Three Palm Trees

Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in "Three Palm Trees." Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that's by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should figure on European TV slates, but theatrically it's too rarefied an exercise in style and oblique philosophy to go beyond the festival field.

Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should figure on European TV slates, but theatrically it’s too rarefied an exercise in style and oblique philosophy to go beyond the festival field.

The film is one of a trio of hourlong features depicting different stretches of a single day in the “Lisbon, 24 Hours” project commissioned for the city’s year as European Capital of Culture. Time frame here is 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., opening with a suicide and closing with a birth.

A pregnant woman in her 40s (Teresa Roby) is about to go into labor. To distract her from anxieties about her suitability for motherhood, the baby’s young father (Pedro Hestnes) tells stories of inhabitants of the city sprawling out beyond the three palms opposite their window.

A young woman throws herself in the river; a pair of nighttime revelers stagger home drunk; a man contemplates killing the woman sleeping in his hotel bed, and then shoots himself; an English-speaking couple have a tiff that gets patched up silently; a ballet student learns that she’s not cut out to dance.

The vignettes are fluidly woven together by Hestnes’ commentary and Roby’s dismissive, often disbelieving reactions. Hestnes is drawn directly into the universe of stories when he steps out for cakes and meets a film-star-turned-bag-lady in the park, who frightens him off with an unsolicited demonstration of onscreen kissing technique.

A cake shop provides the stage for an amusing, fully sung mini-opera involving a woman who begs for cash and makes off with a tray of pastries.

The baby’s graphically filmed birth coincides with the recovery of a body (presumably the woman from reel one) from the river. Several characters step over the line into each other’s stories, creating a sense of fusion of the city’s disparate strands.

Botelho’s fascination with the elements continues from his previous feature, “Here on Earth.” Water and wind feature heavily on the soundtrack, along with Antonio Vitorino d’Almeida’s portentous, often willfully strident music.

Color is heightened dramatically, with rich blood reds, warm sea and sky blues and solar yellows almost leaping off the screen. Olivier Gueneau’s handsome lensing is especially alluring in the period before sun-up.

Three Palm Trees

(PORTUGUESE)

Production: A Madragoa Filmes production for Lisbon 94. Produced by Paolo Branco. Directed, written by Joao Botelho.

Crew: Camera (color, b&w), Olivier Gueneau; editor, Carla Bogalheiro; music, Antonio Vitorino d'Almeida; art direction, Fernanda Morais; costume design, Rita Lopes Alves; sound, Francisco Veloso. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors Fortnight), May 17, 1994. Running time: 68 MIN.

With: With: Teresa Roby, Pedro Hestnes, Rita Lopes Alves, Alexandra Lencastre, Diogo Infante, Canto e Castro, Ines Medeiros.

More Film

  • Brad Pitt Leonardo Dicaprio

    Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio Turned Down 'Brokeback Mountain,' Says Gus Van Sant

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • Mammia Mia Here We Go Again

    Box Office: 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' Dancing Past 'Equalizer 2' to $30 Million-Plus Opening

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • 'First Man' With Ryan Gosling to

    Damien Chazelle's 'First Man' With Ryan Gosling to Open 75th Venice Film Festival (EXCLUSIVE)

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • Joaquin Phoenix The Joker

    Joaquin Phoenix's 'Joker' Movie Gets Release Date

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • Quentin Tarantino

    Quentin Tarantino's Manson Murders Movie Moves Up Two Weeks

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • Destan Arslanoski Stunt Performer

    Stunt Performers Say There's Not Enough Being Done to Address Risks of the Job

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

  • 'Oblivion Verses' Review: A Slow, Warmly

    Film Review: 'Oblivion Verses'

    Eight hours in the life of Lisbon are idiosyncratically chronicled in “Three Palm Trees.” Making a commanding palette of the city, director Joao Botelho offers a visually seductive series of loosely interlocking metropolitan moments that’s by turns tragic, jocular, intense, gripping, teasing and even light-operatic. Almost as cerebral as it is cinematic, the film should […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content