If telenovelas were convincingly real, they would no doubt look like the tumultuous world of domestic strife and libido deftly limned in “Alice’s House.” Documaker Chico Teixeira gives a light, natural feel to his small but fetching first feature, set in a working class household in Sao Paulo that gets turned upside down by everyday dramas of sexual and emotional betrayal. Illuminated by a glowing Carla Ribas in the title role, it is well worth a look for fest programmers and niche buyers attracted by the unfettered Brazilian mindset.
Handheld DV camera busily speeds through the introductions as Alice’s household wakes up to talk radio. While grandma (Berta Zemel) patiently does the cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing, Alice gets ready to go to work as a manicurist in a beauty parlor and her oafish, bad-tempered mate Lindomar (Zecarlos Machado) prepares to drive his taxi.
Sharing a crowded bedroom are their three teenage sons, each carefully drawn as real people. Lucas (Vinicius Zinn) is an aggressive macho man who, like his father, views women as objects and servants; Edinho (Ricardo Vilaca) secretly does tricks for pocket money; 15-year-old Junior (Felipe Massuia) is approaching girls for the first time.
Though pace is lively, the initial set-up still takes time and the story only becomes really involving in its second half, when Alice goes from flirting to bedding Nilson (Luciano Quirino), now married to her snooty customer Carmen (Renata Zhaneta.) Flattered and excited by Nilson’s attention, she soon is brought low by learning Lindomar is having affairs with underage girls, including a sweet-faced neighbor she’s taken under her wing.
Teixeira creates a warmly detailed world of feelings for these characters, shown as part and parcel of a popular culture with an extraordinarily casual approach to sex. Though the source of endless conflict, their adventures come across as something of a hoot for non-Brazilians. When a stranger on the bus rubs up against Alice, for instance, not only does she enjoy it, but she retells the story with embellishmens as a great erotic moment.
A warm, earthy thesp, Ribas demonstrates remarkable range in depicting Alice as an emotional open door. As the grandmother, Zemel is the soul of dignity and stands out in a notably fine ensemble cast.