Portuguese director Sílvia Firmino's look at the improvised community living in Mozambique's  derelict Grande Hotel da Beira - a luxury hotel that was only open ten years and never quite fulfilled its promise - is a remarkable feat of immersive filmmaking in the way it captures the ebbs and flows of the daily life in the second city of that African country, following a number of inhabitants, from storekeepers to security guards and Muslim clerics. And yet, for all the magnificent footage Ms. Firmino shot, her feature-length documentary turns out to be a hypnotic yet extremely dry piece of work.

     Her long-take approach (mistaking duration for significance) creates serious problems with the film's rhythm and tempo, not helped by a sense of lopsided structuring in the way the camera's attention is divided between the main "characters" she follows and by the complete absence of commentary or identification in the print screened. Despite a couple of strong moments, Ms. Firmino has a problem finding the film in the treasure trove of material she shot, even throwing away the interesting concept of the "guide" that shows us into the film at the beginning then shows us out at the end. There is a great film somewhere in here, just not in this particular shape.

Director, writer, cinematographer: Sílvia Firmino
Sound: Olivier Blanc
Editor: Hugo Santiago
Producers: Christine Reeh, Isabel Machado, Joana Ferreira  (CRIM Produções)
Portugal, 2012, 96 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2012 official competition advance screener, Lisbon, October 9th 2012


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