Panorama | Contemporary World Cinema
Shot in moody monochrome and steeped in the erotics of oppression, Daniela Thomas’s film joins the small canon of great movies taking slavery as a subject. Telling the story of Antonio (Adriano Carvalho), a slave owner in 19th-century Brazil, Thomas gives life to the dark past; her film is as compelling as it is disturbing. His wife having recently died in childbirth, Antonio takes a child bride, Beatriz (Luana Nastas), but decides to delay consummation until menstruation begins. Meanwhile, there’s slave Feliciana (Jai Baptista) to take as a lover, much as she resents it. Her child (Vinicius Dos Anjos) forms a bond with Beatriz; it’s the mistake of two young innocents, and it helps set the stage for an unsparing climax.
One of the key designers of the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, Thomas sure knows how to stage a scene, but there’s not a whiff of commercial compromise here: the film is resolutely unconventional. For all its strangeness and morbidity, though, it still has the power to connect.
"[T]ransfixing in its formal rigor, impressive craft and striking visual beauty…[a] searing depiction of racial cruelty…[T]here’s never a moment in this starch-free period piece that doesn’t feel fully inhabited or authentic."—David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter