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All Is Well: LAFF Review

All is Well LAFF Film Still - H 2012
"All is Well"

The Bottom Line

Hard-luck story of African refugees resettling in Portugal proves dispiriting.

Venue

Los Angeles Film Festival

Director

Pocas Pascoal

Cast

Ciomara Morais, Cheila Lima, Willion Brandão, Vera Cruz

 

Pocas Pascoal's drama follows two immigrant women from Angola struggling in Portugal's capital.

Things go from bad to even worse in Pocas Pascoal’s gritty immigrant drama, as two young women from Angola struggle to gain a toehold in Portugal’s capital. Although not without some lighter moments, All Is Well provides a grim view of exile experience and is most likely to find refuge at film festivals prioritizing international programming.

Having recently fled Portuguese-speaking Angola’s brutal civil war of the 1980s, teenage sisters Alda (Ciomara Morais) and Maria (Cheila Lima) bide their time at a cheap Lisbon rooming house, waiting for their mother to join them. As complications and delays prevent her from leaving Angola, and with their savings running out, the sisters dodge their hotel bill and drift toward the city’s margins, seeking an elusive family friend with an uncertain address.

Out on the street and out of options, they first crash in an unoccupied trailer on a construction site, then begin squatting in a decrepit apartment building in the slums at the suggestion of middle-aged local Angolan resident Alice (Vera Cruz). As Maria is ardently pursued by neighborhood homeboy Carlos (Willion Brandão), the girls attempt to find legitimate work, but without documentation they’re unemployable.

Alice gives them some chores in her dressmaking workshop, but only meager pay, as the sisters struggle to meet even basic subsistence needs, sometimes with the help of immigrant neighbors from the apartment block. Catastrophic news from home sends the girls’ lives into a tailspin, however, forcing them to choose among the few remaining survival options available.

Pascoal’s semi-autobiographical first feature doesn’t sugarcoat the unfortunate realities of immigrant life, but the film’s near-relentless negativity becomes wearying. With most of their experience in TV, the two leads display a certain appeal, but barely manage to carry the feature to its ambiguous conclusion.

Production quality is variable -- while Pascoal’s command of the film’s largely undifferentiated style is adequate, more than a few scenes are underlit to the point of murkiness, emphasizing the consistently somber tone, along with the near-absence of musical score.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Production company: LX Filmes
Cast: Ciomara Morais, Cheila Lima, Willion Brandão, Vera Cruz
Director: Pocas Pascoal
Screenwriters: Pocas Pascoal, Marc Pernet
Producer: Luís Correia
Director of photography: Octávio Espírito Santo
Editor: Pascale Chavance
Music: Lulendo Mvulu, Sebastião Vicente, Marc Pernet, Eric Lonni
No rating, 96 minutes.