Opening Friday at the Village East Cinema in NY, “A Wolf at the Door” is a distinctly noirish tale of obsession and murder by first-time Brazilian director Fernando Coimbra. It is distinguished by its realism and the use of working-class subjects, a bus inspector named Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) and his lover Rosa (Leandra Leal) who are reminiscent of the characters found in a Jim Thompson novel even though they are based on a real-life incident that shocked Brazil, namely the kidnapping and murder of the bus inspector’s young daughter by his lover after he had dumped her.
While my general orientation is to review films with some kind of social or political relevance, I have a decided weakness for film noir, a genre associated in part with the post-WWII disillusionment that some leftist screenwriters felt with the looming Cold War and the loss of New Deal idealism.
That being said, there is an issue that does have a social resonance even though director maintains was not intended as social commentary, namely the abortion that Bernardo forces on Rosa. For Brazilian woman, the restrictive laws that make abortion illegal except for cases of rape or to save a woman’s life have led to up to a million illegal abortions a year. However, Rosa sought to have the baby and not terminate the pregnancy. Perhaps the main link between the film and the state of women in Brazil is the power that men have over their bodies.
Bernardo begins his affair with Rosa while waiting for a commuter train one afternoon on the same platform with her. They share nothing but animal magnetism that requires very little commitment until she demands more and more of his time. The more that she demands, the more distance he puts between them until her obsession leads her to stalk his home and interject herself into his family’s life. She pretends to be a friend of a friend of Bernardo’s wife who innocently welcomes into her home and as a kind of surrogate aunt to their young daughter.
After Bernardo shanghaies her into a doctor’s office to have a forced abortion, Rosa retaliates by robbing him of his own flesh-and-blood. There is no moral to this story except one of human frailty. The director likens it to the Greek tragedy of Medea, who slays the children she had with Jason after he abandons her.
But as I said, for me the film evokes film noir much more than Greek tragedy especially those based on novels by Jim Thompson (The Grifters, The Getaway, The Killer Inside Me) or Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Cry of the Owl). With its gritty realism and believable dialog, this starkly rendered tale of obsession and murder has considerable power. Strongly recommended.