×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Loveling’ (Benzinho)

Brazilian star Karine Teles shines as a mother with her hands full in a melodrama that radiates with lived-in truth and everyday detail.

Director:
Gustavo Pizzi
With:
Karine Teles, Otavio Muller, Adriana Esteves, Cesar Troncoso, Konstantinos Sarris

1 hour 37 minutes

Some people go to the movies in search of authenticity, while others merely seek escapism. “Loveling” was clearly intended with the former group in mind, as Brazilian director Gustavo Pizzi crafts a warm and wonderfully universal love story that comes across surprisingly unconventional for something so familiar, if only because it focuses not on youthful passion (that more popular of screen subjects) but the full range of emotions a middle-aged mother feels toward her family.

The film’s soul truth springs from the fact that its leading lady and co-writer, Karine Teles (who just so happens to be Pizzi’s wife), has either lived through or imagined herself facing so many of the incidents it depicts. As a result, “Loveling” represents a wonderfully intimate project for both the couple who created it and anyone fortunate enough to encounter the film on its festival run, which kicked off as one of Sundance’s opening-night selections. Subsequent theatrical exposure looks more iffy, as the escapism crowd holds greater sway on commercial cinema today.

Simply put, mainstream audiences seem reluctant to invest between $15-20 to watch a Brazilian mom worry about such things as whether her teenage son can be trusted to get home safely from a party where alcohol is served, or how to encourage her husband’s latest business venture when it could mean having to sell their house and all the memories it has witnessed. Because real people deal with such headaches everyday, they don’t necessarily rush to see them depicted on-screen, and yet, in Pizzi and Teles’ hands, such kitchen-sink melodrama takes on a kind of poetic profundity.

That’s because the couple have woven an astonishing amount of personal detail into this tapestry, which spans only a matter of weeks and somehow encompasses several decades of lived experience. Though told in chronological order, the story doesn’t necessarily feel linear, owing to its near-prismatic collection of scenes, which offer candid glimpses into the Ventura Santi family’s hectic routine.

At the same handball game where Irene (Teles) watches her 16-year-old son Fernando (Konstantinos Sarris) block a penalty kick to win the game, her sister Sonia (Adriana Esteves) appears with oversize sunglasses and a nasty black eye, desperate to get away from her abusive husband. Though she’s got enough on her mind with a German sports academy trying to lure Fernando away on a scholarship, when presented with any situation pertaining to her immediate family, Irene doesn’t hesitate to assist, and so she insists on bringing Sonia and her frightened son (Vicente Demori) under their roof — which is perhaps more than the already overtaxed building can stand.

Together, Pizzi and Teles (who previously collaborated on 2010’s “Craft”) succeed in making the family’s living spaces feel every bit as rich with history as Brazilian director Kleber Mendonça Filho intended for Clara’s apartment in “Aquarius,” relying on well-chosen detail to reinforce the intimacy. In an early scene, we observe Irene’s husband (Otavio Muller) and their four kids (including the co-writers’ own twins) crowded around the kitchen table, while she wrestles with a leaky faucet on the edge of the frame. The next time Irene uses the sink, it erupts into a full-blown geyser. With the walls cracking and the front door blockaded for repair, everyone must climb in and out the window via a makeshift ladder.

As metaphors go, the crumbling beach house shouldn’t be interpreted as being representative of family problems so much as logistical ones: There’s far too much going on in Irene’s life for her to manage it all, and yet, she tries valiantly, which makes her one of the strongest female characters any actress has been given the chance to play in ages — and yet, there isn’t a shred of vanity in Teles’ positively lucent performance.

A small, round-nosed woman whose many stresses seems to concentrate into the broad frown of her lips, Irene is the sun around which her entire family orbits. Fussing over Fernando’s future one moment, yet completely self-effacing the next, she operates on a mix of maternal worry and seen-it-all-before weariness — as when she attempts to humor her husband’s latest get-rich-quick scheme: “I’m worried this will be like when you tried to promote college parties,” she says, offering a dose of skeptical support. While plenty assertive about her own needs, Irene’s demands are always motivated by what she thinks is best for others. For that reason, the scenes in which “Loveling” privileges private time with Irene tend to resonate most.

A story like this may seem too banal for some audiences, but there’s real beauty in the moments Pizzi has chosen to share, including some — Fernando crowding into the same bath as his twin brothers (Francisco and Artur Teles Pizzi), or dad sharing a forbidden late-night snack with his overweight son (played by Teles’ 10-year-old nephew, Luan) — that don’t necessarily advance the narrative but deepen our understanding of the family connections. “Loveling” takes place during the last days the Ventura Santi clan will ever exist in this form, and it captures as truthfully as any film possibly could the inevitable surrender any parent must undergo when her child is ready to become his own person.

