The mid-range adult drama is a tricky one to pull off these days in a Portuguese film scene that seems squarely divided between hardcore auteurism or rank soap-opera-level commercialism. Though made by a crew with extensive television experience, Jogo de Damas doesn't want to be a simplistic blown-up TV movie of the week, and it hasn't a single auteurist bone in its body.
But Patrícia Sequeira's theatrical debut never finds the foothold it looks for, nor does it settle on an identity. Its female-centred Big Chill-ish tale of five long-term friends spending the night before the funeral of the friend that brought them all together stumbles on the shorthand of soap-opera characterisation and plotting: they're all well off ladies whose only issues are first-world problems and emotions, they all have big secrets that will come out before the allotted 90 minutes run out, the dialogues are less actual back-and-forth conversations than statements. This is rather glaring when so much of the film is anchored in the serious subject of how to deal with death.
Ultimately, Jogo de Damas never truly rises above the tastefulness of upscale TV drama, down to a length that seems have been carefully programmed to accommodate a two-hour slot's commercial breaks. It's a shame, because there's the kernel of a good movie in here, and the talent to support it in its well-chosen cast and in Ms. Sequeira's functional if anonymous handling. It just isn't enough to make Jogo de Damas more than a well-meaning and ultimately forgettable ersatz of a soulful object.
JOGO DE DAMAS
PT, 2015, 87 minutes
CAST Ana Nave, Ana Padrão, Fátima Belo, Maria João Luís, Rita Blanco
DIR Patrícia Sequeira; SCR Filipa Leal; DP Renato Falcão (widescreen); M David Rossi, Paula Sousa; AD Anabela Santos, Lu Barradas, Ruca Nunes dos Santos; COST DES Rita Lameiras; ED Nuno Santos Lopes
A R. I. Filmes production in co-production with Master Dream Digital Movie; released by Leopardo Filmes
JOGO DE DAMAS, um filme de PATRÍCIA SEQUEIRA from Leopardo Filmes on Vimeo.