Friendly Beast (O Animal Cordial) Movie Review
Written by Rachel Knightley
Released by RT Features
Written and directed by Gabriela Amaral
2017, 98 minutes, Not Yet Rated
Fractured Visions Film Festival Screening on 29th September 2018
Murilo Benício as Inácio
Luciana Paes as Sara
Irandhir Santos as Djair
Camila Morgado as Verônica
O Animal Cordial – losing something in translation to Friendly Beast – takes place in its own little world. Situated inside a restaurant somewhere on the edge of an unspecified Brazilian nowhere, it echoes fifties drive-in Rock All Night not only in the action never leaving or even peering beyond the restaurant, but that the armed robbery that catalyses plot and character development comes from an outside world we never quite believe in enough to feel the stakes are raised, even as the body-count rises.
Confident, lengthy scene-setting is statement and warning of overly naturalistic pace, but does establish simmering tensions between a pressurised kitchen-staff led by chef Ajair (Irandhir Santos), their ambitious manager Inácio (Murilo Benício) and his loyal, lovelorn waitress Sara (Luciana Paes). It’s just before what should be closing time, the cleaner wants to get in and the sous-chefs want to get out. Then three late-night diners appear. Everyone feels sorry for the old man eating alone (Ernani Moraes); no one feels sorry for arrogantly wealthy couple Bruno (Jiddu Pinheiro) and Veronica (Camila Morgado) who won’t stop kissing each other or taking egotistical, patronising pot-shots at the staff. Inácio fires two sous-chefs for wanting to leave before the subway shuts. A few minutes later, an armed robbery interrupts dinner.
Before the robbery, Inácio has a moment alone with his reflection, and rehearses he will say in his interview with a critic, his wife’s friend, visiting next week. As the layers of control and false calm fade, and he asks himself deeper questions, a colder face appears from beneath the professional façade, and that is the film’s truest moment of drama and fear. Sara also has a scene in which her feelings are reflected in a private discussion with herself, but they’re all about him and her objectives don’t achieve a third dimension. The animal instincts waiting to rise in both of them do break the veneer of civilisation when they must defend themselves against the robbers, then the traitors in their midst, and then each other – but neither imagery nor character is individual enough to earn the lead-up.
Misogyny for misogyny’s sake is uncomfortable not because it’s shocking but because it’s so tired, defusing rather than building tension and belief. The frozen horror of Bruno’s reaction as the armed robbers strip and sexually assault Veronica is affectingly performed by the actors then completely undercut by the subsequent token skin shot. The same is true when Sara struggles with her not-so-secret love for Inácio as he tells her “some people” might want to smarten themselves up for the photographer when the restaurant is reviewed by a friend of his wife’s next week. Her swallowed hurt is one of the film’s strengths, if a repetitive one, and blooms convincingly into violent expression as she puts on heels, earrings and the blood of others and finally dares seduce him. But it’s diminishing returns: once they have broken from their society confines and become the beasts they long to be, his suggestion they put the bodies in the freezers and on the menus is insufficiently deliberate in its predictability.
Whether Sara’s weakness for Inácio is a strength that causes her to evolve beyond her own shyness or the Achilles’ heel that destroys the good in her is perhaps the one question of its own the story asks, but we don’t really find an answer to it.
Lack of outside world or sufficiently full characterisation never quite makes up for how low the stakes feel, and there is only so much that elegant, effective blood effects can do to regain that lost ground.