Submission

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Submission
"By the time Lúcia takes the stand, it's not just Miguel who is in the dock but the entire Portuguese judicial system." | Photo: Courtesy of POFF

Courtroom dramas are known for their dense scripting and chamber piece settings, which is what makes Leonardo António's feel for visual storytelling all the more impressive. He uses it to elegantly set the mood of this drama about the aftermath of marital rape as survivor Lúcia (Iolanda Laranjeiro) seeks justice through the Portuguese courts while facing a system stacked against her every step of the way.

We start not with the attack - which we only will later learn about through testimony - but with shots of the sea and aerial footage of a city, both of which will return like a chorus through the film, helping the story to retain a sense of movement and flow, as a melancholic Norwegian lullaby tunes us into Lúcia's emotions. We learn about the evening in snatches, a stilted dinner party, a shower in shock and a trip to the police station where Lúcia is greeted by an unwelcoming mix of indifference and surprise that she should be accusing her husband. "Are you sure about what you're saying?" she's asked in what will be the first of many attempts to belittle and diminish her experience. It's not just her gender but her social status that is against her, as we quickly learn that her husband Miguel (João Catarré) is a doctor and, worse still, that his father is the Deputy Attorney General.

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António doesn't shy away from complexity. Lúcia faces not just emotional issues but also practical fiscal ones in leaving Miguel. The writer/director gives her all his attention as she pushes the state prosecutor's assistant Maria (Maria João Abreu) to help her bring the case against her husband, who will only come into focus for us in the latter part of the film. We see how Lúcia faces waves of masculinity as unthinking in their actions but as unremitting as the sea in the film's first shot as her status as "a wife", is continually used as leverage against her.

The film builds gradually to the court case, as Lúcia faces pressure from her father-in-law while also finding support in a domestic violence survivors group. António treats this with the same thoughtfulness as the film's other elements, avoiding cliché by showing the presence of men who have also experienced domestic abuse. By the time Lúcia takes the stand, it's not just Miguel who is in the dock but the entire Portuguese judicial system, which António has shown is awash with sexism and class discrimination. Laranjeiro brings real depth and complexity to Lúcia, allowing us to see her own warring emotions as she's forced to explain not just this single incident but her entire approach and physical reactions in relationships.

The director also finds an emotionally satisfying and gracefully effective way of giving the lie to Miguel's testimony towards the end of the film, again keeping Lúcia's emotional experiences to the fore - although it's clearly established beforehand that she doesn't need "validation". António won the Best Script Award after its world premiere in Tallinn but it's the storytelling that goes beyond words that elevates his work.

Reviewed on: 06 Dec 2020
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A woman files a court case against her husband for rape.

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