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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.07.11] review thriller drama

Year: 2011
Directors: Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas
Writers: Marco Dutra, Juliana Rojas
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 6 out of 10

Opening a business always has the potential for failure but particularly so in these perilous times but after much research, Helena is ready to take the plunge. She finds a location which comes complete with shelving and refrigeration units but also requiring a lot of work. Just as she's getting ready to sign the paperwork, her husband loses his job. They're optimistic: the store will do well and Otavio will soon find work but things quickly turn sour in Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas' Hard Labour (Trabalhar Cansa).

The pressure for the store to succeed is high and as the stress mounts, so do the changes in Helena's temper. As the sole breadwinner, it's up to her to keep the family afloat and things are not going well. The store is slow to catch on and nearly three months into their new life and the couple can't afford to pay all of their bills (yet they can still afford the maid?). While home life is slowly disintegrating, things aren't going much better at the shop. Not only are groceries mysteriously disappearing, the store is falling apart. Black goo starts to rise from under the floor tiles, a heavy dog collar is found attached to the wall with thick chains and one of the walls is disintegrating. Helena calls in her handyman Mr. Antunes who pokes a hole in the wall before announcing that the entire thing will have to come down and be replaced - just after carnival. But on a particularly bad night, Helena closes up shop and takes a sledgehammer to the wall revealing an unexpected mystery.

Dutra and Rojas' film has aspects of a thriller but the directors are much less interested in scares than in building a drama about a family going through a significant change. The leads, Helena Albergaria and Marat Descartes, have a natural chemistry and their faltering relationship as they deal with the pressures of their new reality feels authentic. There aren't any dramatic blow-ups or arguments but the two quietly begin to drift apart. The same is true for the shop subplot which quietly builds a supernatural angle. The missing groceries, strange noises, unexplainable smells... the reveals are so small and commonplace that one is never really sure if anything strange is going on or if Helena's paranoia is simply a side effect of stress. Albergaria is particularly great as the overworked, overstressed business owner and she adds some great ticks to her character than get more pronounced as the stress mounts.

Though generally enjoyable, Hard Labour does have a few story problems. Helena's overpowering mother appears for no apparent reason, the maid's side story feels crammed in as a poor attempt at commenting on employment standards and the script constantly returns to Otavio's continued job search for no apparent reason other than pointing out that he's still unemployed; something which could have been pointed out with one line of dialogue. His job search does leads to a couple of really great scenes, including the film's closing shot, about the current state of the employment market not just in Brazil but worldwide.

The biggest problem with Hard Labour is that it doesn't know what type of film it wants to be: a mystery, a thriller, a family drama or a commentary on employment. Though I appreciated and to a point enjoyed it, the marriage of these various genres and ideas ultimately leads to a messy film that moves too quickly from one story to the next never fully developing a single one and though it's rather disjointed, it shows promise from a pair of directors that seem intent in making a film that doesn't fit into a box. I hope their next venture fares better.

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