Alice, a middle-aged manicurist, lives in her elderly, endearingly superstitious mother’s tiny apartment in São Paulo, along with spouse Lindomar, a sometime taxi cab driver, and their three teenaged sons. The cramped nature of the quarters is emphasized by closeups and tight two-shots, including those of brothers conversing at night from close-together beds. (An angled overhead wide-angle shot of people, including Alice, walking toward the camera in the street, creating a rupture in the film’s visual style, comes therefore as a wonderful surprise, really, shock: what turns out to be an illusion of freedom.) Writer-director Chico Teixeira has no need to belabor the socioeconomic state of Brazil when his mise-en-scène so eloquently conveys it.
Alice’s family is, as we say, dysfunctional, as a result of the socioeconomic strains, but also as a result of the necessary breakdown of patriarchal order and bias. Grandma, who dotes on her grandsons and is her daughter’s best friend, does nearly all the work around the house; her cold son-in-law endlessly connives to rid themselves of her; the boys are all disrespectful of their elders (and, of course, each other), and two of them are worse than that, a hustler and a thief; and both Alice and Lindomar are carrying on extramarital affairs, Alice with her original sweetheart, who is married to a client of hers, and Lindomar with a younger gal, Alice’s alleged friend, Thais. At least, thanks to Grandma, there is dinner on the table, although sometimes Lindomar is late, sometimes Alice. No one is exactly happy (none of the boys seems to be dating; Grandma is going blind), too much revolves around money (trying to earn it or steal it), and perhaps out of guilt over his own dalliance Lindomar doesn’t rise to the bait of Alice’s flaunting the gold necklace that her lover, Nilson, has given her. When Alice learns of Lindomar’s unfaithfulness, and with her friend, no less (it’s an Emma Thompson-moment), she falls apart.
All the acting in the film is as detailed and realistic as the film itself; but Carla Ribas (best actress, Guadalajara, Rio de Haneiro, São Paulo critics, São Paulo International Film Festival) is tremendous as Alice, and Berta Zemel is deeply affecting as her mother.
The title, A Casa de Alice, does not refer to where the family lives; it isn’t a house in any case. Rather, it refers to Alice’s sensibility, womanhood, mind. It refers to Alice’s quest for space: space to fill with hope.
Teixeira’s great, sharply observant film, perhaps the best movie of 2007, won the prize of international film critics at Guadalajara and the best “first film” prize at Havana. To be precise, it is Teixeira’s first non-documentary.
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