Gebo and the Shadow is film that prides style over pace. It tells an old tale about money, sacrifice and family. Michael Lonsdale (Munich, Moonraker) is possibly the most recognizable cast member from this French/Portuguese film.
It is based on the play of the same name by playwright, Raul Brandao. The director Manoel de Oliveira makes a stylistic choice to keep it theatrical. Not in the colloquial sense of excitement and melodrama, but as such that it feels as if you are watching a stage and not a film. This intent not to stray from the story’s theatrical roots serves it both in cinematography and holding tight to its meaning.
Oliveira is noteworthy for his long static shots. This brings the tempo down drastically. The pace could be agonizing for some viewers but those who can tolerate a slowly moving plot may appreciate this film. The focus is not geared so much towards a typical narrative as it is to appreciate an internal struggle and family’s lament.
In many instances the actors do not look at each other when they speak but stare eerily ahead towards the camera. The motif of this is unsettling but mesmerizing.
In some otherwise stark moments of this film, there are some wonderful quotes that signpost the whole story arc. It is implored that the audience really strain their ears to listen for them. Gems such as “Good fortune in life is when nothing happens” is perhaps not the truism one would believe in but to hear a character or person who truly thinks that is something to think about.
In the end that’s what Gebo and the Shadow asks you to do. It asks you to think about what you would do or force yourself to believe in challenging times, just as this family does. The stark scenery and dark cinematography leaves you with little else to think about except the lamentations of these people, and how they justify it.
Review Score:THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Gebo and the Shadow screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival.