The Movie Waffler Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - THE DOMAIN | The Movie Waffler

Dublin International Film Festival 2020 Review - THE DOMAIN

the domain review
Amid political and personal turmoil, a landowner struggles to keep his estate afloat and his family together.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Tiago Guedes

Starring: Albano Jerónimo, Sandra Faleiro, Miguel Borges, João Vicente, João Pedro Mamede, Ana Vilela da Costa, Rodrigo Tomás, Beatriz Brás

the domain poster

Director Tiago Guedes' sprawling Portuguese family drama The Domain has its roots in two Hollywood traditions. It most closely resembles those ranch dramas of the 1950s and '60s, where grizzled old men who took pride in staking a claim with their bare hands would come into conflict with a son who seems destined to destroy all they've worked to build, and where somebody always has to shoot an injured horse for allegorical reasons. It's also a chronicle of the life of a ruthless man, following the tradition of such greats as Citizen Kane, Barry Lyndon and There Will be Blood, but it falls far short of such exalted company as it struggles to stake a claim of its own.

the domain review

A prologue in 1946 introduces us to João Fernandes, a child who will become The Domain's protagonist. He's taught a cruel life lesson by his father, who forces him to gaze upon the hanging corpse of a man who has hung himself from a tree on the family's expansive Southfork-esque estate. Cut to 1973 and the adult João (Albano Jerónimo, a striking cross between Michael Shannon and Timothy Olyphant) has inherited his family's land. Outside the estate, Portugal is in the process of political upheaval as the fascist government struggles to quash a left wing uprising. João prefers to remain apolitical - his insular existence suggests he considers his estate neutral territory, like an airport - but a visit from government officials seeking his public support, along with the arrest of one of his most trusted workers, forces him to take a stand.

the domain review

This first half of Guedes' film explores a similar dynamic to Terrence Malick's recent A Hidden Life, in which an Austrian farmer similarly refuses to pledge allegiance to his fascist overlords, but the stakes are considerably lower for João. His wife, Leonor (Sandra Faleiro), is the daughter of a prominent general, able to pull strings whenever João finds himself facing compromise. We're left wondering if a more dramatic movie might have focussed on one of João's many subordinates, such as Leonel (João Vicente), the young communist revolutionary João has released from prison, where he has been subjected to torture; or Joaquim (Miguel Borges), the man in charge of running the estate, who is something of a brother from another mother to João but whose alcoholism seems to mask troubles left unexplored; or Joaquim's wife Rosa (Ana Vilela da Costa), the pretty young maid whom João is engaged in an affair with.

the domain review

For The Domain's second half, the narrative moves forward to 1991, and we're reminded that the mid 20th century Hollywood melodramas that Guedes has thus far evoked ultimately morphed into the night time soap operas of the '80s. As a very soapy plot element involving an unwittingly incestuous relationship takes centre stage, João begins to resemble JR Ewing or Blake Carrington rather than Redmond Barry or Charles Foster Kane, and the film's closing scenes pile one melodramatic cliché on top of another.

A UK/ROI release has yet to be announced.

2020 film reviews