Monday 24 June 2024

Mubi Monday: Hard Labor (2011)

The first feature co-written and co-directed by Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas, who would then go on to helm the excellent Good Manners, this may not be anything truly great, and it's not helped by being too unsure of where it wants to position itself, but it's an interesting and assured debut. There's no subtlety here, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. People don't always appreciate subtlety, and sometimes it can be satisfying to use a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

Helena Albergaria plays Helena, a woman who decides to start up a business as a local grocery store owner. The timing isn’t great though. Her husband (Ot├ívio, played by Marat Descartes) has just been let go from his job, he’s due to find out how difficult it is to find gainful employment again, and the problems and bills soon start piling up as the shop reveals a number of hidden problems. Helena has people working for her, including a young woman named Paula (Naloana Lima), but they need money and a work/life balance just as much as she does.

I don’t always do this, but I checked out a number of reviews for this movie before writing my own. I wanted to ensure that my own interpretation of the film, as simple as it seemed, wasn’t wildly out of whack with how others viewed it. Most people seemed to see it for what it was, I was relieved to find, but most people also seemed to dismiss it as something a bit too messy and painfully obvious for film fans. I disagree there, although I can understand some of the criticism.

Dutra and Rojas aren’t interested in keeping everything neat and tidy. The message at the heart of this is the most important thing, or so it seems, but they still do enough to wrap an intriguing and entertaining movie around it. Things could have been adjusted to help the film lean more strongly into any one of a number of genres, but I appreciate the uneven bobbing and weaving between so many different key moments.

Albergaria, Descartes, and Lima are great as the three central characters. While they are ably supported by a uniformly excellent cast, the leads perform brilliantly while also embodying their own part of the movie’s messaging. Albergaria deserves the most praise, considering the tightrope she walks as her character struggles in a pinch-point that has her poised to be either victim or small tyrant at any moment, but everyone does brilliant work in service to the talented team behind the camera.

There are many ways that this could be better, and I admit that I would have also liked to see things mean much further into the potential horror elements, but Hard Labor is still an accomplished feature debut. There are a number of scenes that will stay in your mind after the film has finished, including a brilliant and darkly comedic final moment, and Dutra and Rojas seem to have succeeded in giving us the film that makes the statement they wanted to make. 

7/10

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