Hard Labour / Trabalhar Cansa

By 19 October, 2011

Hard Labour (Trabalhar Cansa) is the debut feature from Brazilians Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra. It’s billed as part social commentary, part horror, and this is exactly how it pans out.

Much of the film is set in a grocery store, newly opened by Helena (Helena Albergaria). Her husband Otavio (Marat Descartes) is recently unemployed and struggling to find a new job to support his family, which includes a daughter. The fact that he never entertains the idea of helping Helena at the store, preferring instead to find a new “office” job, is one of the social stereotypes that this movie revels in. The final of these stereotypes is filled by Paula, the family’s new live-in maid.

It’s the stories of Otavio and Helena that take centre-stage in the story, with Otavio seemingly unable to get himself out of a rut and the market struggling to make much profit. This, allied to the misdemeanours of her staff and a series of increasingly unusual incidents at the store, begins to take it’s toll on Helena and her and Otavio’s relationship.

The horror element of the story builds subtlely with growing intrigue about what’s causing these strange incidents to occur and the possible past that the shop’s hiding. Unfortunately, it’s eventual conclusion feels disappointing with all resolved in a couple of scenes that feel flat of emotion or meaning, before the movie reverts to social commentary mode for the final scene, a gloriously over-blown attempt to link the horror and social themes of the film.

It’s very possible that this film could have been a very good piece of social commentary looking at three characters in a different state of employment, or – with a revised ending – a very chilling horror movie. By trying to combine both it ends up being simply a good film, one that entertains with it’s horror aspects and provokes thoughts with it’s depiction of employment for many Brazilians, but lacks the clarity to excel at either of these things.

Hard Labour was showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival

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