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Cannes 2011. Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas's "Hard Labor"

Updated through 5/15.

"Horror elements are wrapped around the unsurprising notion that management fosters an unequal power distribution with workers in the icy neo-thriller Hard Labor [Trabalahr Cansa]," begins Jay Weissberg in, as your inner ear has undoubtedly already told you, Variety. "Though award-winning shorts helmers Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra know how to create atmosphere, it's uncertain whether they realize how heavy-handed their symbolism is, with its implicit — even explicit — message that capitalism is a malignant mildew on the social contract, creating a festering hole in a new business proprietor's personal relations."

"The well-constructed story is full of parallels and ironic mirrors, but simply less absorbing, less urgent than those contemporary benchmarks of reality-grounded supernatural arthouse films, Let the Right One In and The Host," writes Lee Marshall in Screen. "Middle-manager Ottavio ([Marat] Descartes) is fired from his job of ten years on the very day when his can-do wife Helena ([Helena] Albergaria) signs the lease on an empty shop that she plans to turn into a grocery store. Despite the setback, and against her husband’s advice, she decides to go ahead with the venture anyway. To help clean the house and look after the couple’s daughter Vanessa ([Marina] Flores), Helena hires a maid, Paula ([Naloana] Lima), paying her under the table to avoid employment tax. Paula has the sort of sullen manner that suggests a lurking threat, but the script surprises us here, with the jeopardy coming from another direction — the store itself, which had mysterious previous owners that nobody wants to talk about."

"Puzzling horror films are never very satisfying," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Perhaps the mysterious elements are best viewed as the externalized expressions of a stressful, anxiety-inducing economy that swallows up everyone indiscriminately, from businessmen to housemaids. The directors and many of the actors have been members of the Filmes do Caixote filmmaking collective, making award-winning short films for 10 years. Their familiarity shows in the self-assured direction of the cast. There is a darkness in all these 'average' characters, underlined by low-key acting and the film’s sinisterly calm, measured pace."

Dutra and Ross "incorporate a strong sense of sound design in the more horrific scenes, using off-screen space to expand the possibilities of the frame," writes Glenn Heath Jr at the House Next Door. "But this talent doesn't translate to the often-tedious dramatic interactions between characters at a crossroads of major decisions. The near-mystical and ludicrous ending further proves that Trabalahr Cansa may have a lot on its mind, but has no idea how to synthesize all the moving parts together in a formidable way."


"Hard Labor is essentially two different kinds of movies — each with strong elements — that have been combined into a weakened whole," argues the Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth.

Anny Gomes talks with Dutra about this Un Certain Regard entry for Ioncinema.

Update, 5/15: "Individual moments and ideas and even performances in Trabalhar Cansa worked for me, and there are some wonderfully effective sequences," writes Drew McWeeney at HitFix. "No one's ever gotten quite as much tension out of a mechanical dancing Santa Claus as these two do, and I like the way the film resolutely refuses to explain certain things, including what can only be described as a monster that appears late in the game.  But it always feels like a film of parts and pieces, and even as a team, Rojas and Dutra only ever manage a sort of workman-like rough hewn functionality to the film. It works, but it doesn't quite live and breathe."

Cannes 2011. Index: Reviews, interviews, coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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