Axilas: José Fonseca e Costa’s swan song hits screens
by Vitor Pinto
- Starring Pedro Lacerda, the film is a caustic black comedy about a man who develops an obsession with women’s armpits
Portuguese director José Fonseca e Costa was working on a new film, Axilas [+see also:
film profile], when he died of pneumonia last November. By then, about two-thirds of the scenes had been shot, and producer Paulo Branco decided to delegate the task of wrapping the project to editor Paulo MilHomens. Axilas (lit. “Armpits”) is now hitting local screens, and has turned out to be a particularly caustic black comedy.
Fonseca e Costa, who had not released a film since 2006’s Widow and Rich No Longer a Bitch [+see also:
film profile], decided to loosely adapt the short story of the same name by Brazilian author Rubem Fonseca, transposing it into Portuguese society and creating situations that seem like an ironic evocation of recent local financial scandals. The director himself penned the adaptation along with scriptwriter Mário Botequilha.
Lázaro de Jesus (Pedro Lacerda) is an adult orphan who has been adopted by a very rich and Catholic lady, who still treats him like a child. Upon the old lady’s death, Lázaro finds out that he has no right to her inheritance. From that point on, the film portrays a series of flashbacks and flashforwards, revealing Lázaro’s life and using several aspects of it to portray and satirise the Catholic bourgeois milieu and its dangerous liaisons with the financial world. Then, at one point, Lázaro develops an obsession with women’s armpits and starts to stalk a violin player whom he eventually (and unexpectedly) murders. While the social satire is responsible for the film’s most hilarious and accomplished moments – giving Lacerda and the supporting cast (particularly Elisa Lisboa and Margarida Marinho) the opportunity to deliver some remarkable performances – the murder part of the plot is regrettably underdeveloped and lacks credibility, turning the second section of the movie into a delicate and somewhat disappointing experience.
Produced by Leopardo Filmes, Axilas may be Fonseca e Costa’s swan song, but the director will always be remembered as the creator of Killer and Balada da Praia dos Cães, two of the most emblematic titles of Portuguese cinema from the 1980s.