Blood of My Blood: Film Review

Overheated Portuguese melodrama fails to ignite.

Joao Canijo's Portugal Oscar entry follows the lives of a family living in close quarters.

One of the enticements of foreign films is the glimpse they provide of many parts of the world that we will never visit. The opening scenes of Portugal’s Oscar entry, Blood of My Blood, thrust us into the teeming underbelly of present-day Lisbon.  Cinema verite scenes sketch the lives of a family living in close quarters. But as the film veers from social realism to heavy-handed melodrama, it loses its focus. Despite strong performances and a convincing atmosphere, the film fails to stand out from this year’s crowded field of foreign Oscar contenders. 

Marcia (Rita Blanco) lives with her younger sister and two grown children in a crowded apartment. Early scenes use an effective variation of split-screen technique to show us the drama unfolding in the apartment’s adjoining rooms. Marcia is concerned about both of her children. Her daughter Claudia (Cleia Almeida) has a boyfriend but is becoming increasingly embroiled in an affair with her married professor. Son Joca (Rafael Morais) is in debt to a drug dealer. His mother is unaware of the depth of his criminal entanglements, so the boy’s lonely aunt Ivete (Anabela Moreira) tries to become his protector.

The film’s greatest strength lies in the performances, particularly the strong work of Blanco as a woman besieged on all sides, trying to protect her children while maintaining a semblance of dignity in her own life. Settings are vividly caught by director Joao Canijo, who started as an assistant to Portugal’s top director, Manoel de Oliveira. There is no musical score in the film, adding to the sense of gritty realism. Unfortunately, this naturalistic mood is compromised by the soap opera plot, which becomes increasingly lurid as the film continues. Marcia herself tries to stop her daughter’s affair with the medical professor, partly because she has her own sexual history with the doctor. At the same time, Ivete tries to seduce the brutal drug lord in an effort to clear her nephew’s debt. 

The plot contrivances were probably self-conscious on Canijo’s part. The director seems to be trying to work his own variation on the feverish melodramas created by Pedro Almodovar. But the knowing humor that enriches Almodovar’s films is missing here. The earnest tone and gritty settings don’t really mesh with the farfetched plotting. The bloated running time doesn’t help either. The actors pour their passion into a sudser that ultimately doesn’t seem worthy of their efforts.

Production:  Midas Films
Cast:  Rita Blanco, Anabela Moreira, Cleia Almeida, Rafael Morais, Marcello Urgeghe, Nuno Lopes, Fernando Luis
Director-screenwriter:  Joao Canijo
Producer:  Pedro Borges
Director of photography:  Mario Castanheira
Production designer:  Jose Pedro Penha Lopes
Editor:  Joao Braz
No rating, 131 minutes