While We Are Here review – enigmatic study of romance is hard to love | Film


Here is a thought-experiment of a movie from Brazilian film-makers Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti: it’s a dramatic essay, or docu-fictional romance, or perhaps the cinematic equivalent of an epistolary novel, and it has been much admired on the festival circuit.

But intriguing though its premise is, I couldn’t really make friends with this film. Two characters meet in New York and fall in love, but we never see them (though we maybe glimpse them). We do however hear their voices on the soundtrack, musing and commenting. One is Wilson (Marcela Souza e Silva), a Brazilian migrant worker who is in fact about to return to Brazil due to worrying news from home; the other is Lamis (Mary Ghattas), a Lebanese single mum. What we see is the city around them: ambient streetscapes.

But it is not true to say that we see what the characters see, because, in this sense, they never see each other or catch sight of themselves in any mirror. We hear their voices, and also that of a central narrator (Grace Passô), but these voices are strangely unanimated. The actors simply read aloud what are evidently Wilson and Lamis’s thoughts, or possibly journal entries, or emails to each other, which are musing and ruminative. The line-readings are weirdly detached and toneless, and there is a disconcerting absence of passion, or even recognisable emotion in these maundering speeches.

Finally, Lamis and her child go to Berlin where she has a scholarship and Wilson goes to Belo Horizonte in south-east Brazil; and Campolina and Pretti capture the street-scenes there as well, in the same way. The ending is as enigmatically emotionless as everything else. There is sincerity here and a formal consistency, but there is something obtuse and thin about it all.

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