Judge Clark Douglas' life is also a somewhat unrealistic melodrama.
You never know what secrets lie behind the front door.
It takes Alice's House a while to get going. As it begins, we are treated to a series of mundane routines. We watch an elderly grandmother (Berta Zelma) wandering through a Brazilian home, sweeping and dusting. She listens to the radio, shaking her head at anything particularly sensationalistic the announcer has to say. Three young men (Vinicius Zinn, Ricardo Vilaca, and Felipe Massuia) sit around the breakfast table, arguing with each other and engaging in conversation full of dull generalities. The mother of these young men is Alice (Carla Ribas), a good woman who works at local beauty parlor. Despite the fact that she works hard all day both inside and outside the home, Alice does not get much respect from her sons or her husband. The first half of the film dedicates its time to immersing us in her life; giving us a feeling of just why she is so frustrated with her current circumstances. Meanwhile, it also provides viewers with a slice-of-life glance at modern-day Brazil. This is well-crafted material that deserves to be acknowledged, but to be honest it is also rather dull viewing.
The film begins to pick up steam about mid-way through, when Alice makes the bold decision to misbehave a little. She discovers that the husband of one of her customers is an old childhood flame, and she begins to develop a relationship with him once again. Slowly but surely, the rekindled friendship turns into a passionate affair. Alice begins to feel that she has finally achieved some sort of liberation, only to have the joy of her conquest undone by an unpleasant revelation. It seems that her own husband has made a regular habit of having sex with minors, including a young girl that Alice has been giving relationship advice to for months.
Truth be told, this is all rather soapy and melodramatic material but, through his understated direction, director Chico Texeira manages to prevent it from feeling too ludicrous. The fusion of the daytime television plot with a low-key art cinema mood creates something of a mixed success that is simultaneously more and less satisfying than it should be. A part of me wishes that the film had been a bit more unapologetically lurid, which would have made it more entertaining if less respectable. As it is, the film is easier to praise and admire from an artistic standpoint, but the fact of the matter is that Alice's House is, to use a somewhat unkind description, a beautifully-polished bit of rubbish.
Carla Ribas more or less carries the film with her effectively moving lead performance. Alice is easily the most complex and well-rounded character here, and Ribas makes us feel for her even when she makes some painfully obvious bad decisions. Luciano Quirino brings a smooth charm to his turn as Alice's lover that contrasts nicely to the considerably more earthy performance of Zecarlos Machado as Alice's husband. The others here all have occasional compelling moments, but the film doesn't have quite enough time to turn them into fully-realized human beings. Texeira compensates for this once again by attempting to film the family interactions in as realistic a manner as possible: no score, no fancy cinematography, nothing that would make the film resemble a slick "movie" in any way.
I'm afraid I don't have anything nice at all to say about this disc on a technical end, as it proves to be unimpressive in almost every way. The transfer is very weak, offering washed-out brighter scenes and murky, incomprehensible darker ones. The level of detail is not any better than what you might expect to see watching a film on a standard-def television. Flesh tones occasionally seem a little off. The biggest crime here is that this disc presents the film in non-anamorphic widescreen, an irritating practice among too many low-budget releases. The stereo audio also fails to impress, offering a bit of distortion and a lack of clarity. The dialogue is occasionally muffled by the sound design; a flaw somewhat alleviated by the fact that English-speaking viewers will be watching the film with subtitles. Extras include a brief making-of featurette, an interview with Ribas, an interview with Texeira and a theatrical trailer.
I'm sort of on the fence about whether or not to recommend itself, but the very weak technical aspects of this disc unfortunately push me in a negative direction. Maybe you'll find Alice's House a decent rental, but by no means would I recommend a purchase.
Note: The film is not rated, but contains nudity, strong sexual content and foul language.
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