Film Review: 'Loveling' (Benzinho)

Reviewed at DGA Theater, Los Angeles, Jan. 11, 2018. (In Sundance Film Festival — World Dramatic Competition.) Running time: 97 MIN. (Original title: “Benzinho”)

Production: (Brazil-Uruguay) A Bubbles Project, Telecine, Canal Brasil, TVZero production, in co-production with Mutante Cine. (International sales: New Europe Film Sales, Warsaw.) Producer: Tatiana Leite. Co-producers: Rodrigo Lettier, Agustina Chiarino, Fernando Epstein. Executive producers: Leite, Leo Ribeiro, Lettier.

Crew: Director: Gustavo Pizzi. Screenplay: Pizzi, Karine Teles. Camera (color): Pedro Faerstein. Editor: Lívia Serpa. Music: Daniel Roland, Maximiliano Silveira, Pedro Sá.

With: Karine Teles, Otavio Muller, Adriana Esteves, Cesar Troncoso, Konstantinos Sarris, Luan Teles, Vicente Demori, Arthur Teles Pizzi, Francisco Teles Pizzi.

More Film

  • Murder Mystery

    Netflix Reveals Record-Breaking Stats for Sandler-Aniston 'Murder Mystery' Flick

    “Murder Mystery,” the latest Adam Sandler film to debut on Netflix, broke viewing records on the streaming service, the company revealed Tuesday. The film, which is co-headlined by Jennifer Aniston, was seen by close to 30.9 million households in its first 3 days, according to a tweet sent out Tuesday afternoon. 🚨ADAM SANDLER AND JENNIFER [...]

  • Agents Accuse Writers Guild of Refusing

    Writers Guild 'Plans to Respond' to Agents' Proposal as Frustration Mounts

    In a sign of increasing frustration, Hollywood agents have accused the Writers Guild of America of foot-dragging in the bitter two-month dispute. “It has become clear as more days pass that the Guild is not interested in making a deal,” said the negotiating committee for the agents in statement issued Tuesday. “Over the past year, [...]

  • Jermaine Fowler arrives at the 69th

    Jermaine Fowler to Co-Star With Eddie Murphy in 'Coming 2 America' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jermaine Fowler is set to play one of the leads opposite Eddie Murphy in Paramount’s sequel “Coming 2 America,” sources tell Variety. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is on board to direct the pic with the studio planning an August 7, 2020 release. Plot details of “Coming 2 America” are unknown, as are the [...]

  • Henry Golding attends the Fragrance Foundation

    Henry Golding Starts Long House Shingle With 'Inheritance,' 'Harrington's Greatest Hits'

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Henry Golding has started Long House Productions in partnership with China’s Starlight Cultural Entertainment Group with two features in the works. Golding’s first feature under the Long House banner is action adventure “The Inheritance,” based on an original story idea by Alistair Hudson and Golding. Hudson is writing the script for [...]

  • Max Landis Entertainment Weekly party, Comic-Con

    Max Landis Accused of Rape, Assault and Psychological Abuse

    Screenwriter Max Landis is facing allegations of sexual abuse and psychological manipulation from eight women who told their stories to the Daily Beast. Two of the women spoke on the record, and another five were identified by pseudonyms. An eighth women confirmed that she filed a police complaint against Landis in 2008, in which she [...]

  • Michael Fassbender'X-Men: Dark Phoenix' film premiere,

    Michael Fassbender to Produce, Star in Lionsgate Spy Thriller 'Malko'

    Michael Fassbender will produce and star in the Lionsgate spy thriller “Malko,” based on Gerard de Villiers’ S.A.S. series, with the studio planning to launch a franchise with the project. Eric Warren Singer, who was nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay for “American Hustle,” will write the screenplay. Joe Drake, chairman of [...]

  • American Film Institute Hires Susan Ruskin

    Susan Ruskin Appointed AFI Conservatory Dean

    The American Film Institute has named producer and educator Susan Ruskin as dean of the AFI Conservatory, where she will lead AFI’s graduate film-training program. Ruskin, who will also carry the title of executive VP, will report directly to Bob Gazzale, AFI President and CEO, the organization announced Tuesday. She replaces producer Richard Gladstein, who left [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content