The Domain


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Domain
"Despite its reliance on the crutch of cliche in terms of plotting there is much to admire here stylistically." | Photo: Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

This family saga from Portugal - spanning five decades in the life of a single, landed family and their workers - is a slow-burn affair (with affairs) that has the feel of a well-appointed mini-series as much as a movie.

Tiago Guedes' film begins in the aftermath of a suicide in the Forties, when João Fernandes (played in Albano Jerónimo) was just a child. It's a brief introduction to the expectation of "manning up" and of reaping what you sow, as the action goes on to chart João's prime against the backdrop of the Carnation Revolution in 1974 - the military coup that overthrew the authoritarian Estado Novo rule of António de Oliveira Salazar - before considering his legacy for the next generation in 1991.

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It's a broad sweep but though it touches on the external poisons of politics, it is the domestic discord that Guedes aims to highlight. He emphasises the hypocrasies of João and skewers the mythologies of the partriarchy, large and small. Take, for example, the landowners' approach to politics. He is dismissive of men from the ministry who come to demand his public support for Salazar's Angola colonialism but the real reason he feels empowered to brush them off comes not from personal strength but connection - his wife Leonor (Sandra Faleiro) is the daughter of a member of the top brass.

This sort of emotional terrain is as old as the land itself - a problem which makes the running time feel laboured in places as the audience gallops ahead of the plot.It seems almost inevitable that João pours most of his energies into the family business and affections into his horse, while treating his wife like little more than a brood mare and the other women on the estate - in particular, Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa), the spouse of his right-hand man Joaquim (Miguel Borges) as an extension of his chattels.

Jerónimo has charisma to burn in the central role - looking like a sort of sturdier country cousin of Alain Delon - and he's certainly matched by Faleiro as his long-suffering wife, although his wig is a distraction in the film's final third. Despite its reliance on the crutch of cliche in terms of plotting there is much to admire here stylistically. Lovely tracking shots of cars lead us down a road from one era to another, while handsome lensing from João Lança Morais captures the contrast between the cigarette smoke-wreathed inner spaces of João's home with the wide open vistas of his land.

But, we know the chickens must come home to roost and, inevitably - and with more than cloak whisk of melodrama - the sins of the fathers are visited on João's neglected son Miguel (Joaquim Correia), daughter Teresa (Beatriz Brás) and Rosa's son Antonio (Rodrigo Tomás). The distinctive Portugese backdrop  spices the familiarity in the early stages of the film but as Guedes increasingly relies on more familiar soapy domestic devices, the emotional energy ebbs just when it should be reaching a crescendo.

Reviewed on: 30 Oct 2019
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Chronicle of a Portugese family who own a large estate on the banks of the Tagus, tracking them down the decades.

Director: Tiago Guedes

Writer: Rui Cardoso Martins, Tiago Guedes, Gilles Taurand

Starring: Albano Jerónimo, Sandra Faleiro, Miguel Borges, Ana Vilela da Costa, João Vicente, João Pedro Mamede, Rodrigo Tomás, Beatriz Brás, Diogo Dória, Ana Bustorff, Victoria Guerra, Filipe Vargas, Luís Garcia, Teresa Madruga, Cândido Ferreira

Year: 2019

Runtime: 166 minutes

Country: Portugal

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