Friday, March 27, 2015

Fernando Coimbra's WOLF AT THE DOOR is a kidnapping tale that proves to be so much more

It begins with the disappearance of a young child from her local school -- enough to set any parent on edge and gasping. Clearly a set-up job, the kidnapping is of course something the police aim to learn more about swiftly and surely. From this perhaps less-than-original beginning, WOLF AT THE DOOR (O Lobo atrás da Porta is its Portuguese title), the new Brazilian film from Fernando Coimbra shifts instead to a tale of infidelity and obsession rather than the kidnap thriller we might expect. This proves all for the best because what we get is a shockingly intimate tale of narcissists in love and lust. Be prepared for a genuine dose of Fatal Attraction, rather than the crap we got from that ludicrous happy-ending movie of 1987.

One of the amazements of Coimbra's movie (the filmmaker is shown at right) is how everything -- along with our reactions to this -- changes so dramatically from what we imagine as the film's first few scenes fly by to what we're left with at its conclusion. It is safe to say that few films on this subject have been more effective -- or more disturbing. Although we initially respond as expected to the idea of a child being kidnapped, we soon find ourselves more interested in the film's three leading characters, the kidnapped girl's mother and father, and the pretty young woman who manages to come into the family, as well as between the parents.

Said to be (as is every third movie these days) based upon real events, Wolf at the Door -- as brilliantly written and directed by Coimbra, is so thoroughly attuned to the vagaries of lust and infidelity, as well as to the needs of an obsessive, narcissistic woman (and to those of her equally self-involved paramour) that we come to understand these people (the somewhat clueless, and also self-involved wife is the third wheel here) so very well that we race along with the movie, full steam ahead, until its unbearable yet utterly appropriate climax and denouement.

It is not that we can't or don't care for the child in question (a sweet Isabelle Ribas, two photos above). But in comparison to our understanding of the other three characters, we barely know the kid at all. This is a very smart, if risky, move on the filmmaker's part. But it pays spectacular dividends -- while raising, along the way, subjects such as the male prerogative and Brazilian police brutality.

The three leads are played spectacularly well by Milhem Cortaz (shown two photos above, as the husband), Fabiula Nascimento (above, as the wife), and especially by Leandra Leal (below, as the other woman). Ms Leal plays the character we come to understand best, and she gives a performance that would win every award in the book -- fierce, intelligent and so far beyond desperate and sad that there's hardly an apt compari-son -- were Brazilian movies seen more often throughout the world.

Coimbra's movie is very well thought-out and executed, with events such as the appearance of a gun brought to fruition in a manner that even Chekov might admire. Told mostly from the time of the kidnapping, then flashing back and pushing forward for the finale, everything clicks into place without seeming at all forced or mechanical. This is due to the filmmaker's and his cast's concentration of character above all. It pays off handsomely, horribly, memorably.

Wolf at the Door -- from Outsider Pictures and running 100 minutes -- opens tomorrow, Friday, March 27, in New York (the Village East Cinema) and Los Angeles (Laemmle's Music Hall 3) and in Columbus, Ohio (the Gateway Film Center) on April 24.

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