As the city already parties to celebrate the magical date, Joao (Luis Carlos Vasconcellos), a young man from the favelas, rots in a dank Rio jail. Determined to escape a life behind bars, he murders his best friend and cell mate, Pedro, and escapes in the confusion. Meanwhile, across town in a comfortable apartment, Maria (Fernanda Torres), a speech therapist, awakes to find a note left by her lover, Pedro (Carlos Vereza), who’s suddenly upped and left her during the night.
Devastated, Maria accidentally breaks her mobile phone and, in a strikingly shot sequence that mirrors her emotional disarray, wanders the confetti-lined streets in search of a phone to try to contact Pedro. En route, she meets the same dumb boy whom, only hours previously, she was confidently tutoring at her home.
Joao, meanwhile, returns to the labyrinthine alleyways of the hillside favela to settle a score with the man who betrayed him. Later that night, as the millennium arrives, Joao and Maria’s paths finally cross, with both ecstatic and tragic results.
It’s a simple, obvious but very effective vignette, without an ounce of padding in its 66 minutes and the feeling that much more remains to be told about these characters than we ever see onscreen. (The reasons for Pedro’s desertion of Maria areonly barely hinted at, and the sequence of Joao taking revenge is portrayed in roundabout fashion.) But it is mostly in the mounting that the picture scores: In its pacing and look, Salles and Thomas never give the impression that they’re making “just” a short feature; instead, “Midnight” has the feel of an edited-down full-length movie.
Torres, who spends a considerable amount of time in some state of undress, is an eye-catching screen presence, traversing every mood from professional poise to utter spiritual emptiness. The hunky Vasconcellos likewise moves from ruthless killer to angel of hope with cool conviction. Tech credits are tops on the $ 1 million budget, even allowing for the extra bang for the buck possible in Brazil.
Per Thomas (who also works in legit and co-directed the 1995 “Foreign Land” with Salles), she mostly handled the actors and Salles the camera. Movie was shot in one week, after three weeks of rehearsals and blocking.