A violent incident in one of Rio de Janeiro's swankier locales is the starting point for Eduardo Valente's carefully modulated exploration of before and after, "Eye of the Storm."

A violent incident in one of Rio de Janeiro’s swankier locales is the starting point for Eduardo Valente’s carefully modulated exploration of before and after, “Eye of the Storm.” Unfortunately, after spending much time (even too much) building personalities as he heads toward the inevitable question, “Why did this happen?,” he allows it all to crash around him with a finale totally out of sync with what’s come before. Local play will see decent returns, and Walter Salles’ name as exec producer should help rack up fest mileage, but auds are likely to feel frustrated by ending’s inexplicable turn.

A nice opening properly upends expectation, as a closeup of the genial face of Ze (Marcio Vito) through a car window shifts back to reveal his high-powered rifle and bullet-proof vest. He’s a cop on duty with his partner when they’re stopped by housekeeper Sandra (Luciana Bezerra) running into the street, shouting that there’s a man in the house with a gun.

The argument inside is shot first in indistinct darkness, and then with a completely black screen. It’s a clever way of making auds understand that all isn’t clear: What’s happening can’t possibly be understood by one or two camera angles. Valente, making his feature debut, is also pushing away the increasingly common frenetic pace that characterizes so many Brazilian films that dwell on violence, instead building tension via words and an escalation in pitch.

From here the helmer moves to the pic’s main body, a cleverly edited exploration of both what lead to the murder, and what comes after. Ze is suspended pending investigation of his killing the hostage in the house: He becomes unnerved by external and internal pressures, which his supportive daughter Janaina (Nivea Magno) tries to ease.

Meanwhile, the past is presented via Sandra, who’s begun a relationship with Roberto (Raphael Sil). Hints are given that he’s led a checkered life, but he’s gotten his act together and has a loving relationship with his mother and young sister in one of Rio’s teeming favelas.

The ramifications of the shooting come through five years later, when the victim’s wife Elisa (Dedina Bernardelli), her two kids and her new husband Fernando (Licurgo Espinola) return to the house for the first time to pack it up and sell. Not just the mansion itself but the former occupants are haunted by the past — literally when the murdered man, Henrique (Cesar Augusto) starts appearing silently in dreams.

Valente is keen to show that all these characters have tight-knit families with open futures — constrained of course by the limitations of class — brought up short by a sudden twist of fate. He builds nicely on the concept and makes the viewer care about them, only to reach a conclusion that flies in the face of everything he’s moved towards. Combined with an overly long running time, this results in fidgets followed by deflation.

Thesping is flawless, each actor conveying a depth that seems to spring from a deeper commitment to the personalities than just the scenes on screen. Editor Quito Ribeiro, considerably more restrained than “The Greatest Love in the World,” does a fine job juggling the choral nature of the film, not just between stories but between time periods. Equally notable is Valente’s depiction of Rio, a city of unshakable extremes where violence is always a possibility but beauty and warmth never fade.

Eye of the Storm

Brazil-Portugal

Production

A Petrobras, VideoFilmes presentation of a VideoFilmes (Brazil)/Fado Films (Portugal)/Duas Mariola (Brazil) production. Produced by Mauricio A. Ramos. Executive producers, Mauricio A. Ramos, Walter Salles, Luis Galvao Teles. Directed by Eduardo Valente. Screenplay by Valente, Felipe Braganca.

Crew

Camera (color), Mauro Pinheiro, Jr.; editor, Quito Ribeiro; music, M. Takara; production designer, Taina Xavier; costume designer, Pati Monteiro; sound (Dolby Digital), Heron Alancar, Eduardo Santos Mendes; casting, Pedro Freire. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Special Screenings), May 18, 2009. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Dedina Bernardelli, Marcio Vito, Raphael Sil, Cesar Augusto, Licurgo Espinola, Nivea Magno, Luciana Bezerra, Leticia Tavares, Joao Pedro Celli.

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