Starting out as a Brazilian meld of “High Fidelity” and “About a Boy,” then veering surprisingly into black comedy, “Durval Discos” reps an auspicious feature debut for writer-helmer Anna Muylaert. Eccentric tale of a Sao Paulo mother and son who come into sudden possession of a 5-year-old girl is deft at every turn, with an underplayed absurdism slowly ratcheting upward. Pic will rep a marketing challenge, since later twists constitute the major arthouse sales point, yet it would be a shame for auds to have them spoiled in advance. Still, pic merits consideration by quality offshore distribs.
Fact that life has too long stood still for elderly hausfrau Carmita (Etty Fraser) and lone grown child Durval (Ary Franca) is made clear by the business they own — a record store anachronistically devoted to vinyl. Customers are few. Nor do social prospects seem plentiful for the duo, with mum endlessly fussing around the shop and house above, while 45-year-old junior, when sulking, plays air guitar in his rock-poster-papered room.
Aware that mom has gone a tad senile, Durval persuades her to hire a housekeeper — albeit at the impossibly paltry salary she’s decided upon. Sole applicant not bothered by that factor is the young, beautiful, somewhat mysterious Celia (Leticia Sabatella). She seems a real find, but after just one day’s residence, she announces she’ll be gone a couple hours running an errand. When neither breakfast nor maid turn up the next morning, her employers investigate. Much to their surprise, Celia’s room is occupied only by the indefatigably cheerful Kiki (Isabela Guassco), a child who seems to think she’s visiting a relative’s horse ranch.
A note suggests Celia will be back in two days, so Durval and Carmita settle into entertaining their wee guest — Carmita with delight, but Durval somewhat grudgingly at first, since his mother hasn’t paid this much attention to him in years.
Once the tyke is finally put to bed, however, the baby sitters get a rude shock: TV news is reporting the kidnap of a wealthy family’s small daughter by criminals who’ve now been caught. “Celia” was shot dead in the fracas, and the child’s whereabouts remain unknown.
Durval is all for calling the police at once, but Carmita begs they wait at least until morning. Her newly roused maternal instincts keep pushing that deadline, however, until it’s clear she’s gone a little off her rocker — first buying the girl a pony on impulse (and letting it clomp around the house), then going further off the deep end as Durval realizes she’ll keep the kid by any means necessary, including violence.
Consequences rapidly escalate over simply, briskly plotted pic’s 24-hour time span. While a couple of the supporting performances are overly broad, for the most part “Durval Discos” works because its deadpan tenor doesn’t telegraph the disastrous later events, lending them a real left-field kick.
Humor’s slightly subversive, stealthy nature is much assisted by d.p. Jacob Solitrenick’s smart lensing, which often lets gags play out from a distance in long-held, poker-faced longshots. Busy, funky production design by Ana Mara Abreu is another plus, as is an excellent soundtrack full of both ’70s Brasilpop hits and lightly satirical suspense music from Andre Abujamra.
Franca’s hangdog look and ’70s shag ‘do make him an inspired straight man to Fraser’s ebullient, nutty septuagenarian. Little Guasco, an unknown picked from 100 auditioning children, proves a screen natural. Tech package is first-rate.