Thursday 10 August 2017

Melbourne International Film Festival - Peter Hourigan reviews Teresa Villaverde’s' COLO (Portugal, 2017)

Marta’'s family is under stress.  Dad lost his job some time back, and can’t find a new one His phone calls to possible employers are not returned, or are dodged. Mum is working two jobs, paying barely enough to justify the hours she’'s putting in away from the family. And Marta – well, she’'s 17. 

Teresa Villaverde’s'  Colo  is a slow, quiet look at this family. No back stories, no dramatic confrontations, no fingers of blame. For each of them, it is, this is what it’s like for me now. 

Colo has been a major surprise for me at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival.  A film I’'d never
heard of, but which stunned me with its power, its insights, its integrity.

'geometric, abstract fields', Colo
The apartment is the important location for the family, but the sense of something wrong permeates through the opening, when Marta can’t find either parent at home.  And when Dad comes home and can’t find Mum, he goes out looking. So he’'s not there when she comes home.  (I think that was the order, but if I’'m wrong, it’s not important.  The sense of a family finding pressures keeping out of home base is what’s important.)

A fourth character comes into the dynamics – one of Marta’s school friends, pregnant and so unwelcome at home. If there are dramatic plot points being created, Dad’'s agreement to accept responsibility for the soon-to-be single mother could be one, but it doesn’t come across as crudely as a plot point. Rather, it’s another case where a character’s emotional confusion and angst comes over not through an over-verbalised script but through actions, which we’'re left to interpret and understand.

The actions play out against an intriguing visual background. Villaverde has an eye for locations that become a foil for the people. There is an overwhelming sense of the backgrounds as geometric, abstract fields. Sometimes, more than walls, doors and windows in the apartment there is a sense of squares, rectangles, circles – solid volumes of space, the realistic backdrop also becoming a visual exploration of volume.  It reminded me of Egon Schiele’'s townscape paintings of Cesky—-Krumlov. This approach to the visuals gives the characters something to act out their lives in front of, but which also emphasises their singularity, their aloneness in the current crisis. These are people bound together by  being a family, but each with their own stresses that are making it harder for them to be a support for the others.

At one level, this is a picture of the impact of Portugal’s economic crisis. But because it gets right into the spirit of each character, it is more than that, more universal.  This family is definitely unhappy in its own unique way.

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