‘Wolf’ fails to come to life


via wikipedia.org

Leandra Leal, left, and Milhem Cortaz star in “A Wolf at the Door.”

Ethan Sapienza, Staff Writer

Fernando Coimbra’s new film “Wolf at the Door” makes itself out to be an abduction film. The film is described in its marketing as “a fast-paced thriller filmed in Brazil about a kidnapped child and the terror felt by the parents left behind.” the film sounds similar to Tony Scott’s 2004 remake of “Man on Fire,” where Denzel Washington hunted down the kidnappers of a young Dakota Fanning in Mexico City. Though certainly a thriller, it plays out more like an action flick, just as “Wolf” plays out more like a marital melodrama disguised as a thriller.

The film begins as one might expect from any film of this genre: Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) goes to pick up her daughter from school, only to discover that a mysterious woman claiming to be a neighbor has already picked up her daughter. Confusion leads to despair as the police become involved, and it becomes clear that the little girl has been kidnapped. Sylvia’s husband, Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz), is questioned, and the plot picks up steam as Bernardo immediately accuses his mistress Rosa (Leandra Leal) of the crime. Rosa is brought in for questioning, leading to a desperate search for the
missing girl.

The movie’s premise is hardly original, and its structure and focus are even more conventional. Through the interrogations, the film dives into multiple flashbacks to lay out the foundation of Sylvia and Bernardo’s family dynamic. These flashbacks are peculiar, beginning abruptly, offering a starkly different feel from the examination scenes. The investigation scenes are tense, unnerving and packed with sharp-witted detectives’ merciless questioning, while the past progresses slowly, gradually revealing Rosa’s hysteria and Bernardo’s brutishness and misogyny.

The flashbacks make up the majority of the film and, as a result, only Rosa and Bernardo are fully fleshed out. While Nascimento is quite good, especially when portraying a distraught mother, Sylvia’s performance often feels one-dimensional. Rosa is a curious case as well, as some of her actions are not believable, despite Leal’s convincing portrayal of a naïve and eventually crazed lover. Ultimately, it is Cortaz who shines, in part because his character is deeper and more interesting than any other.

Despite some of its flaws, the film should be applauded for, if nothing else, its impeccable style. Coimbra is an excellent director, favoring minimalism with sparse yet powerful ambient music, long takes and thoughtful close-ups. When all these elements come together perfectly, the otherwise limp characters gain a spark of the divine. Rosa’s love and fear of Bernardo and Sylvia’s panic are made grand and powerful thanks mostly to Coimbra’s directorial choices.

Through the love triangle and the kidnapping of Sylvia and Bernardo’s daughter, Coimbra offers some thought on the price of infidelity as well as the nature of man. Unfortunately, the dominant characters fall just shy of being life-like. This, along with the heavy-handed closing narration, means that “Wolf” serves more to entertain than to provide meaningful insight.

“Wolf at the Door” opens on March 27.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 25 print edition. Email Ethan Sapienza at [email protected]