Dogma tactics come to Brazil courtesy of thesper Selton Mello in his feature helming debut, “December.” Like its Nordic progenitors, pic revels in dysfunctionality, using a hand-held claustrophobic style to reveal supposed truths. But in this tale of a man returning home for the holidays, Mello appears to think throwing in every imaginable problem and icing the story with a spectacularly manipulative finale will somehow keep the Christmas pudding erect; instead, it collapses into its own heaviness. Mello has undeniable talent, but moderation is required. Pic will play Brazilian fests, though it’s unlikely to do well even at home.
After an unspecified time away, Caio (Leonardo Medeiros) shows up at the house of his older brother Theo (Paulo Guarnieri) on Christmas Eve. Only cute-as-a-button nephew Bruno (Fabricio Reis) shows him any genuine affection: sister-in-law Fabi (Graziella Moretto) is annoyed, father Miguel (Lucio Mauro) will barely address him, and alcoholic mom Mercia (Darlene Gloria) is so sloshed and effusive that her greeting borders on the inappropriate.
Since getting out of prison for vehicular manslaughter, Caio’s been living quietly in the small town of Ipatinga, running a junkyard; for his upwardly mobile family, his downmarket employment is itself distasteful. After a deeply unpleasant time at the holiday get-together, Caio goes to stay with old friends Neto (Thelmo Fernandes) and Alex (Hossen Minussi), two losers trapped in the past who can barely afford beers let alone the cheap prostitutes they crave.
Neither plot nor style is especially new here, as ultra-nasty Miguel forbids the lily-livered Theo from sending Caio any money, through Caio asks for nothing except normal familial warmth.
Mello climaxes the drama with a montage of despair, cutting from Mercia downing anti-depressants with gulps of wine, Miguel contemplating his Viagra dependency, and Fabi examining her aging naked body. By this point, nothing grabs the emotions since everyone’s awash in self-pity, and Mello apparently doesn’t realize that adding yet one more suffering individual simply tips the scales toward the ridiculous.
Pic picked up several prizes at the national Festival Paulinia in July, including the director award, which isn’t all that surprising in view of the considered visuals Mello employs, and his sure hand with fellow actors (Gloria and Moretto took home thesping honors). There are memorable images, from an early graceful crane shot over the junkyard to young Bruno playing with a mobile hanging from the ceiling, but the script, so over-the-top that it crosses into melodrama, brings down anything he and d.p. Lula Carvalho accomplish through lensing.