Synopsis: While spending summer vacation with her family on the idyllic southeast coast of Brazil, 14-year-old Filipa (newcomer Laura Neiva) discovers that her father (Vincent Cassel of Black Swan), a famous author, is betraying her mother by dallying with a beautiful young American woman (Camilla Belle of From Prada to Nada). Wrestling with the truth, Filipa will soon discover that her father’s infidelity is only the first of many dark secrets that lurk beneath the surface of her seemingly perfect family.
À Deriva 8.0
eyelights: its terrific cast. its coming-of-age story. its realistic depiction at a family break-up. its lovely locales.
eyesores: its mildly contrived ending.
“All you do is to lie to each other. All you do is lie.”
‘À Deriva’ is a 2009 Brazilian coming-of-age story by Heitor Dhalia. Set in the late ’70s, in a Rio de Janeiro oceanside community, it follows 14-year-old Filipa as she manages the attentions of a few local boys and struggles with the slow dissolution of her parents’ marriage. It shows the gradual loss of innocence of the young teen as she opens her eyes to an adult reality.
Though this may sound not uncommon or even a bit heavy, ‘À Deriva’ is a rare film that balances the dramatic and lighter beats of life very well: in one moment there may be tensions between family members, and in the other they’re rising above it to enjoy each other’s company, allowing themselves -and us- some reprieve. It felt like a fairly natural familial dynamic, contextually.
Filipa’s childhood reality begins to unravel when she begins to suspect her father of having an affair with an American woman living nearby. After seeing them talk in secret, she begins to dig through his things and spies on him, seeing a completely different side of her beloved papa. Meanwhile, she also has to content with her mother’s excessive drinking, which she believes is related.
Except that there are secrets she hasn’t yet unearthed.
She also has an ambivalationship with Artur, a local boy who has his eye on her: though she is curious about boys, she is also reticent, pushing and pulling constantly, leading him into the arms of one of her friends. Filipa has to learn to manage her feelings and desires, which are complicated by her changing perception of her father. Soon she becomes the target of other young men.
She’ll have to grow up. Fast.
All of it felt real to me. Filipa’s curiosity reminded me of my own teen years and her lurching first steps made sense contextually. I also believed every decision that she made along the way, even the more complicated ones. As well, the relationship between the parents was realistic: visibly strained, but contained, as years of resentment pulled them apart beyond healing or repair.
‘À Deriva’ shows us imperfect people (is there any other kind?) trying to maintain the vision that they have committed to, but finding it nearly impossible to do. But, for all their mistakes, there is always an attempts to right the course of their lives: the mother promises to stop drinking, the father casts aside his artistic vanity, and Filipa attempts to still the chaos inside her.
The cast is absolutely pristine. Filipa is played by newcomer Laura Neiva, who’s utterly natural and an imperfect beauty. She feels real. Her father, Matias, is played by Vincent Cassel, who has never been better. Débora Bloch plays her mom, Clarice, and she wear the burden of the family’s secrets very well. The rest of the cast, even the younger ones, are equally up to the challenge.
I was particularly impressed with the fact that the cast spoke a mixture of French and Portugese, though mostly Portugese, sometimes alternating between the two mid-conversation. I have no idea if they learned the languages phonetically but this particular form of bilingualism was interesting to me. Sadly, the DVD didn’t benefit English-speakers, only offering subtitles for the Portugese.
Thankfully, there are few instances of this and it didn’t leave huge gaps. Non-French speakers shouldn’t avoid this picture for this reason alone; the picture still holds up. And it’s worth seeing if not for the carefully-crafted story, then at least for its beauty, what with its cast, the Brazilian coast and various locales as well as its compelling piano score by Antonio Pinto.
‘À Deriva’ didn’t seem like much at first glance, but it wound up being one of my favourite motion pictures in 2016. That it was the last new picture that I saw was a lovely way to end a year filled with quite a number of memorable ones. Granted, it’s just a slice of real life, but it’s depicted so perfectly and beautifully, with such understanding and compassion that it’s worth seeing.
It’s not one to cast aside.
Date of viewing: December 31, 2016