26th Jul2019

Fantasia 2019: ‘The Father’s Shadow’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Eduardo Gomes, Dinho Lima Flor, Julio Machado, Nina Medeiros, Clara Moura, Luciana Paes, Rafael Raposo | Written and Directed by Gabriela Amaral Almeida

fathers-shadow-poster

Dalva (Nina Medeiros), nine years old, plays in the dirt of her backyard. She has buried her doll here. In a disadvantaged neighbourhood of São Paulo, she lives with her aunt Cristina (Luciana Paes) and her father Jorge (Julio Machado), an exploited builder who works in unsafe conditions. Slowly, Jorge drifts away from his daughter, lost in the thoughts of his late wife’s yellow flower dress. The concrete and the dust have bruised his body. He is sick and lets himself rot, little by little. Inspired by her esoteric aunt and her favourite George Romero movie, little Dalva experiments with incantations and sorcery, in hopes of bringing her mother back from the dead, and saving her father from his demons.

Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s second film The Father’s Shadow (A Sombre Do Pai) could not be more different from her first. That film, Friendly Beast, was a sexy, bloody, violent tale that many would say is the antithesis of this film. However, dig beneath the surface and both of Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s films are VERY similar, both in terms of theme. and in characterisation. In short, both are allegories on the state of society in Brazil and both feature strong female leads. The Father’s Shadow also is yet another horror film released this year that deals with the after-effects of loss, the pain of grief and the toll both take on the human condition.

Well I say horror but Almeida’s film, whilst it does have some tropes of the genre, is more of a sombre, melancholy drama that uses sadness as a way of creating tension; and dread is used in place of suspensfeul pacing… Which means The Father’s Shadow is, unfortunately, something of a depressing slog to get through. Thankfully, on the flip side, leading actress Nina Medeiros, as the young Dalva, is captivating – somehow acting way beyond her young years, carrying the weight of the film and, by extension, the weight of the world in which her character inhabits, on her small shoulders.

Interestingly, Gabriela Amaral Almeida shows us young Dalva watching a myriad of horror films on TV (including Night of the Living Dead and Pet Sematary), films that are obviously the inspiration for Dalva’s experiment with magic in order to bring her mother back to life, but these films also speak to the tone of the film. The fascination with the undead echoing the zombie-like life Dalva’s family now lead without their mother, shuffling through each day, merely going through the motions and not living. Something which REALLY effects Dalva’s father Jorge, whose life seems to revolve around his job, a job he truly seems to be doing on auto-pilot. It’s also worth noting that Dalva’s father works in the city, a place his family can’t afford to live and a place which seems to literally be destroying him – which means that Jorge is not only a beaten man mentally following the death of his wife but also physically thanks to the toll on his body from his job. Together its a deadly combination, in Jorge we a witnessing a man who has given up on life completely; and Dalva sees that too, which is why she goes to such extraordinary lengths to “save” him.

Using the breakdown of a family and the extremes to which people will go to save it as an allegory of the state of the society in Brazil is an inspired choice – even moreso when The Father’s Shadow concludes, not on a happy note but one that gives us no real hope that anything will ever improve. Ending this film as sombrely as it began.

***½ 3.5/5

The Father’s Shadow screened on Monday July 22nd as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

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