TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2022 REVIEW! Set in the countryside of Brazil, writer-director Carolina Markowicz’s Charcoal follows the daily lives of a family consumed in poverty. Irene (Maeve Jinkings) lives in a loveless marriage staying together for the sake of her son, Jean (Jean Costa), and her aging father (Benedito Alvez). When presented with the opportunity to escape poverty at the cost of her father’s life, Irene and her family must face the consequences of their actions in this naturalistic family drama.
Early on, Irene is presented with the option to mercy kill her father in exchange for a large sum of money. Beyond the killing, there is another caveat to receiving the small fortune: Irene and her family must house a renowned drug kingpin, Don Miguel (Cesar Bordon), until he can flee Brazil. Seeking solace and guidance from the church, Irene decides to go through with the horrific act and thus begins her family’s struggle abiding a fugitive.
Don Miguel’s life of isolation is a strain on everyone, including himself. Irene’s husband, Jario (Romulo Braga), is at constant odds with Miguel, fearing that he will discover his secrets. Jean begins to concern Irene as he starts taking after Miguel’s mobster ways, seeking out drugs and acting aggressively towards his peers. Tension builds as the family feels the weight of their personal demons catalyzed by their newfound wealth and the sins it took to acquire it.
“…Irene decides to go through with the horrific act and thus begins her family’s struggle abiding a fugitive.”
The complex characters of Charcoal are brought to life thanks to a plethora of subtle acting choices. Jinkings is outstanding, portraying a woman willing to kill her father for money yet concerned for her child’s future. The actor’s balance of strength and vulnerability makes the audience empathic to the character’s struggles regardless of their ramifications. Jean Costa, Romulo Braga, and Cesar Bordon give solid performances, but Jenkings performance anchors the movie to the burdens of Irene and how she hopes to overcome them.
Considering this is the directorial debut of Markowicz, the film shows plenty of promise. The movie is almost entirely character-driven, relishing small moments. Irene yearns to be wanted by Miguel; Jean begins to imitate the hiding gangster; Jario’s insecurity in his masculinity. The filmmaker strikes a unique balance between internal and external conflicts creating one another, all blending to create a climactic end to this family drama with hints of dark comedy.
As a whole, this drama makes an interesting commentary from opening to closing. Markowicz covers family, poverty, sexuality, masculinity, femininity, and religion while rarely leaving Irene’s home. It’s a strong film with excellent performances, but it sometimes lacks the purpose and buildup to make the most emotional moments stick. Subtly is a powerful tool throughout the plot, yet some themes and motivations are too faint. Regardless of its shortcomings, Charcoal stands as an artistic character study, honed in on the imperfections that make people fascinating. Sure, the story’s circumstances are extreme, but the performances and characters make this drama worth exploring.
Charcoal screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…the performances and characters make this drama worth exploring."