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THREE MARIAS, THE (director: Aluisio Abranches; screenwriters: Heitor Dalia/Wilson Freire; cinematographer: Marcelo Durst; editors: Aluisio Abranches/Karen Harley; music: André Abujamra; cast: Tuca Andrada (Cabo Tenório), Marieta Severo (Filomena Capadócio), Julia Lemmertz (Maria Francisca), Maria Luisa Mendonca (Maria Rosa), Luiza Mariani (Maria Pia), Enrique Diaz (Zé das Cobras), Wagner Moura (Jesuíno Cruz), Carlos Vereza (Firmino Santos Guerra), Cassiano Carneiro (José Tranquilo), Fabio Limma (Arcanjo), Taveira Junior (Sertanejo); Lazaro Ramos (Catrevagem), André Barros (Joao Capadocio); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Aluisio Abranches/Eva Mariani/Cesare Petrillo/Vieri Razzini; Empire Pictures; 2002-Italy/Brazil, in Portuguese with English subtitles)
“The Three Marias is thoroughly ‘an eye for an eye’ biblical revenge drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The Three Marias is thoroughly ‘an eye for an eye’ biblical revenge drama. Brazilian director Aluisio Abranches (“A Glass of Rage“-1999) has created a visually beautiful film that is boldly filled with characters whose only passion is hatred. The characters are mildly interesting for their quirks, but otherwise remain distant and undeveloped. There’s no softness displayed, and no character to feel sympathy for despite their pains. Every character is deeply flawed and uses the Bible as a crutch, but each fails to walk away with the spiritual message intended. The characters reminded me most of those in ‘spaghetti westerns’ Clint Eastwood became famous for in his early days, but the aim here is a more arty presentation for the physical action. What lingers, however, is how lurid the action is and how gripping vengeance is for those who fall under its spell. The film is not helped by choppy editing, that confusingly intercuts across the three story lines. The film was also not helped by stilted performances.

The film’s opening cuts between two scenes of rejection and brutality over different time periods. In a flashback of some thirty years earlier, Firmino Santos Guerra (Vereza) was abandoned in the early 70’s by his beautiful fiancée, Filomenia (Severo). She has left him to marry his hated rival Joao Capadocio, and has two sons and three daughters. The parallel scene is set in 2000, as Firmino couldn’t bear any longer his loss of Filomenia and decides to exact revenge. The sixtysomething Firmino orders his two sons to kill Filomenia’s two sons and husband. They remove the eyes of the younger son and douse her husband with gasoline and set him on fire.

Filomenia comes out of mourning with no tears but hatred as the bitter widow orders her three daughters, all named Maria, to each hire a professional hit man to kill Firmino and his two sons. The main body of the film covers the three Marias travelling across the northern Brazilian hinterlands to find the three ruthless hitmen, as each daughter will face a different obstacle to overcome for this assignment.

Maria Francisca (Lemmertz), the eldest, has to convince hit man Zé das Cobras (Diaz), who has not spoken to a woman since the death of his mother, to execute Firmino. Zé learns from his Bible reading of Adam and Eve, that all women are treacherous snakes and not to be trusted. What I learned from him, is that if you eat snakes with liquor you will overcome all your fears. Zé’s educational development is based on superstition, and his non-linear way of thinking is sinuous.

The middle daughter Maria Rosa (Mendonca) searches for Police Chief Tenório (Andrada), a vain man of about 30, whose expertise is in handling knives. He’s not a hit man and only does what’s legal to enforce the law, as Maria’s job is to convince him to break man’s law for God’s.

The hardest task falls to the youngest daughter, Maria Pia (Mariani ), who finds her hit man locked up in prison. He’s the ruthless amoral killer Jesuíno Cruz (Moura), also known as “The Devil’s Horse.” The first thing Maria has to do is plan his escape. His philosophy is that of duality. He believes that all men are really two, and that they must be split in two in death. His motto is: “I’m the Devil’s Horse. I relieve God of carnage and give the devil something to eat.” He has a scar reaching from the top of his forehead that divides his body in half.

The revenge plan gets executed, but not in the way it was planned. To work as a moral parable, the story should have been more human. The religious ideas and the need for justice presented might be worth noting, but they are not smoothly incorporated into the story. Everything feels too symbolic, as the sparseness of the dialogue and the twisted story lines never match the stylish photography. The black mood of the film never reaches the black comedy I believe the filmmaker was after. It’s a good effort that works in part, but not as a whole. The story had too abrupt of an ending, as it felt as if something was still missing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”