Eye For Film >> Movies >> A Casa De Alice (2007) Film Review
A Casa De Alice
Reviewed by: Chris
There is an emotional richness and intellectual fascination for cinema in Brazil that, strange as it sounds, probably exceeds that of any other country I've visited. Queues of hundreds festooned a midnight festival screening of a Lars von Trier movie (I searched the crowds offering double, till someone sold me a ticket). In the film shops of the many well-appointed art house cinemas, shelves of books on movie history are wall-to-wall with film memorabilia and works by Jean Paul Sartre. Yes, a vibrant lower-middle-class revels in its freedom. Millions of Brasilians. Not represented by City of God any more than America is by Boyz in the Hood or Scotland is by Trainspotting.
To taste the real passion of Brazil, not just the stylised, marketable niche, you might want to experience A Casa de Alice. With an authenticity influenced by Dogme and documentary background, director Chico Teixeira allows the passions of real life to stand on their own feet. Without extraneous murders or Motorcycle Diaries-style soundtracks.
The towering performance by Carla Ribas (Alice) left me visibly shaken. Her all too human self-delusion is uncomfortably easy to identify with. We see how real drama in our lives can stem from understandable mistakes. And ordinary chance. Not tortuous scripting.
The title translates as 'Alice's House'. The publicity poster shows Alice, who is the mainstay of her close-knit family, with her back to a wall. The door is next to her, but we see through it as if it was part of the wall, brick-blocks freshly cemented. The person closest to each family member, she finds herself emotionally locked out.
Alice and Lindomar have been married for 20 years. She works as a manicurist in a salon. They live with their three teenage sons and Alice's mother, Dona Jacira, who is slowly going blind. A client, Carmen, boasts of how she trims her pubic hair into different shapes and it drives her husband wild. Alice tries shaving. Her husband laughs and calls it 'ridiculous'. Should she make more attempts to revitalise that part of their relationship between the sheets, or should her feelings look elsewhere? As his probably do?
Grandma sees everyone's secrets. One of her grandsons getting money and an affectionate squeeze from an older man as he gets out of the car. Explicit photos of a teenage girlfriend in Lindomar's pocket fall out as Grandma does the family laundry. She sees how other family members see only part of the picture and jump to conclusions. But she doesn't want to see what is happening to those she loves. In her lonely and isolated world, it is the presenter of her favourite radio program who brings warmth to her heart.
Love, passion and sex are very much part of Brazilian life, yet they shy away from the vulgarity that the British are so comfortable with. Even the production notes to the film use taste and discretion to describe scenes that would be salacious in any UK synopsis. Production Designer Marcos Pedroso suggests it almost as a creed: "To accept what life observation has to offer and to rely on what's been observed in a delicate manner and with propriety." The addiction to the beautiful, to 'making love' rather than 'having sex', is reflected in Carla's capacity for self-delusion as she longs to fulfil her romantic dreams. But the production's reliance on being true to life gives the characters force and impact.
Casting for A Casa de Alice was accomplished through detailed conversations about each character - in personal interviews with the director and casting director /coach, Fatima Toleda. The actors had no access to the script at any time. Before each scene, they would run through the dialogue once. Director Chico Teixeira says his focus was on the emotions coming up. "I cried with a lot of emotion when the first scenes started to take shape. I also cried for the pain I felt through the actors. It was truly intense."
Camera angles also emphasise characters, not surroundings. There are many close ups. Sometimes we even follow a character by observing their hands. There are level shots from waist height, that make us feel like a child with the weight of adult reality imposing on us from above. A reality we might want not to see.
Those expecting samba, shoot-outs, or an emotionally-contrived blockbuster ending should stay away. Otherwise, this Brazilian slice-of-life is definitely drama to treasure.
Surveys have suggested that unfaithfulness in America is obsessed over to the point of causing break-ups even when non-existent. The arms-folded, emotionally prurient British keep a stiff upper lip about such things while printing almost pornographic details in the tabloids. In Brasil, on the other hand, it might be almost normal for married couples to have lovers on the side. Sparks fly with a brilliance when they haven't been discrete enough and blind eyes can no longer be turned. Sparks as bright as falling stars. Carla Ribas' star, fortunately, is a rising one.Reviewed on: 15 Aug 2007