Karlovy Vary 2019 Review: SICK SICK SICK, Love, Grief, Madness in New Cinema
Brazil keeps churning out cinema worth paying attention to despite the country's political turmoil. The latest arrival on the scene is the newcomer Alice Furtado whose feature debut Sick Sick Sick (original title Sem Seu Sangue - Without Your Blood) landed on the glitzier stage of them all right on the French Riviera. The basic premise mixes proven narratives of first-love story and a coming-of-age experience in a rite of passage template however the extra spin stems from Furtado´s heavy lingering on the aesthetics.
The protagonist Silvia ticks all the boxes on an introverted character's check-list until the bad-boy Artur emerges in her classroom. She is smitten and beyond and the two connect figuratively and soon physically. Artur is young, vital and full of life despite not having the ideal genetical settings. Their gently budding romance gets nipped in the bud as a minor accident on a skateboard proves fatal for hemophiliac Artur.
The camera hovers over Artur´s face with his eyes-wide-open and expanding carmine pool under his head short of morbid curiosity. Similarly tuned imagery will follow throughout the film yet Furtado repositions macabre from shock-value to larger meaning within the narrative.
After the tragedy, Silvia withdraws and Furtado follows suit as Sick Sick Sick falters to be driven by action. The director plunges into the emotionally turbulent inner life of the protagonist mixing reality and fantasy in a grief-stricken cocktail devoid of psychedelic aesthetics while entering the downward spiral of self-delusion and delirium.
The intimate portrait of young love drowned in sorrow and consuming disorientation favors close-ups to emphasize the withdrawal and suffocating enclosure. The slow-burning progression does not reflect the notorious five stages of grief. The emergence of a book on voodoo prompts a sudden twist in Silvia´s behavior and she stars paying unhealthy attention to zombie mumbo-jumbo that a certain enigmatic family put into practice. The mix of love and grief produces an obsession which propels Silvia into the open arms of the unnatural.
The writer-director acknowledged openly the influence of Claire Denis (for whom she worked as assistant director) and Stephen King´s Pet Semetary although she carves her own narrative and visual style. Her decision to approach this kind of story in the manner she chose though would have been better suitable for the medium of a written story.
The central character's gradual succumbing to the creeping post-traumatic madness is conveyed mostly through images as opposed to the first person narration of unreliable character in literature. The latter might have been effective albeit Furtado´s unclear dramaturgical structure renders the reading of Silvia´s character more opaque and hard to distinguish padding for the sake of inflating running time (a sow confusion) from storytelling intention (as a reflection of the character´s confusion).
Yet the combination of first love, coming-of-age and eventually one of the hottest trends during this year´s Cannes, a zombie theme (along Jim Jarmusch´s The Dead Don´t Die or Bertrand Bonello´s Zombi Child) and Furtado´s formalistic-fixation put a fresh spin on the notorious topics and genres. Limiting the angle of visibility and frequent use of close-ups create sober minimalism in imagery trading wild fantasies for the almost civic process of the leading character´s inevitable unhingement.
Furtado´s first feature effort shares several similarities with Julie Ducournau´s Raw while operating completely outside the boundaries of explicit horror contrary to the New French Extremity rulebook. Sick Sick Sick´s transgressive nature prevails in the psychological realm most of the time although, surprisingly enough, a tiny bit of gore will make its way into the picture.
Sick Sick Sick represents the upcoming cinema by emerging generation of filmmakers where stereotypes are undermined and genres rules disrupted. Aesthetics unburdened by past hierarchy emerges. Both Furtado and Ducournau are hopefully on the forefront of a new wave and not solely genre-wise.