Warm and winsome, Loveling is an intimate family drama centered around Irene, an expert matriarch approaching an emotional breaking point. Living with her husband, four sons, sister and nephew in a small town outside Rio de Janeiro, Irene (achingly played by Karine Teles) is affectionate and doting and gently naggy — the quintessential mother figure. But when her oldest son scores a spot on a German handball team which requires his imminent relocation across the world, Irene feels her methodically structured world begin to fall apart.
The sophomore narrative effort from Brazilian director Gustavo Pizzi, Loveling opens on Irene and her children — her “lovelings,” as she calls them — jiggling with the front door knob. The lock’s jammed. Her solution: set up a ladder to enter and exit the house via the wide kitchen window. The fix provides an early indication of Irene’s resourcefulness, a quality that comes to define her family as a whole.
“…her methodically structured world begin to fall apart.“
Most of Irene’s issues pivot on the domestic: nursing sick children, supporting her sister as she faces an abusive husband, badgering her oldest son about safe drinking, and bickering with her husband about selling their beach home. Running a large family is a juggling act, and Pizzi similarly toggles between the various subplots with a sharp sense of pacing and fluidity. But the most memorable scenes explore Irene’s own life, one that began with dropping out of school as a young girl to work years of domestic labor. Her dream, we soon learn, is to graduate high school — a single personal ball included in the perpetual juggling stunt.
The odd marriage of pride and offense that a parent takes in showing a child off to the world is familiar to the American film canon, cemented in recent years with, of course, Lady Bird and Boyhood. It’s inevitable that many will draw comparisons between Irene and Laurie Metcalf’s recent rendering of a similar role. But this correlation misses a crucial facet of Irene’s character: her indelible roots in a working-class upbringing and the resilience she’s developed as a result.
“…resourcefulness, a quality that comes to define her family…”
Irene’s breakdown comes — as one might in real life — gradually and then all at once, and Pizzi shrewdly lingers on the film’s rawest scene: a manic solo dance party held by Irene in her kitchen as she belts out lyrics to the punk girl band blasting through her headphones. It’s an elated scene: decades of duty and constraint unleashed for just a moment.
“Things always work out for us,” Irene’s husband remarks to his son at one point during the film. He’s right. Even as the proactive family’s problems grow to require more than just a ladder down from the window, they’re able to tackle each hurdle with the same problem-solving dexterity. The door remains inoperative for the entirety of the film, the window entry serving as a metaphor for the family’s unending, enterprising spirit.
Loveling (2018) Written and Directed by Gustavo Pizzi. Starring Karine Teles, Otavio Muller, Adriana Esteves, Konstantinos Sarris, Cesar Troncoso. Loveling played as part of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.