Cannes 2009 Review: Heitor Dhalia's Adrift
by Alex Billington
May 22, 2009
I think I stumbled across a big Cannes sleeper hit. From the beaches of Brazil comes Adrift, known as À Deriva in Portuguese, the third film from Brazilian director Heitor Dhalia. I'm going to say right up front - following in the footsteps of City of God director Fernando Meirelles, Dhalia is the next great Brazilian filmmaker on the verge of breaking out. Adrift is his calling card, a gorgeous family drama about a beautiful young girl (seen above) and her parents. It's not a masterpiece, but it is definitely one of the better films I've seen here that offers so much to fall in love with, whether it be the actors, cinematography, or story.
French actor Vincent Cassel stars as Mathias, the loving father of a family of three kids, husband of Clarice (Débora Bloch), and struggling author in desperate need of money. Set in the 1980's on the stunning beaches of Brazil, the story follows the breakdown between married couple Mathias and Clarice as seen through the eyes of their eldest teenage daughter Filipa (newcomer Laura Neiva). While undergoing her own sexual awakening, she discovers that her father is having an affair with an American women (Camilla Belle) living not too far away. Dhalia takes an unconventional approach in telling the story though her eyes.
First and foremost, Adrift looks absolutely amazing, with a slightly muted color palette that captures the beautiful hues of Brazil in ways you've never seen before. It's a love letter to the country, unquestionably, and Dahlia and his cinematographer Ricardo Della Rosa shoot it in such a way that I couldn't help but fall in love with the look of it. Beyond that, the score by Antonio Pinto (who also scored City of God) also carried me so much deeper into the story. This is exactly why I mention that Dhalia is on the verge of breaking out - he's just waiting to unleash his cinematic brilliance upon the world and this film is his precursor.
Where Adrift struggles the most is that it's not anything new, it's not a story we haven't already seen before. And unfortunately it never hits on the emotional level that I was hoping it eventually would. Thanks to all the aforementioned technical aspects, it's still wonderful and occasionally heartwrenching to watch it play out, but it never reaches the kind of brilliance that would make it one of my absolute Cannes favorites. That said, Vincent Cassel again impresses me with an extraordinary performance, as does newcomer Laura Neiva, who could very well be the most talented actor of this entire cast, even if it is only her first major role.
I can't suggest enough that true cinephiles should seek out Adrift. You will fall in love it just as I did, I'm almost certain of that. And although the story may not be the most impressive part, there will be so much more you'll adore, that it'll be hard not to see past some of its minor flaws. It's not exactly a sleeper hit yet, but with some more time and more critical attention (which it's likely to receive), it'll be on its way.
Cannes Rating: 8.5 out of 10