Sunday, October 08, 2006

Film Review: Solo Dios Sabe

During the recent Rio film festival, I had the chance to see theMexican production "Solo Dios Sabe" ("Só Deus Sabe" in Portuguese), just released. It focuses on Brazilian Dolores, a non-religious teacher in the U.S. who loses her passport on a weekend trip to Tijuana who, through chance occurrences, meets and falls in love with fiercely-Catholic and "superstitious" (to Dolores) Damián (Diego Luna of "Y tu Mama Tambien"). The film then follows these two through Mexico while Dolores tries to get a new passport to return to the States. However, the proverbial "fate" intervenes, leading Dolores to return to Brazil and leading Dolores and Diego down a path of religious exploration and love.

The film was a good yet extremely frustrating work, whose problems can be boiled down to its inability to focus on a narrative. For the first 45 minutes of the movie, we are treated to a road-trip film, while Dolores and Damián travel from Tijuana to Mexico City, seeing the desert, the religious ceremonies of small villages, and numerous other things in Northern and Central Mexico. As a road-trip genre, they get to know more about each other and life, and as far as road-trip movies go, it's well written. Even once they arrive in Mexico City, we are still interested, as their relationship develops.

However, after the first hour, in which we focused on their relationship, it's as if we are watching another movie. Dolores returns to Brazil upon the death of her beloved-grandmother, furious at Damián (for reasons that I prefer not to give away). Damiãn goes after her, while she embarks upon a religious journey into the world of Candomblé (a syncretic relgigion in Brazil that combines elements of Catholicism, African religious practices and beliefs, and indigenous worldviews). We watch Dolores and Damián build a life together as Dolores explores this new religious change that has come over her, leading to a fate that neither enjoys but the reasons behind which "Only God Knows" (hence the name of the film).

While the film was shot well, it is too hodgepodge. It is clear that the writer of the screenplay were trying to parallel the road trip of the first part of the film with Dolores's spiritual journey of the second part of the film, but there's never a seemless transition. Rather, it is like watching two one-hour movies about people who happen to be in the same film. Particularly egregious is the writing of the film. While there isn't any particular dialogue (which, indeed, is often quite witty), it is clear writer-director Carlos Bolado and his co-writer, Diane Weipert, lost sight of who the characters were. While in the first part Dolores is a strong, fiery woman who is open to learning about the world, she suddenly becomes passive, acquiescent, and quite simply, boring, in the second half. It is as if Bolardo stopped directing star Alice Bragga in the second half and said, "just act like you're at peace with the world". Certainly, the performance is not Bragga's fault - she does what she can with such a role. The roles and performances of Luna and Dolores's mother, Renata (played excellently by Renata Zhaneta) are far better, and we get a far better glimpse into Luna's character development than Bragga's. It is as if Bolado simply did not know what to do with Bragga overall.

The movie is still interesting, for providing an excellent (and accurate) portrayal of tha practices of candomblé, which are unique and will seem quite exotic to many North Americans. Likewise, the scenery of the Mexican countryside contrasted with the Brazilian metropoli (specifically São Paulo, but also Rio de Janeiro) provide remarkable contrasts and the opportunity for analysis of space and place. However, the plot is weak, and one wishes that Bolado had allowed Dolores to continue to be a strong woman, and had worked harder to make the parallels between the physical journey through Mexico and the spiritual journey in Brazil work better.