Hearkening back to Pedro Almodovar's early, edgy soap operas like WHAT HAVE I DONE TO DESERVE THIS?, Brazilian documentarian Chico Teixeira's engaging first fiction film packs a lot of melodrama and local flavor into a scant 90 minutes.
Brazilian manicurist Alice (Carla Ribas) lives with her family in a small apartment on the outskirts of Sao Paolo, South America's most populous city. When she's not busy at the salon where she works, polishing nails and listening to the romantic travails of well-to-do clients like Carmen (Renata Zhaneta) -- which Alice reciprocates with impossibly rosy pictures of her own unfulfilled sex life -- Alice sells her friends and neighbors "Client Catcher" incense and "Grovel at My Feet" perfume, which guarantee success in love. Unbeknownst to Alice, her own life is falling apart. Her cabbie husband of 20 years, Lindomar (Zecarlos Machado), cheats on her with much younger women. Her eldest son, 26-year-old Lucas (Vinicius Zinn), is an aspiring army lieutenant who earns extra pocket money working as a male prostitute. Her lazy middle son, Edinho (Ricardo Vilaca), who craves luxury items the family can't afford, is a petty thief. Only Alice's youngest, Junior (Felipe Massuia), keeps out of trouble, but he's begun taking all his cues about sex and dating from Lucas. Alice is too distracted by work, her own romantic disillusionment and a growing attraction to Carmen's husband, Nilson (Luciano Quirino) -- who turns out to be an old flame from high school -- to notice what's happening right under her own nose. The only member of the household who does notice is Alice's elderly mother, Dona Jacira (Berta Zemal). Dona Jacira not only cooks, cleans and keeps house but also owns the apartment in which they all live, and is shown precious little thanks in return; her only real attachment seems to be with the host of a radio call-in show she's been dialing for years, but she's never managed to get through. Even though she's begun to rapidly lose her eyesight, Dona Jacira sees everything Alice doesn't: The topless snapshots of Lindomar's young mistress in the wallet he leaves in his jeans, the grope and the cash transaction that occurs as Lucas leaves a john's car, and the fact that the money Edinho finds for his new sneakers and Discman came from her own wallet. She also realizes Lindomar wants to put her into a nursing home so he can sell her apartment out from under her, a plan he intends on executing the minute Alice's back is turned.
There's a lot of drama going down in Alice's house, and there isn't quite enough time to satisfactorily flesh it all out; the jealousy and overly affectionate regard with which Lucas treats his baby brother strongly hints at undercurrents that demand further exploration. Nevertheless, the film is quality Brazilian soap opera with an edge, and Teixeira's background in non-fiction filmmaking serves him well. The gritty location shooting, the absence of a soundtrack and the casting of non-professionals in key roles help capture an all-important sense of place with almost documentary precision.
(In Portuguese, with English subtitles.)
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