Director: Vicente Alves do Ó (Portugal). Year of Release: 2018
A holiday villa which looks like it was designed by the same architect who did the big house in Parasite. Some music starts playing – the sort of soft Bossa Nova that yuppies dance to. Sure enough, four people emerge, and start to dance with each other. To help those of us who have difficulties recognising faces, one has a dark beard, one has a lighter beard, one is clean shaved, and one is a woman.
Francisco (light beard) is the owner of the villa. Simão (dark beard) is a film screenwriter who’s writing a new script about which he is being unusually coy. Vasco (unshaven) is seeing a married man online, but they have never met, while Joana (woman) is trying to have a baby with Francisco. This is what passes for backstory in the film. The characters are fairly indistinguishable. We learn little more about the their personal history, nor about their interests.
Their conversations barely stretch beyond what they are going to do with the day. Joana wants to go riding, Vasco wants to go to the beach, Simão wants to stay in the villa, whereas Francisco doesn’t care what they do, as long as they’re all together. Or it may have been Francisco who wanted to go to the beach and Simão who wanted to stay in a group together. Later on, they will have an equally banal conversation about what they’re going to eat.
None of them shows any interest in culture, say, or science, or history. If they were to sit down and play trivial pursuit (which, trust me, would be more interesting than what we see them doing), the game would last for several days with none of them being able to answer any of the questions, unless they chose the edition which was based on their small circle of acquaintances, and just who had slept with whom when.
We learn that one of those acquaintances, David, has got in touch with each of them, and that they were all involved at some time with David, but that it had ended badly. Or, in one case, it hadn’t ended at all. David just started seeing other people and never got in touch. David has been out of the country for 10 years, but is on the way to meet them. But which of them is he particularly interested in meeting? And do we really care?
David acts as a Godot figure, always being on his way, but every so often sending a message saying that he’s been delayed by bad traffic or forest fires. Just in case we are desperate for some plot, the film is set during the bushfires which hit Portugal a few years ago. Every so often, we see smoke on the horizon. I guess this is supposed to be a metaphor for David’s looming appearance, but as metaphors go, its pretty ungainly and tells us very little.
While they are waiting for David to arrive, the friends jump into the swimming pool, drink gin, and bicker. There is a fist fight, various people sleep with each other, and some get very upset. None of this is able to disguise the fact that nothing is happening, and it is happening very slowly. Rarely has a film which is billed as lasting less than an hour and a half felt so long.
Let’s take one example among many. Simão and Francisco, or possibly Simão and Vasco (I’m pretty sure one of them was Simão and they were both interchangeable men) have been chatting, and one of them has revealed an Important Revelation, which, anywhere else, wouldn’t be all that. The one who isn’t Simão goes to pour a couple of glasses of wine, and by the time he returns, Simão isn’t there.
How would you react to this event? Maybe think that Simão needed a piss, or even that he fancied a little town on his own after hearing something surprizing (which, to be honest, wasn’t that surprizing). Instead, the three remaining friends, who are all now back at the swimming pool, get exceedingly agitated and launch an immediate hunt to try and track Simão down. This is not how normal people behave.
While all this is happening, we hear a voiceover from David throughout the film. I can tell you now that it’s from David, as I’ve read a couple of reviews, written by people who were either paying more attention than me, or who’d read the press kit. I’m not sure that it matters who is making these bland generalised statements about the past relationships between the five. As ever, no-one really has any distinguishing characteristics, so it’s all just the words of the scriptwriter anyway.
I’m not sure if the fact that all the characters obviously have more money than they know what they do with makes them more obnoxious, but I guess it does. It certainly helps us see what makes Brennende Sonne so different to Parasite. Bong Joon-Ho is clearly aware that his main characters are loathsome individuals and makes no attempt to justify their actions. Vicente Alves do Ó seems to like his characters, even though they give him no reason to do so.
There is one thing that must be said in defence of the film (indeed, it’s been the only positive thing that many reviews have been able to say). This is a film about people, most of whom are gay, but none of whom is defined by their sexuality. This is true, but they are not really defined by much more than looking good and being able to spend their holidays with their boring friends somewhere like this. This does not inspire much excitement, whoever they prefer to sleep with.