The big winner at the Brasilia national film festival was “Playing in the Dark,” which shows 1970s Brazil as a violent dictatorship opposed by a handful of idealistic but doomed revolutionaries. Taking place in a claustrophobic apartment, Toni Venturi’s (“Latitude Zero”) well-acted if meandering second feature has much legit theatricality about it and makes auds struggle to care about its prickly main character. Though lacking the force of a film like Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night” to fuel major interest offshore, it has enough originality and well-dosed humor for ancillary markets to take a peek.
In Di Moretti’s screenplay, a severely wounded revolutionary who goes by the nom de guerre Thiago (Leonardo Medeiros) is holed up in the apartment of the middle-class Pedro (Michel Bercovitch), a sym-pathizer who has no urge to take up arms. Sick and nervous, his finger ever on the trigger, Thiago resists not only medical treatment from comrade Rosa (Debora Duboc) but Pedro’s human overtures, too. He is also at odds with Mateus, an older man who is one of the leaders of the organization.
Original title refers to a local version of Blind Man’s Bluff, which aptly describes Thiago’s aimlessness and isolation as he waits to heal and fight another day. Separated for practical reasons from his female companion, who was tortured by the police before being sprung from jail by the group, he slowly falls under the homey spell of Rosa, an unglamorous revolutionary in her bangs and pink print dresses. All the characters reach a dramatic turning point as the police close in and each is forced to choose his future.
Medeiros, who won the acting award in Brasilia, makes no concessions to viewers in his portrait of the neurotic, single-minded freedom fighter persuaded that guns, not politics, are the answer to society’s woes. In sharp contrast, Bercovitch, his bourgeois alter ego, sports a sense of humor easy to identify with, especially when he gets fed up with his moody guest. In an apparently subordinate role, Duboc unexpectedly holds the film together.
Tech work is seriously handled, from Chico Andrade’s interiors to Fernanda Porto’s catchy, involving soundtrack. Snatches of B&W repertory footage from the time enriches visuals.