The Three Marias Review

The worldwide success of City of God and Amores Perros has opened wide the previously hermetically sealed doors of the Western audience to a slew of Latin-American films. Of course, expecting all releases to be of a similar quality to the trailblazers is unrealistic and also unfair since a lot of their releases tend towards comedy and/or melodrama over gritty kinetic realism (although, tellingly, we mostly get the hard-hitting films released here). The Three Marias is one of the latter but gives a very different spin on a tale of violence and revenge. As the film opens, we find a father disemboweled and his younger son killed in an equally savage fashion. The killers make for the eldest son, forcing him to leave his hiding to face execution with the use of hostages. The family's matriarch, Filomena (Marieta Severo) gathers together her three remaining children, Maria Francisca, Maria Rosa and Maria Pia, to wreak revenge on the killers. Each daughter are sent out on their different ways to find two of the most powerful killers in Brazil - Zé das Cobras and Jesuíno Cruz - and the heroic knife specialist, Chief Tenório.

Crucial to the film's success is the casting of the three Marias who here seem to represent three aspects of the female psyche - the older Maria is slightly detached but passionate, the middle one is spiritual whilst the youngest exhibits pragmatism - and all three of them give in good, believable performances as the avenging women. Although there are moments when Three Marias trips itself up in its mix of genres and styles, the influences are themselves immaculate. Peckinpah and Leone come to mind along with the pastoral camerawork of Walter Salles. In fact, there is more than a fleeting similarity with Salles' own Behind The Sun from the thematic perspective. Whereas Salles makes his film into a moving reflexion on the absurdity of human behaviour, Abranches looks at the nature of sin, redemption, retribution and destiny but tends to overplay his hand, leaving the viewer slightly stranded between the pulp aspects of the work (think Roberto Rodriguez) and the obvious transcendental questions that arise.

The DVD:
The image:
Well the transfer is non-anamorphic - something I seldom see these days! - and the print is pretty rough complete with reel change perforations and a fair amount of blemishes. The encoding also seems a little jittery in places with artifacting visible in certain scenes. Still it is watchable but did really deserve a better transfer.

The sound:
A plain stereo mix which is good enough but I suspect given the age of the film that the original mix was 5.1.

The subtitles:
These are player generated and can be removed which is always a good idea.

Nothing at all bar some text adverts for future releases.

The film is well worth investigating - it may not be fully successful, but at least it tries to think outside the box and, as a result, makes it into a slightly unusual piece of work with one foot in the commercial world and another firmly in the Latin American film scene. The DVD is acceptable but should have been a lot better on almost every front.

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out of 10

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