The Three Marias (As Três Marias)
Director : Aluisio Abranches
Screenplay : Heitor Dalia & Wilson Freire
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Marieta Severo (Filomena Capadócio) Júlia Lemmertz (Maria Francisca), Luíza Mariani (Maria Pia), Maria Luisa Mendonça (Maria Rosa), Tuca Andrada (Cabo Tenório), Cassiano Carneiro (José Tranquilo), Enrique Díaz (Zé das Cobras), Taveira Júnior (Sertanejo), Fábio Limma (Arcanjo), Wagner Moura (Jesuíno Cruz)
Brazilian director Aluisio Abranches’ The Three Marias (As Três Marias), his second feature film, begins in grisly fashion with the murder of the three men of the Capadócio family. The first two killings we don’t witness, but we see the bloody aftermath: a father is disemboweled and hung by his own intestines and a son has his eyes and heart cut out. The third murder, of another son, we see enacted, as he is drawn out of a building by his vicious killers and then set on fire.
It’s a bold beginning to a lavish, operatic film, one that has much more primal fury and passion than it has intelligence. Fueled by the ancient drives of revenge for revenge’s sake—“an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”—The Three Marias is short, sometimes clever, and always watchable, if ultimately hollow at its core. The widowed mother and wife of the murdered men is Filomena (Marieta Severo), and she takes the news of her slaughtered family to heart. With steely resolve, she commands that her three remaining daughters, Maria Francisca (Júlia Lemmertz), Maria Pia (Luíza Mariani), and Maria Rosa (Maria Luisa Mendonça), are not to cry over their loved ones—“I want mourning, not a flood,” she says. Instead, she instructs each of them to go out into the Brazilian wilderness in search of a particular man whom they will use to exact their revenge on those who killed their father and brothers.
Thus, the heart of the story is the three quests, which begin with a clever widescreen shot of the three Marias driving side by side, and then splitting off into three directions in the desert. Each of the men is a notorious killer of sorts with a quirk: Zé das Cobras (Enrique Díaz) is an assassin who has refused to speak to a woman ever since he read the story of Adam and Eve, thus Maria Francisca can only communicate with him through another man, creating scenes of sheer absurdity as she sits across the table from him and has to have everything she or he says repeated by someone else. Maria Rosa must find a police officer named Cabo Tenório (Tuca Andrada), whom she must convince to break the law for her sake (he is also dying of rabies, having been bitten by a rabid dog). Finally, Maria Pia must spring the deliriously wicked serial killer Jesuíno Cruz (Wagner Moura), who calls himself “The Devil’s Horse,” from a maximum-security prison.
Each of the Maria’s missions has its difficulties, and none of them turn out quite as they were intended. The same might be said of the film itself, which seems to be a soap opera at one point, a black comedy at another, and a horror film in-between. Its tonal unevenness is surely intended, as the simplicity of the storyline and its refusal to interrogate in any meaningful sense the nature of revenge leave it thirsty for something to make it stand out. Abranches and his cinematographer Marcelo Durst do a commendable job of filling in the film’s narrative and thematic weaknesses with gorgeous imagery full of rich colors and fine compositions, but it’s never quite enough to overcome its one-note obsession with getting even.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick