With a very strong visual style, Portuguese director Santos weaves several urban nightmares into “Mal”… and it’s somehow not as depressingly horrific as it sounds. Yes, the various tales are bleak and depressing, and yet there’s a tiny sliver of hope in here that makes the film oddly gripping and very moving.
At the center is Cathy (Cadell), a human rights activist from Ireland now settled in Lisbon with Pedro (Morrisson), a lawyer…and a serious womaniser. Their relationship is strained, but their deep love holds them together, even when Cathy’s ex (Baker), a former terrorist, shows up. Meanwhile, a young man (Pinto) wanders the streets in an escalating spiral of crime, while his mother (Gama) turns to fundamentalist Christianity for sanity.
Santos weaves these and other characters together in an uneasy portrait of modern life–with its hope, expectations and grim realities. The film looks serene, stylish and striking; the themes are tough, edgy and intensely personal. There are some surprising twists in the story as each character must face the end of his or her own world. And each responds differently–resignation, anger, listlessness, denial, suicide. This is filmed and acted with power and real beauty. But it’s all so relentlessly downbeat that it isn’t easy to watch.