An appealingly twisted crime-thriller in which a poor rural family agree to a diabolical deal to shelter an Argentinian drug lord. This Brazilian debut feature delivers a wry, politically astute domestic psychodrama.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
“It will be good for your family ... and someone else who is in need.” So reasons nurse Juracy to a family of impoverished Brazilian charcoal burners, proposing they secretly euthanise and replace their bedridden patriarch with an on-the-lam Argentinian drug lord who needs to lay low before assuming a new life. But such fraught decisions exert a psychological weight. Irene, Jairo, and their young son Jean cannot help but manifest their internal struggles in social interactions, as guilt foments and paranoia grows. The situation is exacerbated by their “guest” Miguel who chafes at the strict rules of his confinement and the inferior state of living he is made to endure.
Writer-director Carolina Markowicz shares narrative responsibility across her excellent ensemble: each character evincing discernible dimension and describing a provocative arc. Buoyed by a vein of dark humour, Charcoal’s central ”Sophie’s Choice” dilemma, effectively critiques the wealth and class divide, and the impact of these factors on autonomy. Markowicz’s screenplay also takes aim at the socio-political power of religious institutions, underscored by some artfully inspired cinematography. Yet the film is equally concerned with exploring the personal, with macro issues applying pressure to the family’s existing relational cracks. — Jacob Powell
“Eliciting uniformly confident, credible performances from professional and non-professional actors alike, Markowicz maintains a tight grip on the tone, keeping it just on the biting point between black comedy and agonising suspense. She builds a layered portrait of the larger community around the family, too, from inquisitive, prying neighbours to complacent priests who don’t really want to know what’s troubling members of their flock. Amid such a strong ensemble, Jinkings is the standout performer, incarnating a woman full of half-crushed dreams that could spark up with the slightest brush of hope.” — Leslie Felperin, The Guardian