A Wolf at the Door may appear on the surface to be a standard, formulaic Fatal Attraction-style plot transported in location and time. However, where this film differentiates itself is rightly in its reflection of its setting and its lack of concern over traditional conflicts caused by extra-marital affairs but rather it seeks to examine the characters on their own terms, how they interact and how they affect one another.
A Wolf at the Door starts with the inciting incident, a crime, a mother (Fabíula Nascimento) reports an unknown woman has picked up her six-year-old girl at school. While being questioned the school teacher starts remembering certain details that give the investigators a slight lead. As they summon the girl’s father (Milhem Cortaz) he confesses to an affair that leads suspicions to center on his lover, Rosa (Leandra Leal).
In a tale where at times witnesses are unreliable, and they slowly give more details about what they did or didn’t do, revealing layers of truth; a fractured chronology with frames and some narrative ellipses will be not only preferable but almost a necessity.
Much of what makes this film work is the pairing of cinematography and editing in long takes. In these hypnotic shots with slow pushes like a Brazilian version of Fred Kelemen’s work with Bela Tarr the viewer is drawn into the madness unfolding, and it also allows the actors the freedom, and the challenge to work uninterrupted without alternate takes. This continuous imagery with precise movement and mise-en-scène may seem less cinematic to those who have gotten too used to the ever shortening shot-lengths in Hollywood films; however, it’s quite the opposite. It’s astounding to watch on a technical level alone, and much more impressive when you see what it does for this story.
Whenever writing on a film produced outside the US, and not in the English language, there is a temptation to do a standard mandatory bit on cultural relativism; especially when its a culture I’m as familiar with as the Brazilian one being a dual citizen. Yet that familiarity with the culture doesn’t guarantee the success of the product in question, just as much as “based on true events,” which this film boasts; doesn’t guarantee 100% accuracy. The cultural relativism bit bears saying here because there are certain plot points that may challenge suspension of disbelief that are quite culturally accurate and ring true.
This is another film that is fearless in tackling a taboos, not only in general, but using it as its climactic moment, and that’s as much as bears saying without giving too much away.
Because they sometimes get overlooked I will first give kudos to a standout supporting turn in this film: Thalita Carauta, playing a character who only gets thrown into the mix by chance on a few occasions steals every scene she’s in. A bulk of the film is carried by Leandra Leal and Milhem Cortaz, more by Leal for her scenes with Nascimento. They are both magnetic, and precise in charting their persona’s unraveling, and make it quite easy for those shots to hold as long as they do. They turn in two of the most impressive performances to date this year.
A Wolf at the Door is definitely not a story to be entered into lightly, and will most definitely not find universal favor. However, those believe that great art can and should be created from human immorality and depravity should give it a look.
A Wolf at the Door will be available on DVD and digital video on August 25th.