A stripped-back, subtle and involving drama about a 17-year-old girl’s nightmarish spiritual journey, Luis Felipe Rocha’s “Night Passage” is quietly compelling fare right up until its last 15 minutes, when logic starts to unravel. But by that time, the film, centered on a fine perf by Portuguese tube thesp Leonor Seixas, has made its point well. Pic took the Silver Palm at the recent Valencia fest, and its theme, calculated to appeal to both teenagers and the parents who damage them, could lead to occasional arthouse birth offshore.
Following the death of a friend, high school student Mariana (Seixas) takes a walk on the beach, where she is raped by junkie Salvador (Joao Pedro Vaz). Not telling anyone, Mariana goes on to her father’s birthday party.
Salvador goes home where he finds his house has been burgled and his mother killed. Cop Vitor (Joao Ricardo), who tells the story in voiceover, arrests Salvador, who denies the murder, though his alibi is the rape of Mariana.
Mariana’s problems worsen with the discovery that she’s pregnant. But when Vitor confronts her with Salvador’s story about the rape, Mariana’s shame and guilt prevent her from telling the truth — even when Vitor, whose interest in the case turns out to be more than simply professional, tells her Salvador has AIDS.
Mariana refuses a blood test, breaks off her relationship with b.f. Luis (Cristovao Campos), and gets the address of an illegal abortion clinic. However, she doesn’t have the money to pay for the abortion, so she starts wrapping bandages tightly around her waist to conceal the growing child inside her.
The horrible, inexorable logic of her situation is painstakingly followed through, with the thriller-ish will-she/won’t-she confess elements sitting neatly alongside the script’s deeper drama. It all adds up to a convincing psychological portrayal by Seixas as the victim of a guilt rooted in her conventional bourgeois background emanating from Mariana’s mother, Teresa (Maria Joao Falcao).
Though not always subtle, the script retains a horrible plausibility for most of the going. Final minutes, when the reasons for Victor’s interest in Mariana are made clear, feel too pat.