Pic's first half keeps auds guessing whether the protag is also the rapist, but the characters don't credibly mix.

Thankfully, “Retribution” isn’t the usual rape-revenge fantasy, though novice helmer-scripter Paulo Pons doesn’t always convince with a scenario that subsumes believability under a veneer of character development. Pic’s first half keeps auds guessing whether the protag is also the rapist, but the characters don’t credibly mix, and in the second part, tension falters just when a semi-plausible relationship is forming. Still, a nice hand with thesps and some good bantering dialogue keep interest focused. Local play should be decent, followed by strong ancillary and even Euro cable possibilities.

Pons deliberately places suspicion on Miguel (Erom Cordeiro), just arrived in Rio soon after the rape of Camila (Barbara Borges) in the far south of Brazil. At a cafe, he checks out Carol (Branca Messina), a rich young woman who delights in flirting and isn’t averse to a pick-up. Given his sullen, angry manner, it’s a wonder she has any interest at all.

Though they don’t sleep together that night, he leaves his wallet at her home; she tells him to come to a friend’s party to pick it up. When Carol points out her over-protective brother (Miguel Nader), Miguel waits until he’s in a shielded part of the garden and whacks him on the head, just stopping short of using the large blade he’s brought for the occasion. Turns out Carol was teasing: The guy with the head bruise is her friend Sazao, while her real brother, Bruno (Marcio Kieling), has just arrived.

Only after this scene, when Camila turns up at his apartment, do auds realize that Miguel is actually the rape victim’s fiancee. Following another key revelation involving Luciano (Emiliano Ruschel), a man who’s tailing Miguel, the puzzle — and the purpose of Miguel’s mission — falls into place.

The pawn in all this, and by far the most interesting character, is Carol. Spoiled, powerfully sexual and very much used to being in control, she’s brought to life by Messina’s teasingly playful performance, but the nagging question remains: Why is she pursuing a relationship with a guy whose barely suppressed rage is obviously more than a minor character flaw? Much is made of his south Brazilian gaucho manner, but if she wanted a fling with a cowboy, this kind of gal would choose a livelier pardner.

Worse, the posturing machismo of Camila’s family, especially father Adao (Jose de Abreu), feels too far-fetched for most contempo Western auds. A bit more background info on the rape would help round out the story, but ultimately, the old-fashioned nature of the revenge setup, despite the coupling with Carol’s upper-class libertinism, fails to truly engage.

Visuals are solid, though editing lacks force, and tension flags just when Pons means to build up to some kind of climax. Music is blandly used, rarely driving forward the emotions.

Retribution

Brazil

Production

A Pax Filmes, Riofilme production. Produced by Paulo Pons. Executive producers, Danielle Penteado, Alceu Passos. Directed, written by Paulo Pons.

Crew

Camera (color), Thiago Lima Silva; editor, Bernardo Juca; music, Dado Villa-Lobos; production designer, Joana Lima; costume designers, Lima, Andreza Ricci, Marssele Medeiros; sound, Ives Rosenfeld, Felippe Mussel, Claudio Valdetaro, Gabriel Musak; assistant director, Bruno Duarte. Reviewed on DVD, Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 30, 2008. (In Rio de Janeiro Film Festival -- Premiere Brazil, competing.) Running time: 104 MIN.

With

Erom Cordeiro, Branca Messina, Barbara Borges, Marcio Kieling, Miguel Nader, Emiliano Ruschel, Guta Stresser, Jose de Abreu, Daniel Kallon.

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