A Wolf at the Door

Brazilian writer-director Fernando Coimbra’s feature debut is a grim postmortem on one brutally obsessive love affair. In Rio de Janeiro, a man (Milhem Cortaz), his wife (Fabíula Nascimento), and his mistress (Leandra Leal) all have managed to impale themselves on the pointy edges of a whirling love triangle. Coimbra investigates, swiftly establishing tension, then slackening it through a teetering heap of flashbacks. The idea here, to be fair, is to coil up contradictory narratives. Coimbra has a strong rapport with actors — Leal in particular really commands the screen — and a good knack for suddenly shifting sympathies, but sometimes he overplays it (a scene of mind games on a merry-go-round seems too obvious). The overall effect is strangely impersonal, like an exercise. It’s as if Coimbra can’t decide whether he’d rather be a noir-playbook nihilist or a scolding moralist. Neither pose looks especially flattering in view of the filmmaker’s semi-callous scheme to appropriate an awful, real-life event for artistic purposes, summoning neither empathy nor outrage enough to achieve much more than mere career stepping stone. That’s a bit harsh, but then so is the movie. Its hook is a kidnapped kid, who promptly gets lost in its shuffle. And maybe this inattention is part of Coimbra’s point, but if so it’s mismanaged, diluting our emotional investment right when it needs bolstering.