Newly wed arrives at her husband's family house, in the country. The heavy atmosphere of the house frightens her, and she takes refuge in her homosexual son-in-law's room, who is kept locked and hidden from society. A ...展开tragedy occurs, causing her departure. She's only to return seventeen years later, and sick.
If you have a soft spot for ruined grandeur, for romantic decay, you'll be captivated by the opening shots of "The Murdered House," a Brazilian movie that is playing today and tomorrow at the First Avenue Screening Room. The picture focuses on an elegant family ravaged with debts; their mansion is falling to pieces—and so (on a grand scale) are they.
The movie, which is intensely operatic, begins well; two members of this oppressive tribe detest the entire clan and are eager to humiliate it. One is a defiant transvestite, who says that he's possessed by the soul of his dead aunt, and the other is the beautiful, restless wife of one of the glum sons. (Norma Bengell—who bears a stunning resemblance to Jeanne Moreau — brings strength and subtlety to a complex part.) Although the Brazilian director, Paulo Cesar Saraceni, has studied with Bernardo Bertolucci and Marco Bellochio; his extrav-vagent personas seems more akin to those of Federico Fellini.
About halfway through the movie—after a botched suicide and a successful one—the narrative suddenly jumps 17 years and becomes thoroughly confusing. The characters haven't aged at all (although some of them have grown quite crazy). There's some incest afoot, but—due to the fact that a baby or two were born off camera—it's terribly hard to tell which mother is making out with whose son, and who did or didn't sleep with the gardener.
However, the most impassioned couple hits the sack in such a public spot that their relatives needn't miss a single motion. (Despite the lack of privacy, this scene is extraordinarily, erotic.) But much of the acting declines into gusts of bitter laughter and stagey declamations, as hatred becomes the motivation for almost everything. Two characters rend their clothes in rapid succession, acorpse gets its face slapped—finally, we're in a realm beyond tragedy or lunacy, and the emotions have become too exotic to follow.
The photography is magnificent throughout: the browns, blacks, and whites of the landscape simmer in contrast to the lush green gardens, and there's a daring shot of a lifeless body that recalls Mantegna's foreshortned view of the dead Christ. Although the movie doesn't fulfill the promise of its first scenes, let's hope that more of Mr. Saraceni's films are shown in this country.