Director Vicente Alves do Ó's 2011 film Quinze Pontos na Alma was one of the most unwittingly dismaying debuts in recent Portuguese cinema: a sincere but awkward love letter to vintage Hollywood, whose desire to fit a lifetime's worth of cinephilia resulted in an indigestible mess of glossy, over-the-top nostalgia. Mr. Alves do Ó's sophomore work, Florbela is more muted and reasonably more structured, but the tighter narrative arc is again drowned by his penchant for stylised, larger-than-life melodrama - brought crashing down by the director's inability to harness his love of genre in the service of the plot.

     Loosely based on the life of early 1900s Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca, portrayed by Dalila Carmo, Mr. Alves do Ó creates a biographical fantasy focussed on her quasi-incestuous relationship with her brother, military pilot Apeles (Ivo Canelas), as they share a final weekend in Lisbon before he flies off on mission, while she struggles to adapt to the life of a housewife after her third marriage to straight-arrow doctor Mário Lage (Albano Jerónimo). However, any pretensions of a look at Florbela as a poet are quickly dashed by the absence of any of her work in the film, preferring instead to focus on the risqué triangle between her, Apeles and Mário, and even there seemingly unable to give any depth to the characters beyond the standard pre-selected attributes of high melodrama (patient husband, heartbroken brother, writer suffering for her art). Instead of a look at how her life fed into her work, we are served a throwback to the prestige woman's picture that, despite consistent performances from the well cast leads, remains as hollow and shallow as Mr. Alves do Ó's previous film, where sincerity and an almost desperate desire for cinema trump the sense of an inexperienced director clutching at straws. More polished but just as awkward as its predecessor, Florbela is a script in search of a director that can do it justice.

Dalila Carmo, Albano Jerónimo, Ivo Canelas.
     Director and writer, Vicente Alves do Ó; cinematography, Luís Branquinho (colour, widescreen); music, Guga Bernardo; production and costume designer, Sílvia Grabowski; editor, João Braz; producers, Pandora da Cunha Telles, Pablo Iraola (Ukbar Filmes), Portugal, 2012, 119 minutes. 
     Screened: distributor advance press screening, Cinema City Classic Alvalade 2 (Lisbon), February 10th 2012. 

"Florbela", de Vicente Alves do Ó [Trailer] from Ukbar Filmes on Vimeo.


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