139 minutes / 192 minutes (long version)

Contemporary Portuguese cinema finds another potential breakout film in João Canijo's eighth theatrical feature - a remarkable dive into a struggling working-class family that extends the director's fascination with the structure of classical tragedy into what is possibly his masterpiece. Undoubtedly, some will look at the convoluted comings and goings of this family drama as high-end soap-opera miserablism with a side order of voyeurism; but that doesn't take into account both Mr. Canijo's poised handling of the scenes (mostly captured in long takes unfolding before a discreetly moving camera), and the astoundingly naturalistic performances of the ensemble cast, who had a hand in structuring and developing the shooting script through a series of workshopped improvisations à la Mike Leigh. (A companion documentary released on DVD simultaneously, Trabalho de Actriz, Trabalho de Actor, traces the characters and the script's construction through the workshops.)

     Sangue do Meu Sangue actually exists at the crossroads of Mr. Leigh's usual relationship dramas and French director Abdellatif Kechiche's ensemble performances captured in extended one-take scenes, but taken one step further: Mr. Canijo often shows two separate conversations in the same frame with overlapping dialogue, then closes in on just one of them but lets the other's dialogue remain on the soundtrack. This is something no television producer (and even a less risk-taking film producer) would allow, even though Sangue do Meu Sangue actually exists in a three-episode version for television. Also, Mr. Canijo has prepared a longer, limited-release theatrical cut with 50 minutes of additional material that fleshes out the relationships between the various characters and develops fully a few plot points, though most of it reinforces, rather than just adding to, the central story arc brilliantly presented in the shorter length version.

     Centre stage is the headstrong Márcia (Canijo regular Rita Blanco, in the performance of a lifetime), a forty-something diner cook who raised two now grown children as a single mother and is adamant that her twenty-something daughter, nursing student Cláudia (Cleia Almeida), should pull out of the suburban slum the family lives in. Sharing the cramped house is also her troublemaking younger son João Carlos (Rafael Morais), who works as a low-level drug courier, and Márcia's lonely hairdresser sister, Ivete (Anabela Moreira, also a Canijo regular), the boy's self-appointed protector. When João Carlos attempts to swindle drug boss Telmo (a terrifying Nuno Lopes) and the mother finds out the daughter is having an affair with a married teacher (Marcello Urgeghe, in an unexpectedly nuanced performance), all hell breaks loose, leading these two desperate women to extremes, like lionesses protecting their cubs, willing to sacrifice themselves so the children can survive - though there are no certainties, not even in the limited future their social condition can promise. But are they genuinely saving the younger generation - or saving themselves while condemning their children to the same future as them?

     Mr. Canijo's elliptical way into the story, through an apparent side plot that turns out to be key to the film's graphic dénouement, is one of the strengths of this powerful, claustrophobic and occasionally harrowing film; another is the outstanding balance between the many different narrative strands, meshing and mingling with virtuoso dexterity, much helped by João Braz's nimble editing in both cuts. Best of all, though, is the director's clear-eyed, close attention to its cast's performances, keeping the camera always at just the right distance to capture the essence of these characters' lives without falling into the trap of voyeurism. And while it's unfair to single out just one performer in a superb ensemble cast, Ms. Blanco deserves special praise for her total, complete inhabiting of Márcia down to the simplest detail — a step, a look, a gesture, a nod. Her performance alone would be worth the price of admission; still she is but one of the many reasons that make Sangue do Meu Sangue an admirable work, and one that, properly nursed, has everything to become a global arthouse sensation on the level of Mr. Kechiche's equally admirable La Graine et le mulet.

Starring Rita Blanco, Anabela Moreira, Cleia Almeida, Rafael Morais; Marcello Urgeghe, Nuno Lopes, Beatriz Batarda, Fernando Luís, Teresa Madruga, Teresa Tavares, Francisco Tavares, Wilma de Brito.
     Directed by João Canijo; produced by Pedro Borges; written by Mr. Canijo, with the collaboration of the cast, João Braz, Tiago Rodrigues and Vera Barreto; director of photography (colour), Mário Castanheira; art director, José Pedro Penha Lopes; costume designer, Ana Simão; film editor, Mr. Braz.
     A Midas Filmes presentation/production, with financial support from the Portuguese Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual and Radio and Television of Portugal; with financial investment from the Portuguese Investment Fund in Cinema and Audiovisual; with the support of Lisbon City Hall. (Portuguese distributor, Midas Filmes. World sales, Abril Filmes.)
     Screened: 139-minute cut - distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 9 (Lisbon), September 27th 2011; 192-minute cut - distributor technical test screening, São Jorge 1 (Lisbon), September 30th 2011.


Popular Posts