Daniel (Antonio Saboia) is a good cop who gets caught in a bad situation in co-writer/director Aly Muritiba's slow-burning, mysterious indie drama Private Desert, Brazil's entry into the Oscar race for 2022 and a Kino Lorber release here stateside.
If you're thinking you already know what to expect from Private Desert, you are, in all likelihood, in for a surprise.
It's difficult, perhaps impossible, to describe the wonder that is Private Desert without revealing its mysteries. These are mysteries that unfold gently, Muritiba committed to immersing us in Daniel's dutiful world of machismo and volatility yet also a world tinged with moments of tenderness, vulnerability, and hints of something different dwelling deep within Daniel.
Due to meet with the authorities over his "incident," Daniel is left only to care for his increasingly dementia-ridden father and to communicate with Sara, a woman whom he's yet to meet and yet for whom he's becoming increasingly fond.
When Sara suddenly goes silent, Daniel skips his required appointment in favor of a trip to Sara's hometown of Juazeiro in an effort to discover her whereabouts and the reason for her sudden silence. Initially unsuccesful, Daniel finally meets someone who can take him to Sara under very specific terms.
It takes us a third of the film's two-hour running time to journey toward what serves as the foundation of the film, a surprising weaving together of rich humanity, aching need, hints of volatility, and yet even more hints that love, indeed, truly transforms.
As Daniel, Antonio Saboia is simply extraordinary. Balancing the intense stereotypical masculinity of the world in which he exists with glimpses of subtle humanity, Saboia's transformation over the course of the film feels honest and comes to life as much in his silences as in his dialogue. His presence feels immersive amidst lensing by Luis Armando Arteaga that vacillates between the film's universal themes and stark, unnerving intimacy.
Original music by Felipe Ayres is used sublimely. Production design by Fabiola Bonofiglio and Marcos Pedroso captures powerfully the vast chasm of two different worlds.
Oh, and Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" has seldom been used so beautifully.
Pedro Fasanaro is perhaps the film's hidden gem as Robson, whose presence in Daniel's life is essential and whose story gives the film's much of its emotional depth. Fasanaro is immensely gifted, a seemingly permanent mask only barely concealing a remarkable human being whom you can't help but adore.
While Private Desert didn't make the 2022 Oscar shortlist, the film has picked up a slew of awards along its festival journey including Venice Film Fest's BNL People's Choice Award for Best Film.
Brimming with electricity yet bathed in the transformative power of love, Private Desert is a film that even as the closing credits were scrolling I found myself wanting to watch it all over again.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic