Wolf and Dog (Lobo e Cão) is the first feature film by Portuguese director Claudia Varejão. The movie follows a group of queer teenagers growing up in the uber-religious town of San Miguel in the Azores who yearn for more than the small-town ideals and the mundane lifestyle of their parents. Written by Varejão and Leda Cartum, the central characters try to build a community of their own. Still, the adults want the kids to remain stagnant, become farmers, fishermen, or mothers, and force them to enjoy that lifestyle. The movie has challenging moments to get through because they slow the pacing, making it a more tedious viewing experience, but the script works hard to subvert some harmful tropes.
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The story centers around Ana (Ana Cabral), a high schooler that keeps a small circle of friends in San Miguel. Her best friend Luis (Ruben Pimenta) is an out and proud queer man who braves through the judgment and rejection to remain authentic to himself. Ana spends her days driving around the island, delivering fruits and vegetables to one of the docked cruise ships. Her brother also works at the docs, and her mom tends to the house chores. Ana often feels conflicted and torn between family obligations and starting anew off the island. She and Luis find themselves hanging out at the local gay bar to escape their humdrum life, which her mother doesn’t love but tolerates. When her friend Cloé (Cristiana Branquinho) arrives from Canada, Ana feels more comfortable fully embracing her truth. She begins designing a plan for her life, where leaving the island becomes her biggest priority.
The fascinating part of Wolf and Dog is that even though the characters live in a heavily religious environment, most townsfolk don’t outright hate these kids for being different. These are allowed to live their lives, march in religious processions, and participate in daily life. That may not be the most realistic scenario, but by GOD, it is refreshing to see.
The problem with the film is the youngsters don’t get a chance to fully express their frustrations and it’s difficult to know what they are thinking. Sure, these characters are experiencing bouts of loneliness, but it’s hard to glean information from them because they don’t emote very often. It’s mostly actors standing around looking pensive. Only toward the end of the film do we see the characters really come to life–which is probably the point, but having to wait until the conclusion slows the film down, making Wolf and Dog feel longer than it is.
On a technical level, Varejão shows promise as a director. She’s character and gaze-driven and loves intense wide shots that capture people, not in an environment, but part of one. However, the shaky cam is constant throughout and, at times, gets so severe it became nauseating. The unsteadiness made me detached from what was happening on screen, which resulted in missing critical moments. Maybe that’s because of her documentary background. Some of those skills are transferrable but don’t always translate into the feature world. Despite all of that, the film is an ample first feature film outing for her. I believe subsequent movies will be stronger, sharper, and balanced.
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