(director/writer: Miquel Gomes; screenwriter: Mariana Ricardo; cinematographer: Rui Poças; editors: Telmo Churro/Miquel Gomes; music: Joana Sa; cast: Teresa Madruga (Pilar), Laura Soveral (Old Aurora), Ana Moreira (Young Aurora), Henrique Espírito Santo (Old Ventura), Carloto Cotta (Young Ventura), Isabel Cardoso (Santa), Ivo Müller (Aurora’s Husband), Manuel Mesquita (Mário); Runtime: 118; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Luís Urbando/ Sandro Aguilar; New Wave Films; 2012-Portugal-in Portuguese with English subtitles)

The art-house film transcends some absurd moments and leaves us with a lyrical and magically satisfying romantic adventure story that is both eccentric and sublime.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Portuguese writer-director Miquel Gomes (“The Face You Deserve”/”The Beloved Month of August”), a former movie critic, follows along the lines of F. W. Murnau’s masterpiece swansong classic black-and-white 1931 narrative about forbidden love and opposing civilizations, and he films this enigmatic drama also in black-and-white as a tribute to all the great silent films. It moves from a tepid story set in Lisbon to an exciting one set in Africa.

The film is divided into a prologue and two chapters: Lost Paradise and Paradise.

The opening prologue in colonial Africa has an intrepid bearded white hunter in a pith helmet marching with natives in an unexplored savannah terrain. The lonely wealthy plantation owner is unable to live anymore without his wife and while crossing a river feeds himself to a crocodile, as the natives do a ritual dance in his honor.

In Lost Paradise, a devout Catholic and kindly do-gooder, the retired old woman named Pilar (Teresa Madruga), tries to help her despondent and paranoid gambling addicted elderly neighbor Miss Aurora (Laura Soveral), who thinks her black maid Santa (Isabel Cardoso) is putting a spell on her with sorcery. The lonely Aurora (think 1927 Murnau Sunrise) is hospitalized and realizes her estranged daughter, living in Canada, will not visit, asks Pilar to locate her old friend Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo) and bring him to the hospital. But she dies before he’s located in his nursing home.

Things pick-up as Ventura has coffee with Pilar and Santa after Aurora’s funeral, and he tells them his passionate love story in the chapter entitled Paradise. We learn that the Portuguese colonist in the prologue was Aurora’s father and he left her his African farm. The young Aurora (Ana Moreira) marries a respected big-game hunter (Ivo Müller) and is happily married and pregnant. But she falls for the handsome Italian, the young Ventura (Carloto Cotta), who is visiting the farm as a band member in her husband’s best friend Mario’s (Manuel Mesquita) popular rock band. Their reckless love leads to tragedy and abandonment, and under dire circumstances the lovers part and never see each other again even though still in love. It’s cleverly filmed like a silent and what we hear are only voiceovers from their love letters, doo-wop music from Ventura’s rock band, and observe how for a short period in the 1970s on Aurora’s tea plantation, in presumably Mozambique, the affair started and ended.

The unusual telling of a familiar doomed illicit affair is measured against the onset of the rebellion of the natives against their masters, and though the rebellion remains only as a background story the observations of the colonialists is chillingly on the money. The art-house film transcends some early absurd moments and leaves us with a lyrical and magically satisfying romantic adventure story that is both eccentric and sublime (it very well might be a reflection on early films, as well as the Portuguese colonialists).