Alice's House

Alice's House is an utterly average foreign arthouse film, with all the strengths and flaws that label implies. Writer and director Chico Teixeira cut his teeth as a documentarian, and a nonfiction impulse dominates the slow, deliberate camerawork, which lingers over both moments of interest and moments of tedium. At its most striking, the movie provides a rare glimpse into the Brazilian middle class. Alice's family isn't stinking rich or squalidly poor; they're just getting by. There's her taxi-driver husband (Zecarlos Machado), a recognizable archetype of male sloth and entitlement; her angelic mother (Berta Zemel), who spends hours scrubbing and cooking for Alice's family even as she slowly goes blind; and her three preternaturally attractive sons, sneaker-obsessed and sex-mad. Then there's Alice, played by the astonishing newcomer Carla Ribas. A manicurist who fusses over her clients' ragged cuticles as her own life unravels, Alice is deeply unhappy, seemingly to her own surprise. These characters dance around each other for 90 minutes, never quite finding the strength to say what's on their minds; the dialogue is entrancingly elliptical, but ultimately shallow.

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