A soap opera filtered through the influences of Mike Leigh, Robert Altman and John Cassavetes, Jose Canijo’s “Blood of My Blood” is an overlong portrait of a family living in one of Lisbon’s rougher districts. Although writer-director Canijo developed the dialogue, a la Leigh, with his cast over a two-year workshop process, the actual material consists of little more than the customary tropes found in many urban melodramas, only here played by gifted actors. Global exposure will be restricted to major fests; local October opening will generate minor biz.
The film also will air in a TV version of three 50-minute episodes, adding to the impression that this is, fundamentally, a high-class telenovela. Early passages, the first set in the home of drug dealer Telmo (Nuno Lopes) and the second in the noisy apartment of Marcia (longtime Canijo collaborator Rita Blanco), have a lived-in, meandering quality to them, in which conversations take place in real time.
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Marcia’s home and family are the pic’s central focus, as she tries to keeps the clan together while her grown son Joca (Rafael Morais) gets involved in Telmo’s racket, grown daughter Claudia (Cleia Almeida) falls in love with her nursing-school professor Beto (Marcello Urgeghe), and lonely thirtysomething sister Ivete (Anabela Moreira) looks for a decent man (while being overly affectionate with Joca).
The dramatic structure is a chain of extended sequences, in which Canijo’s roving, telephoto-lensed camera observes the actors as if eavesdropping on them. Overlapping dialogue, which feels contrived here, evokes the Altman touch, while the dominance of actors’ performances above all else parallel’s Leigh. The setting isn’t close to the slum conditions in such Pedro Costa films as “In Vanda’s Room,” with the sense of poverty felt mostly through dialogue rather than visuals.
As he has done in previous films, such as 2004’s “In the Darkness of the Night,” Canijo dwells in the sordid corners of existence, here climaxing the film with a face-off between Ivete and Telmo that takes sexual humiliation to unpleasant levels. Blanco stands out as a mom who fights to defend her daughter’s future prospects. All thesps exhibit unaffected naturalism.
Production aspects are kept at a less-than-glossy level, and the decision to eschew a supporting music score is smart.