The Three Marias, a Brazilian revenge fantasy, plods along at such a deliberate pace and is so full of posturing grief and melodramatic depictions of evil that if you don’t get into the spirit of the thing you might find yourself muttering “Mystery Science 3000” irreverences at the screen. There’s no doubt that its glum seriousness is intentional, that director Aluizio Abranches and his screenwriters — Heitor Dhalia and Wilson Freire — have fashioned the film so that it moves toward its ironic conclusion like a Greek tragedy. But even with a running time of barely 80 minutes, it seems airless and prolonged.
The tragedy is set in motion by the final rejection of Firmino Santos Guerra by Filomena Capaddocio, an unreasonable case of undying love, seeing as both are pushing 60 and have several grown children. At any rate, Firmino snaps and has his two sons kill Filomena’s two sons and her husband, which makes for some opening grisliness. Filomena, in turn, orders her three daughters, each named Maria (Maria Francisca, Maria Rosa and Maria Pia), to hire hit men to kill Firmino and his sons.
For some reason Filomena has turned her act of vengeance into a test of her three daughters. She’s given each the difficult task of persuading a specific psycho to do the dirty deed and then cut off the victim’s head, which the daughters are to bring home to Mom as a combination of trophy and proof. The movie becomes the story of how the three Marias approach and persuade the three hirelings to do their bidding, leading to, as mentioned, an ironic ending which doesn’t make any more or less sense than anything else in the movie.
Director Abranches jazzes things up with a style that gives the impression that he’s probably giving the material better treatment than it deserves. Long after its somber machinations have receded from memory, you may still recall the opening scene of Filomena’s rejection of Firmino, a long-shot played in pantomime under some sort of bizarre rock structure, or maybe the trippy barroom murder sequence, which actually manages to generate a little tension. But too often, the movie misses the mark, managing to be both overwrought and a little boring and, finally, pretty ludicrous.
Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit), Monday, Sept. 13, at 7:30 p.m. Call 313-833-3237.
Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].