Vague Visages’ Propriedade review contains minor spoilers. Daniel Bandeira’s 2022 movie features Carlos Amorim, Anderson Cleber and Zuleika Ferreira. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Daniel Bandeira’s Propriedade is the sort of film that takes great pleasure in the precise machinations of its tragic outcomes. The politically charged thriller begins at the luxurious home of Tereza (Malu Galli), a wealthy woman who now lives as a recluse after narrowly escaping from a harrowing hostage situation. Her gaunt face and darkened eyes betray the trauma that she still carries with her, and it’s clear that no amount of material comfort is enough to ease her now ever-present sense of danger. Even as Tereza sits in her own home with a loyal guard-dog, a look of panic flashes across her face every time a door opens.
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Tereza’s husband, Roberto (Tavinho Teixeria), persuades her to take a trip out to their ranch in the countryside, hoping that the change in scenery might do her some good. As the couple prepares to leave, Roberto proudly shows off the security upgrades he has made to their car: bullet-proof armor, blacked-out windows and a voice-recognition system which ensures that he and Tereza are the only people capable of operating the vehicle — so long as they can remember the activation phrase that Roberto has set for it, of course.
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A traumatized woman, a remote destination and a car that could so easily become a coffin: with its ominous score and lingering details, Propriedade prepares the viewer for all hell to break loose as soon as Roberto and Tereza step through the door of their countryside home. Right on cue, there’s a scream from Tereza, unable to see exactly what it is that she’s responding to. And then Propriedade pulls a clever trick by jumping back in time a few hours to show what has been going on at the ranch while the couple made their way over.
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It turns out that Roberto’s employees had just been informed of his plans to sell off the land on which they had worked, lived and raised families for decades. In a matter of months, they will be turfed out and construction will begin on a fancy new hotel, giving rich people the chance to relax where their homes used to be. As a final insult, they were also informed that their work papers wouldn’t be returned to them until they had paid off every last cent that they owed to their employer, making it all but impossible for them to find other work.
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Unsurprisingly, this news is met with a lot of anger in Propriedade. Tempers flare, voices are raised, a gun is produced and there’s suddenly a dead boy on the scene. The ranchers move quickly to ransack the place and reclaim their papers, running amok across the property when Tereza and Roberto arrive.
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After a brief and bloody exchange, Tereza retreats to the car but is unable to start the engine. And so viewers are left with a perfect stand-off — the ranchers can’t crack the shell of a tank-like vehicle, and Tereza can’t leave. From here on, Propriedade plays out as a chess-like game in which the ranchers come up with new ploys to get rid of the last remaining witness to their crimes and Tereza desperately tries to come up with some method of escape. There’s a real sense of cunning to it, and each time one side seems to have put the other in check, a new twist is revealed which returns them to their increasingly anxious stalemate.
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Propriedade is a propulsive, intense piece of filmmaking from first moment to last. The violence isn’t gratuitous, but each incident is viscerally impactful, ratcheting up the tension as viewers wonder who will be next. As a pure piece of genre filmmaking, Propriedade is highly successful.
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But Propriedade also has its eyes set on something more. This is a film, quite explicitly, about the vast and growing economic inequality that Brazil (and almost everywhere else) now faces, but its attempts to channels these ideas through its genre conventions aren’t quite as effective.
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The Edinburgh Film Festival’s program slyly warns viewers that Propriedade “may have the unlikely after-effect of making one sympathize with landlords.” It’s a cute line that points to the immense difficulty of pulling off a film like this, because it asks the viewer to essentially split their sympathies in two — empathizing with the immediate, grisly danger that the wealthy characters are facing while also connecting to the wider context of the tale, and the righteousness of the underclass characters’ rage. It takes a film as precisely engineered as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite to make that paradox work, and Property doesn’t quite get all the way there.
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Mostly, it’s because the political is personal, and Propriedade’s characters are all a little too thinly drawn. The ranchers make up such a large group that viewers only receive a fleeting sense of who most of them are. Zildo (Anderson Cleber) and his uncle Dimas (Samuel Santos) stand out by affecting the plot the most directly — the boy has been left brain-damaged by the ranch’s pesticides, and after his initial act of wild violence sets things in motion, Dimas spends the remainder of Propriedade in a blind rage. The two performances are effective in their physicality — Dimas is a growling bear of a man while Zildo is wide-eyed and almost feral in his movements — but the most personally magnetic of the troupe is Dona Amara (Maria José Sales), a wise, matriarchal figure who is determined to keep hold of the place she calls home, no matter the cost.
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For the most part, Bandeira offers little access into the ranchers’ psyches, and the same goes for Propriedade’s protagonist, Tereza. Within the movie, she is defined almost entirely by the awful thing that happened to her before and the awful thing that is happening to her now. Bandeira forcefully conveys her ravaged mental state but little else about her — what she represents or, in the most callous terms, why the audience should care about what happens to her. Because the focal people involved never come fully into focus, Propriedade’s point of view as a political work remains equally hazy. But — as a straightforward home invasion thriller — Bandeira’s film is highly entertaining.
Ross McIndoe (@OneBigWiggle) is a freelance writer based in Glasgow. Other bylines include The Skinny, Film School Rejects and Bright Wall/Dark Room.
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