Take it to the bank that in any movie titled “All is Well,” nothing will be, and that predictable equation applies to Pocas Pascoal’s melodrama of two Angolan sisters struggling in Lisbon. As an all-too-rare account of the plight of those from the former Portuguese colony finding themselves in the land of their old rulers, the pic scores minor points for its sociopolitical novelty. But Pascoal’s approach is too earnest and literal-minded to push her work to another level, ensuring indifferent critical and commercial results internationally despite the film’s top narrative feature prize at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
The saga of young Alda (Ciomara Morais) and Mara (Cheila Lima) finding themselves stuck in a Lisbon slum while awaiting contact with their mother in Angola brings to mind Pedro Costa’s seminal films about Cape Verde immigrants in the old Lisbon slum of Fontainhais (particularly “In Vanda’s Room” and “Colossal Youth”). For all the rotten luck they encounter during the 90-minute playing time, Pascoal’s characters don’t have it nearly as bad as Costa’s impoverished subjects, as Alda and Mara eventually find themselves in a halfway decent apartment after a chain of difficulties.
Getting them there constitutes the pic’s first section, which follows the sisters as they traipse from one hostel to another across hilly Lisbon (uninterestingly captured on digital). Instructed to meet a woman who will connect them with their mother in a slum of mainly Angolan residents located across a river, the cute gals inevitably get hit on by young guys such as Carlos (Willion Brandao) and Nelson (Jose Carlos Cardoso), who suspiciously shower them with interest and helpful assistance.
But at least they land jobs with a seamstress, Alice (Vera Cruz), and that apartment. Pic settles in for a dull stretch in which they toil away for Alice (who treats them like slaves), await weekly phone calls from their mom, and deal with the local men, who range from creepy to creepier. From this point, whatever little that’s well turns generally worse.
Pascoal and Marc Pernet’s screenplay lacks a sense of character nuance, viewing the sisters as innocent angels (though Alda is the realist of the two), men as objects to be feared, and older women as imperiously rude. Not an ounce of surprise or the unexpected slips into the script, which is filled with such on-the-nose exchanges as “I’m scared of that man!,” “Life is unfair” and “This time, I’m the one who’s deciding what to do with my life!”
Thesps prove unable to invigorate their lines or situations; Morais and Lima are a bit too pretty to convince, and some weepy scenes border on risible. Production elements are bland, the highlight being a pleasant diminution of music.