A casa de Alice
Carla Ribes, Berta Zemel, Zécarlos Machado, Vinicius Zinn, Ricardo Vilaça, Felipe Massuia / Fiction / Portuguese
From Brazil, a smart, touching tale of love, family and sexual temptation.
The up-close warmth and unforced realism of Chico Teixera’s fiction debut is perhaps the legacy of his lengthy career in documentary. With works such as The Inner Me (2000), a study of twins, and Creatures Born in Secret (1995), about people with dwarfism, Teixeira displayed a singular talent for getting close to his subjects: revealing them without compromising their dignity. His first narrative film is a similarly compassionate work, though also charged with a merry sense of humour and a frank, earthy physicality. Presenting an intimate, bustling portrait of a chaotic family home, and tracing the complex social and sexual networks within which its members operate, it’s a film that makes hugely compelling drama out of a succession of small family crises.
The heart of the story, as the title suggests, is Alice (Carla Ribas), a mother not only to her own brood of teenage sons but also to the neighbourhood waifs and strays, and the clients of the beauty parlour where she works. Her husband Lindomar (Zecarlos Machado) also spreads his affection around the neighbourhood – though he’s more interested in getting laid than making friends, and has a particular interest in very young girls.
Though it never feels lewd or exploitative, this is a film propelled to no small extent by its characters’ gender and sexuality. It’s apparent in the conversation and the covert activities of Alice’s sons that they look upon life primarily as an expanse of carnal opportunies. If her boys are budding macho men, Alice’s life is defined by traditionally feminine responsibilities: at work she primps and preens other women to ensure their attractiveness to their mates, and at home she’s treated like a drudge. Clearly, it’s a role handed down through the generations: Alice’s mother lives with the family and ploughs through the housework as if it’s her God-given function (and perhaps, in her mind, it is). Yet Alice also gets her shot at sexual pleasure, when she commences an affair with a client’s young husband. But does her infidelity represent Alice’s emancipation – or just her further exploitation? Carla Ribas’ brilliant performance allows and explores both possibilities.
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