We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
Vincent Cassel widens his range and practises his Portuguese in Brazilian writer-director Heitor Dahlia's classy coming of age drama.
The opening frames of Heitor Dahlia's subtle, stylish family drama hint that the Brazilian writer-director might be out to mess with our heads. We see doting father Mathias (Vincent Cassel) splashing about in the shallows of an impossibly beautiful beach with (a girl we assume is) his impossibly beautiful nymphet of a daughter, momentarily distracted by the come-hither glance of an impossibly beautiful siren who speeds by on a passing boat. As it happens, he's more interested in exploring his character's messed up psychologies than needling away at ours, but it's a telling tableau that bubbles under with the myriad ambiguities of human relationships and desires in which Adrift trades.
Training a child's eye view on the mire of adult relationships can be a brilliant dramatic hook, one which cinematic classics as various as The Fallen Idol and The Go-Between to Pan's Labyrinth exploit. Dahlia steps it up a gear here, by having a child verging on adulthood - 14-year-old Filipa (a brilliantly naturalistic performance from first-time actress Laura Neiva) - act not only as a baffled observer of the adult world but as an naive agent in it, her own burgeoning sexuality further muddying the waters.
And they're pretty darn murky as it is - what with Pa embarking on a steamy affair, Ma (Deborah Bloch) quite possibly enjoying her own bit on the side and most definitely hitting the bottle too hard, and the pair of them smarting from the schizophrenically love-hate dynamic of their increasingly rocky marriage. In short, it's a lot like real life - only starring much prettier, much more glamorous people, who spend a bit more time reclining on Rio shorelines and drinking cocktails than average.
Though Ricardo Della Rossa's lush photography makes the most of the cast and the setting's uncommon good looks, they're not the only things to recommend Adrift. It's a simple, familiar coming of age story, but one delicately, captivatingly told, elevated by a handful of excellent performances from Cassel, Neiva and Bloch, and a generous screenplay from Dahlia in which not a single player in the piece is given the 2D treatment. As Bloch's character says, simultaneously pleading forgiveness for and venting frustration over her recent behaviour, "I'm not like this. I'm not this drunkard." Well, she is and she isn't, and the fact that Dahlia's film allows for such credible contradictions in its characters - while, by definition, making it destined to invite lukewarm politeness over critical fanfare - nevertheless makes for an unusually understated and satisfying family portrait.
Elegantly scripted, elegantly acted and elegant looking, by avoiding obvious dramatic fireworks, Adrift turns out to be a slow-burning, coming of age sparkler.
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