Colo: When family ties become shackles
by Joseph Proimakis
- BERLIN 2017: One of Portugal’s most celebrated directors, Teresa Villaverde, takes her first stab at the Golden Bear with a bleak alienation drama
Having picked up awards at Cannes, Venice, Valencia, and even the Golden Globes, Teresa Villaverde, one of Portugal’s most acclaimed directors, is now taking a stab at the Golden Bear with Colo [+see also:
interview: Teresa Villaverde
film profile], her first official competition entry at the Berlinale.
Using the Portuguese word for “hug” as its title, the film starts with just that: a hug between two teenage lovers, though not a hug of fond tenderness, but rather one of sorrowful farewell, in an opening scene that will only later be explained as an integral part of the plot.
It is a sombre scene that is mirrored just seconds later, as the story begins to unfold with Marta’s father anxiously rushing through the house, certain that his wife has left them once and for all, in a prescient opening that will come to mind time and again, as the script gradually unveils the fragile dynamics between the three members of the family.
Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges in a debut appearance that really gets under your skin) provides the film with its chief reference point as the skinny, tight-lipped but sharp-tongued teenage daughter of an overworked mother (a mesmerising Beatriz Batarda) and an underappreciated father (a haunted João Pedro Vaz), who try their level best to make ends meet.
However, despite their efforts, things turn from bad to worse, as the money gets shorter, the days grow longer and the three members of this once lofty apartment feel the walls closing in. Their torment takes an unforeseen turn when Marta’s pregnant schoolmate (Clara Jost) comes to spend the night, setting off a centrifugal course that may be their only chance of survival from familial ties turned into shackles that keep drawing them apart, rather than closer together.
A coming-of-age story in austerity-ridden Portugal, where the only thing scarcer than work is joy, Colo is a sombre, demanding drama to follow in its cryptic, convulsive plotting, but is eloquently shot by Villaverde’s regular DoP, Acácio de Almeida. His dimly lit frames mirror the twilight in which the characters seem to sleepwalk through life, milling around like zombies looking for purpose instead of flesh, rotting on the inside due to lack of hope, and watching their relationships disintegrate to the point where they become barren reminders of their own inadequacies.