Having children is a surefire way to break your own heart. Or at least, so I surmise from The Moving Creatures, the first feature by Brazilian filmmaker Caetano Gotardo, a triptych of stories that lay bare the grief three families experience from the loss of a child.
Gotardo is a fearless wallower in humans’ mundane interests; his characters’ inner lives often appear to take place in the background of the humdrum activity in a public park, or a recording session for a woodwind ensemble. The film’s most pointed moments of intimacy and grief, meanwhile, are stiflingly aestheticized. Gotardo favors a plodding, almost depressed rhythm for each vignette, placing quiet interludes of observation, when the camera itself seems to space out, in quick succession with the aftermath of a traumatic event — a technique that in skipping over the events themselves feels alarmingly dissociative.
Even more unnerving is Gotardo’s most aggressive device. He assigns a musical performance to each of three mothers, who must take the opportunity to process their feelings — though fathers are involved, the most eloquent grievers are all women. While the three actresses, including the talented singer Andréa Marquee, hold their own under the spotlight, any sense of closure comes along with a creeping discomfort that something raw has been made ceremonial in a distinctly gendered fashion.
Gotardo, who wrote the lyrics for the three songs, sometimes seems to be struggling to create one art form in the language of another; an aesthete who’s obsessed with cadences and repetition, he mixes formality, micro-level focus, and awkward surrealism in a way that calls to mind the composer Erik Satie. Ultimately, this approach makes for a puzzling film that despite being saturated with feeling leaves only a vague impression.
The Moving Creatures
Written and directed by Caetano Gotardo
Opens September 11, Cinema Village
Available on Fandor