The Jew” is a somber drama based on the life of Antonio Jose da Silva, a popular stage satirist who nonetheless was burned at the stake by Inquisition forces for heretical “relapse” to Judaism. Though handsomely done, pic’s doggedly low-key approach to its dramatic subject points toward teleplay in Euro and Latin territories as likeliest outlet beyond fests.
After a brief prologue in early 18th-century Rio de Janeiro (where da Silva was born), action flashes forward 10 years to Lisbon. Now an adult, protag is seen stretched on a torture rack, finally “confessing” his alleged crimes against the Church — though every indication throughout suggests that he and fellow family members are faithful Catholic converts, “guilty” only of a Jewish heritage.
After release, da Silva (Felipe Pinheiro) tells a priest, “My soul is burnt to a cinder … I do not know where to put my faith or my life.” Yet his writing career (following brief stint as lawyer) flourishes, as does his courtship of noblewoman and eventual wife Leonor (Cristina Ache). Meanwhile, da Silva’s friend Alexandre de Gusmao (Edwin Luisi) rises to high stature in the Portuguese court, whose witless, spineless monarch is scarcely capable of dealing with a weak economy and powerful Vatican.
For reasons made insufficiently clear here — political chicanery? his irreverent stage works? pure Inquisition bloodlust? — da Silva, spouse and others are soon “denounced” and imprisoned once again. The punishment for a second such offense is death. Even the most fanatical Inquisitor, however, finds this case suspiciously short on evidence. His superiors simply advise him “to get rid of the corrosive doubts caused by reason. … God will inspire you with proof.” When de Gusmao tries to intercede, he finds the king unwilling to help for fear of endangering his mutual back-scratching relationship with Rome.
It’s a no-win situation: Denials are taken as lies; presumably paid “informants” claim da Silva and company practice “heretical digressions” in secret. The writer was killed in 1739, at just 32 years of age.
Director Jom Tob Azulay includes some grisly torture scenes, but otherwise film doesn’t wring nearly enough mileage from its tragic storyline. Though pace is slow and action pretty talky, characters (though well played) aren’t limned in much depth. Time lapses and connections between events are also somewhat confusingly presented. Final, curt cutaway to blurry flames in lieu of any real climax underlines pic’s disinterest in stoking its own highly emotive potential.
Production package is accomplished, with a burnished lensing approach apt for candle-lit, handsomely costumed period ambience. Musical score, like film as a whole, settles on a single mournful tone where more variation in intensity might have had greater impact.