Set in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil, Charcoal/Carvão tells the story of an impoverished family who make an almost Faustian bargain to lift themselves up out of their situation. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) cares for her ailing father but between that, raising her son Jean (Jean Costa) and dealing with her husband Jairo’s (Romulo Braga) reckless behavior, she is overwhelmed. When a nurse, Juracy (Aline Marta), offers Irene a shady deal to help the family, after much consideration Irene agrees. The plan involves getting rid of Irene’s father and secretly replacing him with Miguel (César Bordón), an Argentine drug lord who faked his own death and is now in hiding. Irene and her family keep up appearances. Jean goes to school, Jairo continues to work harvesting charcoal and Irene sells her chicken dinners. But the influx of cash and the looming danger that hangs over this volatile stranger, threatens to push the family over the edge.
“Charcoal is my attempt to understand how violence, religion and hypocrisy have taken over our lives and bodies in a way that we don’t’ even notice any more.”
Written and directed by Carolina Markowicz, Charcoal/Carvãois an unrelentingly brutal film about the lengths people will go to escape their situation. The film is deceptively quiet which makes certain scenes all that more shocking. Bookended with religious scenes and music, the story aptly explores how desperation takes away our morals and basic humanity. The performances came across so natural that it’s easy to forget we’re watching actors playing roles and not real people living their lives. Markowicz does a brilliant job enveloping the audience in the world of her characters that it feels like we are right there with them.
Charcoal/Carvãois emotionally devastating and draining. It’s a film to watch. But only once.
Note to add: both Portuguese and Spanish are spoken in the film.
Charcoal/Carvão premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Marcos (Carlos Portaluppi) is a nurse working the night shift at a private hospital. He takes pity on the patients who have no chance of survival and secretly euthanizes them so they can die in peace. He’s able to commit his crime unnoticed until the arrival of a mysterious new nurse Gabriel (Ignacio Rogers). Marcos’ quiet existence is about to be thrust into utter chaos. Gabriel is a charmer, seducing the other night nurse Noelia (Lorena Vega) and ingratiating himself to upper management. But Gabriel is also killing patients and does it both with ill intentions and inhumanely. When the rise in patient deaths becomes noticeable, it’s time for Marcos and Gabriel to come face to face in a battle for survival.
Director Martin Kraut was inspired by a 2012 story about two Uruguayan nurses who were caught euthanizing patients. In an interview Kraut says:
“I am interested in investigating what happens when doctors and nurses know there is no chance of survival yet they must keep the bodies alive while they can: Keeping patients on life support or alive is also a very important and profitable business. This fact coupled with the immense power that some nurses like Marcos have while working the night shift, and who devote their time to the care of others in those conditions, can lead them to extreme situations.“
La Dosis is a restrained psychological thriller with a terrific slow build. The tension sneaks up on the viewer as the two nurses must confront their secrets. It does a great job exploring the toxic social dynamics that occur in a hospital environment between nurses, doctors, patients and management. There is an LGBTQ element to the story that isn’t explored enough to make any sense. It lacks in some character building, especially in regards to the main character Marcos. Overall, the direction, the performances, the moody lighting and slow build make this one to watch.
Kudos to whoever designed the movie’s poster because it not only captures the essence of the story and the dynamic between the two main characters, it’s also amazing how one eye can seem to belong to both men at the same time. Amazing!
La Dosis is distributed by Samuel Goldwyn Films available on demand and on digital.
“In the 1970s, a new type of crime novel was created in Latin America. It was called Latin Noir.”
The 1970s was a tumultuous decade for many Latin American countries. Many were ruled by dictatorships and corruption infiltrated government, military and law enforcement. It was a time of violence, oppression and abuse of power. Those who spoke up against the powers at be fled for their safety and lived in exile. Writers from Mexico, Cuba, Peru, Argentina, Chile and beyond created their own genre of literature: latin noir/novela negra. These were urban narratives that explores violence, crime and power. It was a subversive type of literature; one that could criticize the dictatorships without being direct. The genre had its roots in crime fiction and film noir. These authors reinvented the genre offering readers thought-provoking literature.
