Living Bad: Facade is Everything

in 73rd Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Diana Martirosyan

For the past several years, film festivals have frequently shown spectators and critics the same basic story told from varying perspectives of the characters themselves. Different angles are being used to tell the same story or situation, revealing diverse fragments of the same material, incident or location. Portuguese director and screenwriter João Canijo shot two films simultaneously intended as two separate, autobiography pieces. His films Bad Living (Mal Viver, 2023) and Living Bad (Viver Mal, 2023) both focus on the everyday life at a boutique hotel somewhere in Portugal. One of the films centres around the family who own and run the hotel, the other one on the guests. The audience can watch each film without even knowing that there is another one. What’s more, the two parts were even included in different sections of the programme at this years Berlinale.

Screening in the Encounters section, Living Bad is the other side of the story Bad Living, which was shown as part of the Competition. The film’s plot depicts three different groups of people, all wealthy and good-looking guests, who at first glance seem to exude prosperity and confidence. In fact quite the reverse is true. All of them are experiencing a tough time full of emotional abuse, doubts, pressure, frustration and confusion. We see a well-known photographer, who his constantly taking pictures of his equally famous girlfriend. However, what is worse is that they both cheat on each other. Then, there is a covert love-triangle of mother, daughter and son in law; and the third story line is about two twenty-something-year-old girlfriends having a go at a kind of romantic relationship under the control of one of their mothers.

Canijo and his team create visually stunning, unique and atmospheric images full of succulently subdued colours, semi-vintage elements and elegant details. Just like a good wine, which is poured and served in a stylish, modern glasses, the film engulfs the audience with intoxicating haze, which turns out to be a neurotic smoke of seething anger and passion. People are poisoning each others’ lives at all costs and assert themselves at the expense of the others, but they have done so throughout human history, in short stories, novels, festival films and plays. Here we see another example of this kind of story, full of Portuguese vibes and atmospheric images, but the tense beauty of the stylish hotel setting, which looks like something from the pages of Architectural Digest, points us to look deeper into every piece of the picture and proves yet again that this facade can be very deceptive.

Diana Martirosyan
Edited by Pamela Jahn