Through the Window (Pela janela) or the Sensitive Portrait of a Woman
From a selection of 19 films that were premiered in the Bright Future section at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, one winner was unanimously selected by the Fipresci jury: Through the Window (Pela janela) by Caroline Leone. She is a young, dynamic and very humble film director. Her film tells the story of a middle-aged Brazilian woman, Rosàlia, who recently lost her job and decides to accompany her brother José on a work-related road trip to Argentina. This journey, simple apparently, happens at a moment that could be defined as a turning point in her life. She used to work in a big factory, she hasn’t had many opportunities to travel outside of Sao Paulo and even though she is very quiet for most of the trip – as if lost in her thoughts – the viewer is fascinated by her while understanding her despair and witnessing her transformation. In a way that is rarely seen in first feature films, the portrait of this woman inter-mingles emotional and political spheres in a very subtle and sensitive manner. The people they meet, the time they spend together, the music they play or the songs they sing, the rare conversations they have: they all contribute to make Rosàlia open up a little more and confront her future with a bit more hope.
The main strength of the film is that it does not become an exceedingly demonstrative portrait of a certain social class. The subtle way the woman is depicted – and the actress Magali Biff is truly exceptional in this role – shows a perfect balance which makes this character even more believable. There is a certain (kind-of) poetry in the way some scenes are shot. When the brother and the sister visit Iguazù waterfalls for instance, there is a contemplative moment where only the deafening sound of the falls covers everything, but the fresh mist on her face and the warmth of the sun make her forget her worries for a moment. By spending so much time with her brother – an eternally optimistic man – she slowly starts to open up a little bit more and sees a glimpse of hope for the future, even though her world crumbled when she was fired. The film, besides making a very intelligent social comment on politics in South America, is also about questioning the values of work and usefulness coming from a certain age viewpoint. Even if she is very taciturn, her emotions, due to a minimalistic yet complex mise-en-scène, convey the words she does not say. If the movie might seem a bit dramatic at first glance, it turns out to be a very poetic and optimistic look at a situation that could have caused much more sorrow. In fact, there are a couple of scenes in which a certain touch of humour makes the viewer smile or even laugh at times. The well- balanced tone of the whole film makes it even more impressive for a first feature.
There is a scene that, in itself, sums up the entire film. In their very small and cheap hotel room, with shared bathrooms, José takes his guitar and starts to play a melody. If at first Rosàlia is discouraged by this trip and can’t stop thinking about how she will survive from now on, the song takes her elsewhere. Timidly at first, she starts singing a gorgeous song with more assurance. This bonding moment between the two is presented in one simple shot but remains very strong. This beautiful film ends on Rosàlia holding a frame of Iguazù waterfalls and it leaves a somewhat open ending that makes the spectator wonder about her next step. Through the Window is, like many films coming from South America recently, is well worth watching and leaves no doubt that Caroline Leone’s next film will be surrounded with great expectations.
© FIPRESCI 2017
Edited by Steven Yates
Maxime Labrecque is a PhD candidate and lecturer in film studies at Université de Montréal in Canada. His research focuses mainly on network narratives in films and TV series from the 1990s onward. He is a film critic for “Séquences”, “Le Quatre Trois” and “CIBL 101,5”.