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An intriguing theater-within-film premise peters out into very little in Alberto Graca’s third feature Beatriz, a stylish but hollow exercise in writer fetishism that occasionally flashes but is more often dull. Elegantly lensed but peopled by characters about whom it’s hard to care, the film’s take on artistic suffering seems to hark back to an age where male romantic fantasies prevailed, an age where women sacrificed their lives on the altars of their husband’s genius, and where pearls like ‘we all want passion, but we are afraid of abandoning ourselves to it’ drop from perfectly-formed lips.
With its strictly bourgeois take on art and sexuality, Beatriz brings to the screen a largely outmoded but still dangerous fantasy: but there is at least a 60’s-style innocence about the film which is almost winsome, in that Graca seems blissfully unaware of the existence of the concept of pretentiousness. Lawyer (and muse) Beatriz (Marjorie Estiano) has given up her job in Rio to travel to Lisbon to be with her husband Marcelo (Sergio Guize), a writer of erotic fiction. Early bedroom scenes show the couple in the grip of a sexual obsession: Beatriz carefully removes her panties and leaves them under a park bench, presumably for Marcelo to find, while they get up to all kinds of playful business in the streetcars of Lisbon.
But Beatriz gets pregnant, and Marcelo’s Spanish editor Luis (Xavier Estevez) has other plans for the writer: perhaps strangely as a commercial exercise, he wants Marcelo to deliver a book about ‘the depths of abandon’, which he he wants to simultaneously appear as a play, presumably so that Graca can show us what’s happening inside Marcelo’s troubled, writerly psyche. Given that Marcelo’s psyche appears to be peopled by reciting “Was everything brought about by fate?”, it’s not surprising he’s troubled. It’s like watching the same thing twice, and neither time is it particularly inspiring, despite the compelling efforts of Nerea Barros (who was a standout in Alberto Rodriguez’s Marshland) in playing the theatrical Beatriz.
Inexplicably, given his good luck in life, Marcelo starts popping pills, while Beatriz abandons herself to the depths on Marcelo’s behalf — sex with strangers, etc. — so as to give him material for the words it’s costing him so much to produce. Marcelo’s fine with this: for him, it’s all about the book. Though he’s intended to represent the suffering artist, as he squats there trembling on the bathroom floor, he’s actually a monster, coming over as an unbearably self-regarding, manipulative little boy with a perpetual sneer about his lips, the kind of man who is capable of going on about his own fears even when at the bedside of his friend Alfredo (Luis Lucas), who’s about to die. ‘It must be difficult,’ the dying man sympathizes, incredibly. Nothing Guize can do can redeem any of this.
Since it can’t be Marcelo’s character, it must be his literary skills or his boudoir performances which make him attractive to Beatriz, but neither of them are visible to the audience: his prose at least is unfailingly limp. The character of Beatriz therefore becomes somewhat inexplicable in her driving passion for him, despite an always dignified Estiano giving it her best shot. ‘It’s not love, it’s sex!’ Marcelo shouts angrily at her, and you tend to agree.
Technically, Beatriz is strong and seductive. Arrestingly shot and lit throughout, at times it’s almost a homage to the mysteries of Lisbon, its rivers, streetcars and bridges, particularly at night. Several scenes, including one in which Beatriz waits forlornly on a bridge for Marcelo to arrive, a trash can tellingly positioned at the other end of the frame – reveal a wit and subtlety at play which is absent elsewhere.
Production companies: MPC Filmes
Cast: Marjorie Estiano, Sergio Guize, Margarida Marinho, Beatriz Batarda, Luís Lucas
Director: Alberto Graca
Screenwriters: Alberto Graca, Ze Pedro Dos Santos, Jose Carvalho, Ricardo Bravo
Producer: Luciana Boal Marinho
Director of photography: Rodrigo Monte
Production designer: Artur Pinheiro
Editor: Marília Moraes
Composer: Plínio Profeta
Sales: Pandora Filmes
No rating, 103 minutes
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