×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Happy Desert

A young Brazilian girl slides into the world of prostitution in "Happy Desert," a confidently directed but unsurprising tale from Paulo Caldas. Though the issues it tackles are hot, the story struggles to spring to life and hold interest in its unremarkable main character.

With:
Jessica - Nash Laila Mark - Peter Ketnath Pamela - Hermila Guedes Dona - Zeze Mota

A young Brazilian girl slides into the world of prostitution in “Happy Desert,” a confidently directed but unsurprising tale from Paulo Caldas (“Perfumed Ball.”) Though the issues it tackles are hot — sexual tourism with underage girls, smuggling wild animals out of the country — the story struggles to spring to life and hold interest in its unremarkable main character. Pic’s preferred style of brutal, exaggerated closeups reinforces a documentary feel, which will probably make festival audiences happier than theatrical customers.

Opening is set in Brazil’s rough Northeast territory, a fascinating location in itself. Jessica (Nash Laila), a swollen-lipped 16-year-old with a blank expression, lives in the outbacks with her mother (Magdale Alves) and the latter’s lover, Biu (Servilio Holanda).

Unlit interiors drained of color convey the gloom of their meager existence. So do several well-chosen details, such as silent family meals of goat meat, and later of a pet armadillo who suddenly becomes lunch. The armadillo incident connects to a local backroom trade in protected animals, notably huge snakes, which adds some color but has no chance to develop into a serious expose of animal smuggling.

Jessica is abused by Biu in a painful, slam-bang rape scene shot in extreme closeups. She then morphs into an after-school hooker and soon drifts away to beach town Recife.

Caldas is most on-target in the film’s midsection, during which he offers a realistic peek at Jessica’s grungy life as a teenage prostitute. Sharing a tiny room with three other girls, she dreams of a better life with a man who loves her. In one affecting scene, she has a heart-to-heart with her suicidal roommate Pamela (the fine Hermila Guedes, who played a similar role in “Suely in the Sky”) about growing older and losing customers to fresher girls.

The turning point comes when Jessica meets a good-looking young German (Peter Ketnath, the long-haired star of “Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures”) who’s into drugs and seems like the answer to her dreams. This is pure conjecture, however, since throughout the film Laila maintains the same impenetrable look, making it hard to empathize with her or imagine her feelings.

Thanks to an unlikely plot development, the last 20 minutes shift to Berlin, where d.p. Paulo Jacinto dos Reis’ wobbly, handheld camera style gives way to sober, orderly lensing. This third location broadens the film’s scope to yet another metaphorical desert of the soul.

Jessica’s comment that “the German sun is as cold as a refrigerator light” got an appreciative laugh at the film’s Berlinale Panorama screening.

A rocking score by Fabio Trummer and Erastos Vasconcelos gives the simply framed shots a bit of rhythm.

Happy Desert

Brazil-Germany

Production: A Camara Filmes (Brazil)/Noirfilm (Germany) co-production in association with ZDF/Arte. Produced by Germano Coelho. Co-producer, Boris Michalski, Didi Danquart. Executive producer, Fernando Zagallo. Directed by Paulo Caldas. Screenplay, Caldas, Marcelo Gomes, Manoela Dias, Xico Sa.

Crew: Camera (color), Paulo Jacinto dos Reis; editor, Vania Debs; music, Fabio Trummer, Erastos Vasconcelos; production designer, Moacyr Gramacho; costume designer, Barbara Cunha; sound (Dolby digital), Valeria Ferro; associate producer, Hannes Stromberg. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 15, 2007. Running time: 88 MIN.

With: Jessica - Nash Laila Mark - Peter Ketnath Pamela - Hermila Guedes Dona - Zeze MotaWith: Magdale Alves, Servilio Holanda, Joao Miguel, Aramis Trindade, David Rosesnbauer, Marilia Mendes.

More Film

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez 'Absolutely' Wants to Direct Film and Television

    Jennifer Lopez epitomizes the phrase “she’s done it all” — but there’s still more that the superstar would like to do. Lopez recently directed her first music video, “Limitless,” the track featured on her new rom-com “Second Act,” and it seems the multi-hyphenate has caught the directing bug. “Absolutely, absolutely,” Lopez responded when asked by [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    Rian Johnson's Murder Mystery 'Knives Out,' Starring Daniel Craig, Set for Thanksgiving Release

    Lionsgate has bought distribution rights to Daniel Craig’s murder mystery “Knives Out” and set a Thanksgiving release date of Nov. 27. MRC financed “Knives Out,” directed by Rian Johnson — best known for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” Lionsgate will also distribute the pic worldwide. The movie came together during the Toronto International Film Festival [...]

  • The favourite Movie

    Olivia Colman to Be Honored by Palm Springs Festival for 'The Favourite'

    “The Favourite” star Olivia Colman will receive the Desert Palm Achievement Award by the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The award will be presented by her co-star Emma Stone at the festival’s awards gala on Jan. 3 at the Palm Springs Convention Center. The festival, now in its 30th year, runs from Jan. 3 to [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Motion Pictures Academy Announces Scientific and Technical Awards

    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced nine scientific and technical achievements, represented by 27 individual recipients, to be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. In addition, Curtis Clark will be receiving the John A. Bonner Award for his service [...]

  • Once Upon a Deadpool trailer

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Deadpool' Earns $1 Million on Wednesday

    Fox’s “Once Upon a Deadpool,” a reimagining of “Deadpool 2,” picked up an estimated $1 million from 1,566 theaters during Wednesday previews. In the PG-13 version, the Merc with a Mouth retells the heroic sequel as a bedtime story to Fred Savage a la “Princess Bride.” Because there aren’t clear comps, rival studios and industry [...]

  • Queen of Scots Hair and Makeup

    'Mary Queen of Scots' Hair, Makeup Artist Gave Substance and Style to Battling Queens

    Jenny Shircore has done the makeup and hair of several queens over the years: Cate Blanchett in “Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” (she won an Oscar for the former) and Emily Blunt in “The Young Victoria.”  In fact, she had to be convinced to do it again for Saoirse Ronan’s Queen Mary and Margot Robbie’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content