Alice’s House (FiGa Films, NR)

film_alice.jpgWhile certainly not the most screwed up family ever committed to film, Alice’s folks could give the Ewing clan from television’s Dallas a run for their money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family can be difficult in so many different ways: wives and husbands, mothers and sons, adult parents and their adult children. This is something Alice (Carla Ribas) knows all too well, since she shares a five-room apartment with her husband, mother, and three grown sons. And not entirely comfortably, either.

Alice’s House is, on the surface, about an unhappy woman, but it’s also about family, secrets and keeping up appearances.

Middle-aged Alice has few pleasurable moments in her dreary life. She helps teenaged neighbor Thais (Mariana Leighton) with her man troubles, laughs with client Carmen (Renata Zhaneta) and drinks with friends from the salon where she works as a manicurist. But when Alice sees that Thais’ and Carmen’s problems are becoming her own, she strikes out to find a bit of happiness for herself.

While certainly not the most screwed up family ever committed to film, Alice’s folks could give the Ewing clan from television’s Dallas a run for their money. They lie, cheat, steal and whore; and Alice, desperate to remove herself from her squabbling sons and the loneliness that comes with having an often absent husband, is oblivious to most of it.

One of the most interesting things about Alice’s House is that while it’s told from Alice’s perspective, she is far from the best-informed member of the family. Alice’s mother Jacira (Berta Zemel) keeps house while her daughter is out working, and ends up knowing everything that Alice should. By the end of the film, Jacira actually knows more about the secrets the family holds than Alice seemingly ever will, and she deals with her knowledge quietly: washing, cooking, ironing, and holding a "cleansing" ceremony in the empty apartment after an especially raucous night.

As character studies go, Alice’s House does a great job of giving us complex people to examine, but sometimes forgoes crucial details into their lives that might help us grasp their actions better. It’s easy enough, for instance, to guess at why a spouse might seek sex away from their partner, but why would a young man with an apparently bright future choose to prostitute himself? I appreciate it when a film lets me fill in the blanks, but some vacancies need enough structure so that I can do that work myself.

With this small flaw in mind, know that you won’t be disappointed by Alice‘s House. The leisurely pace belies the amount of discoveries we get about her family. And the performances of Ribas and Zemel are certainly not to be missed. | Adrienne Jones

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