Perspective has a large role to play in how Heitor Dhalia’s Adrift (À Deriva) deals with two seemingly commonplace family situations – one where a young fourteen year-old girl is starting to become interested in boys, the other dealing with a fraught relationship that exists between her father and her mother. It’s in how these two situations interact, in fact, the emotional content of the two contrasting elements balancing each other perfectly, that the storyline is lifted above the mundane without it straying into the excesses of melodrama – but there is much also to admire in the performances and the choice of location and how they are used to tremendous and subtle effect by the director.
The stunning sun-drenched beaches of Buzios in Brazil in an early 1980’s setting are the choice of location for the drama to unfold in, and interestingly, Dhalia casts French actor Vincent Cassel, last seen delivering a powerhouse performance in the two-part crime biopic Mesrine, in the role of the father Mathias, an author who is using the family’s beach home as a place to develop his latest book (Cassel seeming to work perfectly well speaking Portuguese throughout). The machismo of his character is a factor in how events unfold – the cracks in the happy family on holiday situation starting to show with minor arguments with his wife (Débora Bloch) over doing the dishes and selling the rights of his book for a television movie, but more critically in a secret affair he is having with a beautiful American tourist on holiday there.
These events, including the affair, are witnessed by Mathias’s fourteen year-old daughter Filipa (Laura Neiva). There is a very close bond between father and daughter, so the knowledge of what is happening plunges Filipa into confusion and a riot of emotions. There is fear there for what it could mean to their family unit, but there is also an element of jealousy and curiosity, the young girl starting to see Mathias not only as her father, but as a man and a sexual being as well. This is happening at the same time as her own sexual awakening, the young girl starting to attract the attention of the local boys, but her feelings for one young boy in particular are affected by what she witnesses in her own home – her father not only carrying on an affair, but her mother increasingly turning to drink under the strain of the failing relationship.
Heitor Dhalia handles potentially explosive material of high emotional content with a remarkable degree of subtlety, allowing the melodrama to take place on the sidelines. Scarcely a raised voice is heard in the open, the parents keeping up appearances for the children, but the impact of what is occurring shows in how it gradually wears each of them down. The emotional charge is still fully felt, but delivered indirectly, through incidental events such as the murder of another woman in the little seaside town, killed by a jealous lover or husband over an affair, while an outline of Mathias’s latest book given to friends over a dinner party hints at deeper problems in his marriage, bringing them out into the open in an indirect manner, but one that is no less confrontational.
Much of this reflects the viewpoint of Filipa, its impact showing up in dark nightmares of bloodstains, guns and attacking dogs without having to make any direct implication about the emotional confusion and adolescent urges that underlie it. Even more beautifully, the director and cinematographer make stunning and effective use of the locations, specifically in the use of water and the sea. Symbolically, Filipa goes out to sea in a boat and returns swimming from two sexual encounters, but even her first kiss with a boy takes place on the rocks looking out to the sea, the curve of the bay causing the waves to form a triangle that frames their union. Triangles are evident in all the relationships here, and it’s the resolution of her father’s role in each of them that is Filipa has to come to terms with – one that is masterfully and impressively achieved in the final shot of the film.