The Silver Cliff: Cannes 2011 Review

Out of minimal narrative means, Brazilian director Karim Ainouz conjures a hypnotic account of the sudden shock and panic of heartbreak.

Brazilian director Karim Ainouz weaves a sad, sensual film inspired by the 1976 song "Eye to Eye" by Chico Buarque.

CANNES – The Silver Cliff was inspired by a 1976 song by Brazilian musician Chico Buarque, titled “Eye to Eye,” about the indelibility of love, the impossibility of forgiveness and the defiant display of emotional resilience that follow the abrupt end of a relationship. From that slender thread, director Karim Ainouz weaves a sad, sensual film in which very little happens, and for long periods, few words are spoken. But the story’s emotional texture is as rich as its intoxicating visual flow.

NYU-trained Brazilian filmmaker Ainouz has earned admirers at festivals and in specialty distribution with his films Madame Sata, Suely in the Sky and I Travel Because I Have To, I Come Back Because I Love You, the latter co-directed with Marcelo Gomes. That lengthy title declaration is almost the reverse of what happens in The Silver Cliff, which in many ways plays like an expanded music video, though is no less beguiling for it.

The film opens with shots of thundering surf on the beach at Rio de Janeiro. Djalma (Otto Jr.) takes a pre-dawn swim before walking home near-naked through the still-sleepy city then engaging in intense morning sex with his wife Violeta (Alessandra Negrini). He says goodbye to her and their teenage son as he prepares to leave on a trip to the southern city of Porto Alegre later that day. All this is conveyed with minimal dialogue, and while the basic picture is of harmonious family life, everything about Djalma’s pensive demeanor suggests heavy burdens.

During a break in her work at a dental clinic, Violeta retrieves a voicemail in which her husband informs her he won’t be returning. Confusion, despair and hurt propel her all over the city, as she tries and fails to reach Djalma or gather information about his unexplained decision. Arriving at the airport too late to catch the last flight to Porto Alegre, on an impulse she takes a taxi to Copacabana.

Written by Beatriz Bracher and Ainouz, the film becomes a kind of out-of-body nocturnal odyssey for Violeta, with Mauro Pinheiro’s probing camera clinging to her through every sinuous shift in her restless journey. Densely populated, dark, alluring at times, alienating at others, the environments she moves through appear both to shake her up and somehow soothe her. In the film’s loveliest passage, she meets a young girl (Gabi Pereira) in a public restroom and then joins the open-hearted kid and her melancholy father (Thiago Martins) on the beach for ice cream.

More than most festivals, Cannes tends to overload on undernourished narratives. But Ainouz’s film is both violent and delicate in its impressionistic approach, which makes it quite compelling. With only minimal information exchanged, the connection Violeta forms with the drifting father and daughter seems to give her context for the upheaval in her own life. And while she experiences no epiphanies or emotional breakthroughs, there’s a poignant sense that life will go on as she pulls back from the figurative abyss of the title.

Forgoing hysterical outbursts in favor of internalized turbulence, Negrini appears physically driven by the questions racing through her head. She makes the commonplace drama of one woman into something vigorous, bracing and perhaps even heroic.

Sales: Rendez-vous Pictures, Paris
Production: RT Features
Screenwriters:  Beatriz Bracher, Karim Ainouz
Producer: Rodrigo Teixeira
Director of photography: Mauro Pinheiro Jr.
Production designer: Marcos Pedroso
Music: Tejo Damasceno, Rica Amabis, Dustan Gallas
Costume designer: Kika Lopes
Editor: Isabella Monteiro de Castro
No rating; 84 minutes