Grief is a transformative energy, sinking underneath our skin and altering us from the inside out until all that we see is the shadow of what we once were. It’s a familiar energy to some while others are blessed not to know its dark touch. However, it’s what we do with this energy that can completely make or break a person in the end. And in director and writer Gabriela Amaral Almeida‘s film, THE FATHER’S SHADOW, we get to see how the path of grief is different for each individual and what lengths they will go in accepting or denying the reality of losing their loved ones. While the execution itself might have fallen a bit flat for me, the film itself captures the complexities of grief in a way that feels real and relatable to the viewer.
The film focuses on the young Dalva (Nina Medeiros), still grieving the loss of her mother. She lives with her depressed father Jorge (Julio Machado), who spends the bulk of his time away from home working in construction. When he’s not working, he just lifelessly exists in the home. While both of them grieve, Dalva’s aunt Cristina (Luciana Paes) manages the household as best as she can while she waits for her boyfriend (Rafael Raposo) to propose to her. The proposal eventually comes, which Cristina attributes to a “power” that resides within Dalva. But, after getting what she wants, Cristina moves out of the home and leaves both Dalva and her father alone. Dalva’s father lacks the emotional capacity to really try to take care of his daughter as he progressively deteriorates across the course of the film. Dalva, in her attempts to try to find some sort of stability, lets her imagination run wild as she dives further into her own form of magic and necromancy, convinced that she can bring her mother back from the grave. In the end, we’re left with more questions than answers, but with a still powerful portrayal of grief in its various forms and what measures we take to address or ignore it.
Nina Medeiros as Dalva is completely haunting in THE FATHER’S SHADOW; her eyes denoting a maturity that far surpasses her age as she navigates the complexities of her living situation while grappling with her own grief. There are moments during the film that I forgot that she was, in fact, a child, which is a testament to Medeiros. Dalva is a child who has had to grow up too quickly to accommodate her mother’s lack of presence post-death. Medeiros’s handling of the complex character comes across as natural and realistic. For a child of her age to grapple with that complexity is nothing short of amazing. Julio Machado’s Jorge is positively heartbreaking as you can feel the man’s heart and soul wither away as he drowns in his own depression. The different emotional notes he had to reach were hit and, by the time you reach the film’s end, you can’t help but hope he gets the release he so desperately wants.
The supporting players fulfill their roles effortlessly while also not taking away from the performances of the two leading players. Luciana Paes’s Christina is in pursuit of love, but that desire doesn’t detract from her family. We see her concern for Dalva and her frustration towards Jorge, but it conflicts with her desire to live her own life and move on past the death that’s taken ahold of the family. Dinho Lima Flor’s Almir is just as heartbreaking as Machado’s Jorge. While his time on screen is brief, he serves as a mirror to Jorge’s depression and serves as a warning to Jorge of where his path may lead him if he continues to tread down it. Even Clara Moura’s Abigail serves the purpose of reminding Dalva of what path she could go down if she lets vengeance and darkness take hold of her heart. All of these performances come together to ensure that everyone has a purpose and a role to play as Dalva and Jorge navigate their own path in reconciling with their grief.
Despite the strong performances from the entire cast, THE FATHER’S SHADOW struggles to find its footing. This has a lot to do with the writing as there seemed to be too many threads that interfered with the overall execution of the story. While the supernatural elements did help in making us wonder how reliable the perspective was in the film, I am on the fence about whether the elements were necessary or if it weighed down the film as a whole. There’s also a consideration that must be taken in knowing that part of the confusion may stem from a lack of understanding as to the type of magic used in the film because it’s not something that the North American audience may be used to. Knowing the ignorance I have regarding this particular subject, it is difficult to ascertain how much of my bias has towards these elements is influenced by that lack of cultural insight. However, the execution of these elements and their inclusion in the storyline left me wondering whether or not these were real things happening since each individual character seemed to pick up on them or if these were manifestations in their own individual psyche. While the depiction of grief onscreen is strong, it did feel at times that Almeida wasn’t as sure about what direction the film should go and this leaves the pacing and overall execution to feel muddled.
THE FATHER’S SHADOW has potential with its exploration of grief and loss through the perspectives of both its young protagonist and her depressed father. Seeing the shadow cast by the mother’s death on both of them, we can easily see the devastating impact it has had on their psyche. However, despite its exploration, the film’s slow pacing and its depiction of the supernatural through the girl’s magic and spirits are difficult to follow and, honestly, could have just been left on the cutting room floor. It feels like there could be much more to explore if given more time to finesse the script. At the end of the day, all of the elements are too loosely tied together for me to say this film is anything more but just okay.