Wolf And Dog


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Wolf And Dog
"Shot in a superficially chaotic style which gradually coalesces into something meaningful, Wolf & Dog perfectly captures the haste and ambiguity of teenage life." | Photo: courtesy of Inside Out

“Is it a sin, to want?” asks Ana (Ana Cabral). When the priest reassures her that it’s not, in itself, but enquires as to what it is that she wants, she says simply “Just to want...because when I want, I want so much. It doesn’t fit here on the island.”

That island is São Miguel in the Azores, considered paradise by tourists but frustratingly small for teenagers who are trying to explore their identities and understand themselves separately from their families. Ana lives with her mother, toddler brother Simão and older brother Telmo. The latter is hardly home, however, and shows little interest in her, on one occasion stealing the keys for her motorbike so that she has to walk home alone in the dark. Little clues scattered through the film hint that he’s involved with the drug smuggling we hear talked about on the news in the background. Ana’s mother doesn’t know what she did wrong.

Ana’s best friend is Luís (Ruben Pimenta), seen early on wearing a bulldog mask for a classroom exercise in which everyone pretends to be an animal. Day to day he wears make-up and sparkles, which antagonise his father, whilst his mother really doesn’t see why it’s a big deal, even if she has too much to do to spend time helping him perfect his eyeliner. He’s comfortable with who he is, finding an accepting community in a queer club in Ponta Delgada, but still experiences a certain tension because of his attraction to the traditional religious life of the island. As Ana comes to feel increasingly out of place and desperate to escape, he really wants to fit in, if people will let him.

Luís’s situation speaks to the awkward balance of tradition and modern values in the island community, something which is maintained largely be not talking about it. What might be read as hypocrisy can also be interpreted simply as kindness. Nobody wants to have to deal with the tension of conflict, and there is a lot of real warmth there in spite of the various characters’ disappointments. As is often the case in such places, though, kindness only goes so far, and polite cruelty, confident of its righteousness, can be the worst of all.

Shot in a superficially chaotic style which gradually coalesces into something meaningful, Wolf & Dog perfectly captures the haste and ambiguity of teenage life, when one doesn’t necessarily know what one needs but one knows one needs it straight away, and when one is expected to handle all of that with only minimal authority over one’s own actions. Director Cláudia Varejão has a gift for telling stories through little details: the rip in a shirt which Luís wears anyway, the single gold tear stuck to his face when he is unwilling to shed real ones. She also knows when to linger on her actors’ faces. We are not told that Ana is falling in love, but we watch her feelings develop from the moment she encounters the object of her unacknowledged desires.

On an island, looking for a future often means looking out to sea. We meet Ana on a boat, and it’s on another boat that we will leave her. In the meantime, whilst Luís tries to sink his roots deeper into the island soil, to find a way to bloom there, it is in the sea that Ana uncovers secrets and comes to understand herself. About mid-way through the film we follow a group of teenagers along a three kilometre tunnel with an opening shaped like vulva, surrounded by banana trees. It leads to a secret beach, a place for wild partying. When their light goes out halfway along, they trust their instincts.

This sensitive coming of age tale, which screened as part of Inside Out 2023, has a cultural specificity and innate sensuality which make it stand out from the crowd. Varejão knows precisely when to break out of her immersive style for maximum effect, as wildness and domesticity come to complement each other rather than tearing her characters apart.

Reviewed on: 26 May 2023
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A girl begins to question the world around her through her friendship with her gay best friend.

Director: Cláudia Varejão

Writer: Leda Cartum, Cláudia Varejão

Starring: Ana Cabral, Ruben Pimenta, Cristiana Branquinho, Marlene Cordeiro, João Tavares, Nuno Ferreira, Mário Jorge Oliveira, Luísa Alves, Maria Furtado, Tomás Furtado de Melo, Emanuel Macedo

Year: 2022

Runtime: 111 minutes

Country: Portugal

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