Charcoal (2022)

A Brazilian feature debut to savour, from the weathered beauty of rural villages to compelling performances by the cast as an Argentinian drug kingpin seeks refuge in the home of a family, causing tensions to simmer.  

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,615

Dir. Carolina Markowicz
2022 | Brazil/Argentina | Drama | 107 min | 1.85:1 | Portuguese & Spanish
Not rated – likely to be M18 for some homosexual references, violence and coarse language

Cast: Maeve Jinkings, Cesar Bordon, Romulo Braga, Camila Márdila, Pedro Wagner
Plot: In the Brazilian countryside, a family straining to care for their bedridden patriarch have their lives changed when a shady nurse offers a diabolical deal: put their elder to rest and host an Argentinian drug kingpin who urgently needs a place to hide.
Awards: Nom. for Platform Prize (Toronto)
International Sales: Urban Sales

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Hiding Criminal; Moral Dilemma; Shady Deal
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: Screener
Spoilers: No

Fresh from Toronto, Charcoal is a promising feature debut from writer-director Carolina Markowicz, who has been making shorts since 2007. 

There is an air of confidence about her filmmaking here as she settles on a rural village in the Sao Paulo countryside where a family is hiding a nameless drug kingpin (let’s call him The Man) who is seeking temporary refuge. 

He’s Argentinian while the family’s Brazilian, but while they may have communication issues at the start, tensions simmer in other ways as The Man has to adapt to being cooped up in a room (sounds like an allegory for Covid, no?), and the family, not without marital problems of its own, must show both restraint and stealth in dealing with people around them. 

In villages like theirs, neighbours show up randomly and unannounced, adding to the tension. The weathered beauty of these rural villages and little charcoal factories may be eye-opening for viewers rarely acquainted with such a South American milieu. 

“Do people’s necks sound like chickens’ when you break them?”

The performances are natural, compelling even, as the cast find within themselves a way to convey both deception and honesty through their expressions and behaviours. 

Charcoal occasionally goes into unexpected territory, be it in violence or sexuality, but while it isn’t as shocking as the most provocative of modern Latin American cinema, there is enough intrigue squeezed out of the well-developed relationships among the characters that urge the narrative forward. 

Poor communities and rampant drug problems have often been the two most conspicuous markers of Latin American societies over the decades, particularly as represented on screen however stereotypical they may be. 

Markowicz’s work employs these ‘shorthands’ intuitively, revealing their symbiotic connection, but at the same time, exploring their implications in modestly different ways. 

Grade: B+


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