17 September 2009

The Decade List: Odete (2005)

Odete [Two Drifters] - d. João Pedro Rodrigues

Though his first attempt at consternating his audience, the Pasolini-inspired O Fantasma, wasn't a grand success, João Pedro Rodrigues' Odete hit the mark a lot harder than its predecessor. Released in the US as Two Drifters, the film is an exuberant and decidedly Eurotrashy take on obsession which takes joy in nullifying the romanticized, politically-correct trends in contemporary queer cinema. The central figure of Odete is a handsome twenty-one year old boy named Pedro (João Carreira), who dies in the opening scene in a bloody car crash. As the film's catalyst, his death affects both his cherished boyfriend Rui (Nuno Gil) and a woman he’s never met named Odete (Ana Cristina de Oliveira). Rodrigues presents Rui and Pedro's relationship mockingly, magnifying their cheeseball displays of affection as they exchange one-year anniversary rings, engraved with "Two Drifters," a nod to Breakfast at Tiffany's. They’re an agonizingly perfect couple, in the most extreme sense - in the sense that, in this world, they cannot thrive.

When Pedro perishes, the "Moon River" dries up, and "two drifters" takes on a separate meaning, referring instead to the grief-stricken Rui and the tall, beautiful and emotionally unstable Odete, who uses the Pedro's death as a way of coping with her own boyfriend's (Carloto Cotta) departure. Their drifting is wiped clean of its previously embellished sentimentality as the two empty souls wander through their lives like emotionally-stricken zombies, without the strength to move past their own infatuation.

For Rui, Odete is a mystery; despite living in the same building, they first meet after Pedro's passing when Odete starts claiming to be pregnant with Pedro's baby. This leads Rui to believe she might be the reincarnation of his lover. She’s not, and we know this, but the film presents a number of mythical situations, all of which would have made sense had the film existed in that fantasy world Rui and Pedro seemed to be inhabiting in the opening scene. For a portion of the film, we don’t really know whether Odete is lying or not about her pregnancy. Rodrigues doesn’t allow this misinterpretation to stay for long, as his film is about two tortured young people holding onto the desire of lost happiness. For Odete, Rui functions like as a way to erase “Odete” and assume the role of Pedro, a person who, unlike "Odete," is loved deeply.

Odete is a fascinating film, denying expected conventions and narrative structure in favor of exploring complex and strange emotional responses to grief and loneliness. Perhaps certain elements in the film don't really work, but when a director takes risks like Rodrigues does, some ventures will inevitably fail. And more often than not, I'm more inclined to forgive when ambition is high.

With: Ana Cristina de Oliveira, Nuno Gil, João Carreira, Teresa Madruga, Carloto Cotta
Screenplay: Paulo Rebelo, João Pedro Rodrigues
Cinematography: Rui Poças
Music: Olivier Bombarda
Country of Origin: Portugal
US Distributor: Strand Releasing

Premiere: 18 May 2005 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 23 June 2006 (New York City)

Awards: Cinémas de Recherche - Special Mention (Cannes Film Festival)

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