‘Mal Viver’ Berlin Review: João Canijo Latest Film Depicts Women In Endless Misery

Joao Canijo’s newest cinematic venture Mal Viver had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale). The film revolves around a family of women trying to save their relationships and the family hotel and stars Anabela Moreir, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto, and Rita Blanco.

Mal Viver starts with an establishing shot on a backyard pool, with Angela (Barreto) cleaning, and Piedade (Moreir) lounging poolside, when suddenly, Piedade’s mother Sara (Blanco), daughter Salome (Almeida), and Raquel (Almeida), show up. All the women exchange confused glances until Piedade and Salome awkwardly embrace because they haven’t seen one another in a long time. Apparently, she wasn’t aware her own child was visiting, and she’s pissed no one told her. The women sit down for dinner and have a catch-up conversation in the hotel restaurant they manage, and although it’s a lively albeit graphic discussion, the two who hugged it out earlier, aren’t engaging and are mostly aloof.

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Salome lost her father and is still in mourning, which brings up feelings of resentment against her mother for being so distant during her childhood. All Piedade wants is to discuss her daughter’s inheritance which annoys Salome to no end. The duo tries bonding while watching a television show but they end up recoiling and keeping quiet. When they do try to communicate, the conversation turns into the blame game where they continually talk over one another.  When Sara decides to sell the hotel, the women scramble to figure out what the next steps are in life, and whether reconciliation between them is worth it.

There are a lot of people moving in small spaces, and Canijo directorial framing isolates its characters from each other even if they’re in the same room. There are shots of legs, backs, and arms, buts only done to Piedade and Salome because the audience isn’t supposed to see them as whole people, and THEY don’t see each other as whole people. These two are stuck on past atrocities and refuse to address their issues. They are practically ghost floating through the hotel. And this hotel attracts the worst of the worst. Everyone who enters is going through something with someone, while shots of the hotel show how this place mothers and daughters arguing what is that about the space that is creating all this isolation. It’s a cursed space with nothing but misery within its walls.

There are numerous subplots within the overall narrative. People and situations come out of nowhere, and then disappear with no resolution, and filled with depictions of mundane life like women shaving their legs, or cooking, thus making the two hour runtime feel long and drawn out. It just doesn’t add anything to the material. Thank goodness the direction is dynamic because without it, this would be unwatchable.

Mal Viver is an apt title for this story because every person that appears on screen is at a different level of despair and suck the life out of everything and everyone they encounter. It’s a hard watch that needs mental stamina to tolerate a melodrama that never finds resolution.

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