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VENICE 2023 Orizzonti

Review: Heartless

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- VENICE 2023: Nara Normande and Tião capture the sensuality and uncertainty of the end of adolescence in a beguiling first feature film set across the beaches of Northeast Brazil

Review: Heartless
Maya de Vicq (centre) in Heartless

"I’m scared of experiencing something totally new." As all of us know, and as has already been proven in film many times, the transition period at the end of adolescence is a grey and somewhat suspended zone where the persisting paradise of childhood onto which we cling intertwines with confused desires to explore the near future, the discovery of feelings and sexuality, a growing awareness of the passing of time, and a more pressing awareness of the world around us with its possibilities, social differences and dangers. These are the "classic" themes tackled head-on by Brazilian filmmakers Nara Normande and Tião in Heartless [+see also:
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, presented in the 80th Venice Film Festival’s Orizzonti competition. Theirs is a debut feature film distinguished by an incredibly harmonious style, blending authenticity and sensitivity, realism and oneirism, and individual and group portraits, all set against dreamlike, seaside landscapes.

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It’s 1996. Tamara (Maya de Vicq) "grew up on the paradisiacal beach" of Garça Torta, 250 kilometres south of Recife, and this is her last holiday here before she heads off to university in Brasilia. She, her brother Vintinho (Ian Boechat) and their small group of long-term friends (Binho, Blondie, Cidão, Vânia and Iris) lounge around, bathe in the sea, play games, chat beneath the palm trees, spend the evenings dancing, explore abandoned buildings and unoccupied villas, head out on their bikes or squeeze themselves into a car. But as a counterpoint to this "easy" life, an intriguing figure emerges, cycling through the surrounds to deliver the fish her impoverished father has caught: she’s Heartless (Eduarda Samara), so named on account of the heart operation she underwent as a child. This young woman, who’s the same age as Tamara, arouses the latter’s curiosity. Meanwhile, clouds begin to gather around the friendship group, because life isn’t always as simple and plain-sailing as they might imagine it to be, as proven by the murder, one night, just a few kilometres away, of Paulo Cesar Farias (the campaign treasurer of the then Brazilian President, caught up in the turmoil of a corruption scandal)... A storm is in the air, and with a storm comes thunder, not to mention unearthed secrets and self-discoveries…

Interspersing the story with various smaller stories (Tamara and Heartless’ families, Blondie’s misadventures, verging on delinquency, generalised homophobia, etc.) which don’t seem like much on their own but which create a charming ensemble when skilfully woven together, the two filmmakers are quick to blend genres (love film, sociological snapshot, teen movie, dreamlike moments, flashes of fantasy, social drama) as the days fade into nights. A modest parable about the coming together of two Brazils, Heartless also owes much to its director of photography, Evgenia Alexandrova, who fully captures the sensuality of a certain age and place, transforming the film into a highly promising debut feature and an incredibly enjoyable viewing experience.

Heartless is produced by Brazil’s Cinemascópio (Emilie Lesclaux and Kleber Mendonça Filho), France’s Les Valseurs and Italy’s Nefertiti Film, with sales falling to The Party Film Sales.

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(Translated from French)

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