It quickly becomes clear that Paixão isn't your traditional narrative film; rather a filmmaker's conceptual essay, a theoretical attempt at running with an abstract idea towards an artistic statement. It is, however, somewhat difficult to fathom exactly what is the artistic statement in Margarida Gil's fifth full-length feature, other than it is a dazzling photographed, exquisitely assembled aesthetic delight. But despite the lush visuals and setups, the film is narratively so rarefied and airless that it's worth asking what exactly Ms. Gil is trying to get at with this story of a grieving singer (Ana Brandão) who holds a budding writer (Carloto Cotta) hostage in a sound-proofed room in a decaying Lisbon palace under renovation.

     Is it suggesting that love is a tight-rope walk over a collapsing bridge, that emotional violence is inescapable in the modern world, that the absence of love will drive you to desperate acts? It's anyone's guess, and we're neither none the worse nor none the wiser by the end of this slight, 70-minute-plus-credits experience - film does not have to reveal instantly all of its secrets. But the fact remains that this is essentially an abstract construct entirely lacking in dramatic interest, the highly erudite literary dialogue co-written by novelist Maria Velho da Costa heightening the sense of an intellectual after-dinner treat, not even veteran Acácio de Almeida's sumptuous cinematography nor the best efforts of the actors (who we've seen put to better use elsewhere) raising it above a spare, dry opaqueness. This is simply so personal and idiossyncratic as to be accessible only to whatever fans this rare director may have, with little or no interest for general audiences and a career destined to remain in the fringes of the festival and arthouse circuit.

Ana Brandão, Carloto Cotta, Gonçalo Amorim, Sandra Faleiro.
     Director, Margarida Gil; screenplay, Ms. Gil, Maria Velho da Costa; cinematography, Acácio de Almeida (colour by Light Film); art director, Nuno Esteves; editor, Paulo Mil Homens; producer, Paulo Branco (Alfama Films Production, Clap Filmes), Portugal/France, 2011, 75 minutes.


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