“Violence, dictatorship, corruption, crime, embezzlement and economic woe are painful and present in all the countries of Latin America, creating widespread interest in detectives, guilt and justice.”
Director Andreas Apostolidis
Directed by Andreas Apostolidis, Latin Noir explores the sociopolitical environment that gave birth to this unique literary genre. Apostolidis and crew traveled to five Latin American countries to interview authors, journalists and other experts. Featured in the documentary are Leonardo Padura (Cuba), Luis Sepúlveda (Chile), Paco Ignacio Taibo II (Mexico), Santiago Roncagliolo (Peru) and Claudia Piñeiro (Argentina). Apostolidis sheds light on a lesser known aspect of Latin American history. I wish there had been more information about the books themselves. There is very little and I would have liked to learn more about the path to publication, the impact on readers and the legacy of this literary genre.
Latin Noir is an informative documentary that offers much needed context for a literary genre born out of turmoil.
Latin Noir had its world premiere at the Miami Film Festival
This gentle poetic film follows the story of Sebastian (Daniel Katz), a young graphic designer making his way through life. His sweet dog misses him when he’s gone. Her cries annoy the neighbors Sebastian’s employers don’t want her around either. As time passes, Sebastian mourns the death of his dog, struggles to find steady work and becomes a new father. Then there is a new pandemic which causes humans to pass out if they stand up straight. In order to survive humans must crouch under 4 feet or wear an expensive bubble over their heads.
Directed by Ana Katz, The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet/El perro que no calla is a somber film that covers a lot of ground in just over an hour. It’s shot in black and white and the lead actor Katz offers a beautifully subdued performance. However, despite its best intentions the film falls flat offering the viewer little by way of substance. For dog lovers, the early scenes are really tough to watch. A couple poignant scenes are told through hand-drawn illustrations. I wish this would have been implemented more. I also had hoped that the unusual pandemic was a more substantial part of the film and would be explained. I couldn’t quite connect with the story or the main character expect for his genuine connection with his dog.
The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be Quiet/El perro que no calla premiered at the virtual 2021 Sundance Film Festival as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition.
“I feel like there’s someone outside asking me to open the window. And I know who it is.”
Something is wrong with Ines (Erica Rivas). After her vacation with boyfriend Leopoldo (Daniel Hendler) ends in trauma, Ines tries to go back to her normal, everyday life. She works as a voice actress dubbing horror films in Spanish and sings for a professional choir. Ines’ voice is her livelihood. However, a mysterious force is disrupting her work, adding strange noises to her recordings and affecting her otherwise dulcet singing voice. Another voice actress reveals to Ines what’s plaguing her: an intruder. First Ines hears the intruder, then she feels it and if she allows it, the intruder will take over her life. In the days following the trauma, Ines is possessed by the intruder who enters through her nightmares and makes her question what is reality and what is just a dream.
Directed by Natalia Meta, The Intruder/ El Prófugo is a bizarre psychological thriller about the real effects of trauma. I couldn’t quite make sense of this movie. I’m fascinated by the idea of “the intruder” and the movie requires the audience to come up with their own interpretation of what it is and what it represents. My interpretation is that trauma is a parasitic host that preys on its victim. Things can escalate if the victim is not able to get the support they need to heal In this case the intruder literally grabs its victim by the throat which Ines’ most vulnerable spot since she uses her voice for her livelihood. Natalia Meta’s film is an adaptation of an even darker story, El mal menor by C.E. Feiling, which I’m interested in reading to see how it compares to the film. I do appreciate the fact that, while Meta could have turned this into a graphic horror film, she instead she made it into a female centric psychological drama, something I’m much more drawn to. The protagonist is played by Erica Rivas who delivers a brilliant performance.
The Intruder/El Prófugo was screened as part of the 2020 virtual AFI Fest.