Evil — though the title could just as well have been “Love” — is the common denominator in this poorly spliced together handful of stories set in contemporary Lisbon. Instead of illuminating one another, these sadly familiar urban tales by writer-director Alberto Seixas Santos remain as static and contained as news stories. A weak entry in the Venice competition, “Evil” is likely to find more auds at festivals than on commercial circuits.
The main narrative describes the apparently happy middle-class marriage of Cathy (Pauline Cadell), a 43-year-old Irishwoman deeply in love with her lawyer husband, Pedro (Rui Morrisson.) It takes her the whole film to find out about his casual affairs, which leads to terrifying consequences. In the meantime her social ideals, still intact from the ’70s, unlike his, get her involved with a juvenile delinquent from the slums (Alexandre Pinto) whom she attempts to get off heroin.
In other intercut tales, the delinquent’s mother is so desperate she turns to a Jesus cult for consolation. An old man, half-mad with grief, paces the train station with a photo of his runaway granddaughter. The little girl, meanwhile, stumbles onto an unhappy jeweler, who leads her to a hotel like an innocent lamb to the slaughter, but then he jumps out the window instead of molesting her.
Aiming to be more than a hodgepodge of soap opera excerpts, the film loads its characters with much more significance than they’re worth. In this vein, an apocalyptic end-of-the-world scene, experienced by Cathy as a dream or vision, falls flat on its face.
In Cadell’s excruciatingly honest perf, Cathy comes through as the only character who is really alive. Others are carefully set up illustrations of stock figures — the unfaithful husband, the rebel teen and so on. It all adds up to far too much abstraction to move the viewer or to work as the grand metaphor the filmmaker clearly intends.