Part failed moodscape and part Bunuel-by-numbers, “The Dauphin” dallies with specimens of the idle rich in Portugal circa 1968. Script, based on a noted novel, paints in broad, sweeping strokes its lagoon kingdom presided over by a morose “prince” and his feudal entourage: a large black dog, a one-handed black servant and a barren wife. Like the denizens of “La Cienaga,” they live on a swamp that more or less symbolizes their sinking, decomposing class but, unlike Martel’s amiably clueless drunks, they’re not at all amusing.
Most of pic revolves around mysterious events that leave two of the players dead and the prince and his dog vanished, but helmer Lopes can’t conjure up any emotion beyond an all-consuming ill humor. Film’s genuine nastiness is not reserved for the upper classes alone, although the prince, given to charming epigrams such as “women and goats should be kept on short leashes,” owns a goodly part of it. Supposedly “sympathetic” characters — while they don’t get plastered and beat people up — come off as equally dour and charmless. Even the water, over which the camera endlessly swoops and pans, seems shallow.