Private Desert Image

Private Desert

By Sumner Forbes | September 2, 2022

It’s easy to take for granted living in an accepting environment. Yet, even in so-called progressive nations, millions are still forced to live a lie when it comes to their sexuality or another divergent aspect of one’s personhood. Director-co-writer Aly Muritiba’s moody and darkly affecting Private Desert is a meditation on living in the metaphorical shadows for one individual and an exercise in breaking free from rigid societal norms of rural Brazil for another. It’s an accomplished variation of a very familiar theme, but one that stands out from the pack in its construction and presentation.

Daniel (Antonio Saboia) is a cop on disciplinary leave for undisclosed reasons. We eventually learn why, but co-writer Henrique Dos Santos and Muritiba’s careful withholding of crucial narrative information until the right moment is key to so much of the success of Private Desert, so a lot of these developments are best left unexplored here. Daniel lives with his senile father and is clearly burnt out from the caretaker role.

He enlists his younger sister, Debora (Cynthia Senek), for help, but she has her own problems and would prefer to put their father in a nursing home. Throughout these early segments, we see Daniel texting (and sexting) an unknown individual, later revealed as the mysterious Sara (Pedro Fasanaro). She eventually ghosts him, leaving him clueless as to what happened and ready to act out.


“…takes off on a voyage through an arid region of Brazil to track down Sara…”

Daniel abandons his responsibilities in a powerful change in the story’s direction. Instead, he takes off on a voyage through an arid region of Brazil to track down Sara, hoping that his physical presence will rekindle the connection they once had. This paves the way for a final third that would have been hard to forecast an hour prior before we’re introduced to the richly layered character of Sara and her troubles at home.

The first aspect of Private Desert that leaps immediately to mind is the intensity of the performances. Even if we’re left in the dark initially about the history of Daniel, Saboia’s performance subtly indicates that he’s harboring a dark past. And while the angry, sexually repressed male isn’t an unfamiliar trope to anyone, rarely is it so effectively rendered. The cast on his arm that he wears for the majority of the film works as a visual marker of his predilection for violence, but something else is definitely at play.

And I’d be remiss not the mention the varied performance from Fasanaro as Sara, in which he is positioned as a kind of foil to the barely restrained rage of Daniel. She’s a fascinating character who makes her way through life expressing the true aspects of her personality and sexuality while managing to keep the societal pressures for normalcy at bay. For now, at least…

Private Desert never quite becomes what we think it will. As mentioned earlier, part of its success is due to the director knowing exactly when to fill in the audience with context for the narrative developments. If all aspects of the plot and the complexities of the protagonist were laid out early on, I’m not sure the picture would be quite as gripping as it ends up being. Couple the brilliant construction with the intense performances from Saboia and Fasanaro, and we have one of the more memorable foreign romance films in recent memory.

Private Desert (2022)

Directed: Aly Muritiba

Written: Henrique Dos Santos, Aly Muritiba

Starring: Antonio Saboia, Pedro Fasanaro, Thomas Aquino, Laila Garin, Cynthia Senek, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Private Desert Image

"…one of the more memorable foreign romance films in recent memory."

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