Passionately taken up over the past year by a small coterie of American film critics, Portuguese helmer Joaquim Sapinho's fourth feature finally earns a local release, and turns out to be an evidently sincere, occasionally touching but ultimately flawed study of teenage existentialism. Form takes precedence over narrative in the tale of two siblings disconnected from the world around them since their father's death a few years earlier and dealing with the big questions of life. Twenty-something surfer Rafael (Pedro Sousa) has retreated into contemplative life in a Franciscan monastery; his teenage sister Inês (Joana Barata) feels out of step at her high school, especially since his boyfriend has exchanged her for another girl.

    The virtually wordless, loosely plotted story takes a backseat to Mr. Sapinho's desire to translate into images those complex feelings of faith, hope, love: Rafael's ecstasy while surfing the Cascais waves or praying underwater, Inês' retreat to the his brother's camper van while yearning to escape the strait-jacket of "normal" responsibility. But narration has never been the strong point of the director's work anyway, and the diffuse nature of the script here, stripped of everything else, boils down to a soap opera of teenage puppy existentialism given heft by the stylistic ambitions. And therein lies the problem: the highly variable quality of Leonardo Simões' image, going from the sublime to the inexcusably illegible, and the dismayingly amateurish performances from the teenage leads can either be taken as serious drawbacks or as some sort of stream-of-consciousness naïveté. But they're not compounded by an overload of religious symbolism, meaningful silences and pregnant pauses that seem drawn from a central database of stock elements for art-house cinema, and are here deployed earnestly to little return.

     Ultimately, Deste Lado da Ressurreição is an adolescent film not only thematically (a film about adolescence) but also stylistically (an adolescently made film), working much better as a sensory experience harking back to Nicholas Ray's heroes learning to face adult life - but for that you must abandon yourself to the unequal visuals and the atmospheric sound design and overlook the film's many fragilities. For me, that proved insurmountable.

Cast: Joana Barata, Pedro Sousa, Sofia Grillo, Pedro Carmo, João Cardoso, Mariana António

Director: Joaquim Sapinho
Screenplay: Mónica Santana Baptista, Rui Santos, Luís Araújo, Mr. Sapinho
Cinematography: Leonardo Simões (colour, processing by Tóbis)
Designer and costumes: Patrícia Ameixial
Editor: Mr. Santos
Producer: Maria João Sigalho (Rosa Filmes in co-production with RTP)
Portugal, 2011, 118 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), October 30th 2012


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