Teresa Villaverde's fourth feature film is the kind of effete, self-importantly arty production that gives serious European cinema a bad name. Though immaculately produced and superbly lensed by Emmanuel Machuel, the film has nothing of interest to say about its naval-gazing heroine or the people around her.

Teresa Villaverde’s fourth feature film is the kind of effete, self-importantly arty production that gives serious European cinema a bad name. Though immaculately produced and superbly lensed by Emmanuel Machuel, the film has nothing of interest to say about its naval-gazing heroine or the people around her, and the director’s decision to withhold crucial information until well past the “Who cares?” level proves lethal. There will be a small niche audience for this tortured effort in some Euro capitals, but any kind of international interest will be negligible.

The film is set in a seaside village in summer. Ana (Galatea Ranzi) has been staying here with her husband (Joaquim de Almeida) and their small daughter, but the couple’s relationship is clearly strained, and he soon takes the child home to the city, leaving his wife alone. Ostensibly working on a humanitarian art project involving photographs of people who have been denied their freedom, Ana in fact spends her time swimming, wandering aimlessly about and eating alone.

She befriends Alexandre (Alexandre Pinto), a mixed-up young man who is having some ill-defined problems with a village girl and her family. She also meets a tourist who would clearly like to have an affair with her. She receives a visit from her friend, Vera (Maria de Madeiros, who won a prize in Venice in 1994 for her perf in Villaverde’s “Two Brothers, My Sister”), and another from her secret lover (Chico Buarque) as well as, eventually, her husband and child, who have missed their plane. But these minor events are stretched very thin over the film’s two-hour running time.

Ranzi anchors the film, but even she can’t overcome the writer-director’s pretentiousness or the fact that Ana simply isn’t very interesting. Indeed, one scene sums up the film’s problems when the photographs Ana has assembled are projected on a screen while, in the foreground, she complains about her singularly unimportant troubles, trivializing the real-life victims of man’s inhumanity to man to make a superficial plot point.

Water and Salt

Portugal-Italy

Production

A Madragoa Filmes (Lisbon)/Titti Films (Rome) co-production, in association with RTP, ICAM, Eurimages, Tele +. (International sales: Gemini Films, Paris.) Produced by Paulo Branco. Directed, written by Teresa Villaverde.

Crew

Camera (color), Emmanuel Machuel; editor, Andree Daventure; production designers, Alexandre Oliveira, Ana Louro; costume designer, Rita Lopes Alves; sound (Dolby SR), Joel Rangon, Vasco Pimentel, Nuno Carvalho; assistant director, Paulo Belem. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (competing, Cinema of the Present), Aug. 30, 2001. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Ana - Galatea Ranzi
Husband - Joaquim de Almeida
Alexandre - Alexandre Pinto
Stranger - Miguel Borges
Vera - Maria de Medeiros
Lover - Chico Buarque
Woman - Lucia Sigalho
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