Subject

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Subject
"There’s a serious core to this film which explores questions around objectification, exploitation and who gets to direct a narrative, but it’s wrapped up in quirky humour and the characters are full of warmth." | Photo: Carla Sarmento

It begins with the house. Compact but more than spacious enough for one person, it’s bright yellow and tangled up in old, dry vines which have somehow got a grip despite the forest having been hacked back around it. There’s an unusual aperture in the uppermost room which resembles the one in the worst ever Johnny Depp film, Secret Window, with which this shares some aspects of its plot. Max (Gustavo Falcão) is the writer moving in, his agent having arranged for him to spend some time away from phone, internet and friends so that he can work on a book. As is typical of writers in such tales, he spends a lot of time staring at a blank page, but it only takes one trip into the village to realise that this place is full of stories.

Although Falcão makes for a likeable hero, the strength of this film is in its supporting cast, who succeed in making us care about this odd, isolated community long before we discover its secret. Weaving their way in and out of the central mystery, their characters alternately intrigue and disquiet Max, who might be returning the favour when he reveals that he thinks the real art of writing fiction lies in observation, and that he is basing characters on them. One might wonder what that means though, when Max isn’t so much writing as discovering words – pages which appear mysteriously, intersecting with what he thought were his own ideas, yet apparently written by the previous inhabitant of the yellow house.

To be a writer is to be more aware than most of the uncertainties of human identity. There’s a serious core to this film which explores questions around objectification, exploitation and who gets to direct a narrative, but it’s wrapped up in quirky humour and the characters are full of warmth. This allows the film to take a playful approach to some established horror tropes (you’ll see one coming as soon as Max finds an unidentified third key on his keyring), and to its existential themes. Nevertheless, there are some challenging moments when, for instance, Max has to reckon with the same character at different ages.

Though it’s satirical in some places and quite dark in others, ultimately this is a film which takes delight in its characters and affirms the importance of life regardless of the context of that life. As such it presents an interesting contrast with the way related themes have been handled in some rather more po-faced films in recent years. Even the original title, Sujeito Oculto, has a humorous quality which isn't easy to translate. Subject made an interesting addition to the Fantaspoa 2022 line-up, showing off the diversity of home-grown Brazilian talent.

Reviewed on: 30 Apr 2022
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To escape writer's block, a famous novelist moves into a house near an isolated and strange village, where pages apparently written by the former resident of the house begin to appear on his desk, prompting him to question his sanity.

Director: Léo Falcão

Writer: Léo Falcão

Starring: Gustavo Falcão, Marcos Breda, Toyn Garrido

Year: 2022

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: Brazil

Festivals:

Fantaspoa 2022

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