‘Comeback’: Film Review | Rio 2016

Courtesy of Rio Bravo Filmes
Nelson Xavier in 'Comeback.'
An enjoyably twisted Western homage.

Erico Rasso’s debut is a sly comedy about an aging hitman who comes out of retirement.

Amador, Portrait of a Senile Killer would make a good alternative title for Comeback, a wry, modest and fresh retread of the hitman-leaves-retirement genre. A dark, deceptively gentle comedy that’s far more knowing than at first it seems, and which cannily features barely the sound of a gunshot until its closing moments, Erico Rassi’s feature debut successfully creates a dark little world of its own in which the viewer is happy to spend time, especially when its main inhabitant is the ever watchable Nelson Xavier, a veteran of some of Brazilian’s keystone titles, playing a parodic variation on Clint Eastwood. 

The film is set in some godforsaken rural town in the Brazil where apparently such a thing as the police has never existed and where there are no women at all. We first see Amador (Xavier) in a bar dozing under his trademark fedora. Amador is cultivating a cool killer image because that’s exactly what he was -- a hitman responsible for many murders, recorded in a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings. On the advice of local businessman Uncle (Ge Martu), Amador -- aided by the nephew (Marcos de Andrade) of his former hitman crony Davi (Everaldo Pontes) -- is half-heartedly and humiliatingly trying to get into selling slot machines to bars, or rather one slot machine, which he can’t seem to get rid of. Now he regrets that he can no longer go on a killing spree like he used to; the fact that he actually has no reason to kill anyone (and a gun that no longer works properly) is not seen as an obstacle to Amador’s ambitions.

When a couple of strangers roll up with the idea of making a movie about him, Amador’s vanity is provoked. “I hope you’re not planning a comeback,” Davi tells Amador: the title is the only word which comically all the characters say in English, and we launch into the rather-too-long pursuit of some rifles for the shoot. Slowly, Amador warms to the idea of a comeback, and when it comes it is strangely bleak, its gunshots stripped of all motivation and meaning. No longer amusing, the film’s final minutes suddenly look like a disturbing reprimand for our need for bullets and bodies in movies, whatever the moral toll.

Pacing is slow and careful as befits a film featuring so many third-agers and set in a broken-down old western town, but rarely is it dull. Populated by old, white-bearded, twinkle-eyed gents, it gets a great deal of comic mileage from the contrast between their benign appearance and their malevolent mindset, capable of normalizing such brutality. Amador is a superb creation by Xavier, his purse-lipped impassivity concealing a solitude and a need for recognition that comes increasingly to the fore and which warms us to him. It’s quite a clever trick to have a sympathetic character shot dead and for the viewer not to mind especially about the victim whilst moreover retaining sympathy for the killer, but that pretty much defines how Comeback does its work.

The simple, plucked guitar score, the repeated use of slow zooms and shots of deserted, sandy streets are three of the techniques that Rassi uses to suggested that Comeback is really a Western with a twist.

Production company: Rio Bravo Filmes
Cast: Nelson Xavier, Marcos De Andrade, Ge Martu, Everaldo Pontes
Director, screenwriter: Erico Rassi
Producer: Cris Miotto
Director of photography: Andre Carvalheira
Editor: Leopoldo Joe Nakata
Composer: Casa da Sogra
Sales: Rio Bravo Filmes
Venue: Rio de Janeiro Film Festival (Official Section)

No rating, 89 minutes

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