109 minutes

As far as first features go, Portuguese commercial director João Nuno Pinto acquits himself honorably weith América, a strikingly imagined but narratively muddled dramedy that comes across as a cross between John Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Emir Kusturica's boisterous dark comedies as shot by French stylist Jean-Pierre Jeunet. That isn't to say the film, adapted from a short story by writer and playwright Luísa Costa Gomes, works as its director probably intended; it more often seems to work despite mr. Pinto's intentions, mainly due to his inconstant balancing of the narrative's two plotlines.
    On one side, there's the wistful, melancholy tale of Liza (Chulpan Khamatova), a Russian immigrant to Portugal who, seduced by small-time crook Vítor (Fernando Luís), finds herself caged as the housewife she never meant to be. On the other, there's the wryly humourous look at Vítor and his accomplices' frustrated attempts at "making it big" through a less-than-well-thought-out fake passport scam. Liza's is the most interesting of the stories, but it's the second that mr. Pinto pays more attention to, with the highly stylized, golden hues of Carlos Lopes's photography giving América the nostalgic hue of mr. Jeunet's crowdpleasers Amélie from Montmartre or Micmacs.
     Still, there is an obvious talent at work here, both in the film's effective use of space as a neat structural divide, and in the generally excellent performances of a multinational cast thankfully speaking each, for once in a multinational production, in their own languages.

Starring Chulpan Khamatova, Fernando Luís, María Barranco; Cassiano Carneiro, Dinarte Branco, Mikhail Evlanov, Paco Maestre, Manuel da Custódia, Dmitri Ivanov, Nikolay Glinsky, Karen Badalov.
     Directed by João Nuno Pinto; produced by Pandora da Cunha Telles, mr. Pinto, Pedro Uriol, Sara Silveira, Giya Lordkipanidze, Aleksandr Sheyn, Viktor Taknov, António da Cunha Telles, Miguel Varela; screenplay by mr. Pinto, Luísa Costa Gomes, Melanie Dimantis, based on the short story by ms. Costa Gomes, "Criação do Mundo"; music by Mikel Salas; director of photography (Tóbis processing), Carlos Lopes; art director, Wayne dos Santos; costume designer, Isabel Carmona; film editor, Luca Alverdi. 
     An Ukbar Filmes/2Plan2/Morena Films/Dezenove Som e Imagem/Garage/Tiki Voodoo/Filmes de Fundo production; with financial support from the Portuguese Ministry of Culture-Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual, Spanish Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual Arts, Ibermedia Programme, Radio and Television of Portugal, Brazilian National Agency for Cinema. (Portuguese distributor, Zon Lusomundo Audiovisuais. World sales, Latido Films.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa 2011 official selection, distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo screening room (Lisbon), April 26th 2011.


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