“In Evil Hour,” the 25th feature from pioneering Brazilian vet Ruy Guerra, shows that his maverick commitment to challenging cinema remains undimmed. Helmer’s third feature based on works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a demanding, dark piece that captures the intensity of the original without following its plot too rigidly. A stylish item of formal daring, pic forwards the thesis, which the helmer explains using quantum physics, that different versions of reality can exist side by side. This leads to three separate conclusions, none of which can be identified as the true one.
Concept looks less experimental than it would have in the days before mainstream cinema started playing time tricks, and its somewhat sterile execution here is unlikely to find viewers beyond arthouse auds already sold on Guera’s uncompromising intellectualism.
The plot, set over 24 hours, is complex and elliptically told. A voiceover by Father Angel (Fabio Sabag) informs that “reality comes in strange shapes,” a notion the script then sets out to demonstrate. Someone in an unspecified godforsaken Latin American pueblo is leaving notes alluding to the private lives of the inhabitants — to political betrayals, family secrets and clandestine romances.
But the fact the notes only reveal what everyone already knows has created a climate of fear and paranoia. Major characters include the mayor (Leonardo Medeiros), who has taken over the running of the town following the death of his predecessor, Assis, and who is seeking revenge for the death of his two sons. Also on the list of suspected note writers: the ailing, corrupt landowner Dom Sabas (the wonderfully decadent-looking Amir Haddad); the widow Assis (Juliana Carneiro da Cunha), whose husband’s death has left her with scores to settle, and local singer Nestor (Fernando Alves Pinho), who is writing love songs to Rosario (Rejane Arruda), the wife of Cesar Monteiro (Jean Pierre Noher).
As in the original, plot details, sometimes lost in the general obfuscation, matter less than the general picture of fading power struggling desperately to keep itself alive. Perfs are necessarily over the top, thesps seemingly aware of themselves as elements of a moral fable rather than anything approaching realism. Medeiros as the mayor is particularly exaggerated as he lurches from house to house through the mud, sometimes wonderfully, sometimes irritatingly, a morally complex combination of good and evil intent.
Beautiful-looking pic (lenser Walter Carvalho and art director Marcos Flaksman working wonders) employs rich, dark tones throughout, which add to the generally ominous, sometimes stifling air. Apart from a lonely clarinet, the score is more noise than music, consisting of effective, discreetly employed banging and droning noises.