Claúdia on one side discussing Claúdia’s affair, while on the other Ivete tries to warn Joca about the path he’s choosing.

It is a subtly clever way of making the film feel like it is always evolving, like the characters are always developing whether we see them on screen or not. The only minor quibble here arises from the fact that, as it's a Portuguese language film, it’s rather difficult to translate two concurrent conversations on different sides of the screen, but you never feel like anything important slips past.

An elegant and sensitively filmed drama which avoids the pitfalls of a grim portrayal of the working-class to become a richly woven social tapestry of its time and place, Blood Of My Blood is one of the most affecting films of the year and certainly worth seeking out.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2012
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An intense family melodrama set in the outskirts of Lisbon.
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Festivals:

SSFF 2011
EIFF 2012

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