Film-Forward Review: ALICE’S HOUSE

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Lindomar (Zécarlos Machado), left
and his son Edinho (Ricardo Vilaça)
Photo: Figa Films/Vitagraph

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Directed by Chico Teixeira
Produced by Patrick Leblanc & Zita Carvalhosa
Written by Teixeira, Julio Pessoa, Sabina Anzuategui & Marcelo Gomes
Director of Photography, Mauro Pinheiro Jr.
Edited by Vânia Debs
Language: Portuguese with English subtitles
Brazil. 92 min. Not Rated
Released by: Figa Films/Vitagraph
With: Carla Ribas, Vinicius Zinn, Ricardo Vilaça, Felipe Massuia, Berta Zemel, Zécarlos Machado, Renata Zhaneta, Luciano Quirino & Mariana Leighton

Room by room, Alice’s House builds a quiet portrait of a family step-by-step imploding. Each day starts with manicurist Alice (Carla Ribas) and her taxi driver husband, Lindomar (Zécarlos Machado), asleep in their crowded Sao Paulo apartment. Their three tousled sons share a room – crew cut military cadet Lucas (Vinicius Zinn), caught-in-the-middle son Edinho (Ricardo Vilaça), and young teen Junior (Felipe Massuia), whose mop of curls invariably arouses his mother and oldest brother to baby him.

The outside world first filters in through the constant radio of grandmother Dona Jacira (Berta Zemel), glued to the DJ’s fortune-telling and self-help advice as she putters around cooking, cleaning, and washing the family’s dirty laundry (literally and figuratively). Though going blind, she espies the family’s secrets in their pockets and from her perch on the balcony. Otherwise surrounded by men, Alice is maternally flattered to give advice to her young neighbor Thaïs (Mariana Leighton), not realizing she’s invited a serpent into her garden.

At work, she is jealous of her rich regular Carmen (Renata Zhaneta), whose bitten nails reveal tensions under her braggadocio. Carmen sends her handsome husband Nilson (Luciano Quirino) to Alice for a manicure just as the hypocritically macho atmosphere in Alice’s household is getting particularly oppressive. (It’s surprising how few serious films, like here, have gone beyond Legally Blonde-bonding of the weekly chatty relationship between manicurist and client.)

The home becomes less a central refuge and more a centrifugal force as each member of the family restlessly seeks magic in their lives that can’t be fulfilled there. In her striking first leading film role, stage actress Ribas earthily and expressively recalls Norma Aleandro in The Official Story, as a mature wife dealing with gradual revelations about her domestic situation and facing up to her prospects. But here, the personal is the political.

Director/co-writer Chico Teixeira demonstrates his documentary experience in his first feature film as his intimate camera zooms-in, with crisp, if sometimes abrupt, editing. Using Dogme-style ambient sounds and music for added realism, Teixeira was inspired by the work of Mike Leigh and the Dardenne brothers to allow the actors to develop their characters’ gestures and movements through improvisation workshops. The resulting naturalism comes through not just in the emotional outbursts but during the many silences, especially among the brothers.

While Brazilian cinema has brought international attention to the pathos of poverty and crime in the colorful slums on the outskirts of the big cities, sympathetic depictions of working-class families as lived in Alice’s House are rarely seen on screen from any country. Nora Lee Mandel
January 25, 2008



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