Cannes 2023 review: Levante (Lillah Halla)

“Scene after scene, Levante proves to be very clever in its depiction of what makes the power of these people and renders them so dangerous: the sheer force of their numbers.”

The first title in competition in this year’s Critics’ Week, Tiger Stripes, illustrated through genre cinema the exhilaration that can come with the arrival of puberty, transforming a girl into a woman. A few days later in the same sidebar, the Brazilian entry Levante starts with the reminder that another effect of puberty is the fact that you can now get pregnant. This is the news that hits Sofia, who up until this day was only experiencing the upsides of being a teenage woman belonging to the best of bunches, her volleyball teammates – as bonded as you can get, body positive, open about all sex topics and with no taboos, queer as hell, partying around town.

This joyful lifestyle is pictured with an incredibly vibrant energy in the first ten minutes of the film, which immediately establish first-time director Lillah Halla as a true talent who has no intention of holding anything back. She keeps this momentum throughout the whole movie, even though things get more distressing with the necessity for Sofia to find a way to terminate her pregnancy – an action which is a crime in Brazil, leading to possible imprisonment. Her risky attempts to get help evoke Never Rarely Sometimes Always by Eliza Hittman, the film from America (another country that insists on turning the lives of women asking for an abortion into a nightmare); especially when Sofia undergoes a similarly vicious treason from a nurse who takes advantage of her ingenuousness and confidence.

Once in possession of her medical records and her personal information, the nurse becomes the main menace for Sofia, following her like a ghoul in a horror movie, showing up on her doorstep or at her volleyball practice to tell everyone about the illegal procedure she seeks. Scene after scene, Levante proves to be very clever in its depiction of what makes the power of these people and renders them so dangerous: the sheer force of their numbers. The nurse finds allies everywhere she goes, without ever needing to raise her voice, exaggerate her point, or put a strain on them. She turns Sofia’s neighbours and team supervisors against her, and whoever is not turned against her – her coach, her father – gets so scared by the number of foes facing them that they are paralyzed by fear.

Faced with such adversity, the positive characters of Levante are offered by the script one way to stay strong and tight-knit: the application, outside of the court, of the same strengths and beliefs that lead them to victory in their volleyball championship games. It is a beautiful and uncommon idea, as sport is more frequently used in film to convey notions such as conflict, individual accomplishments, the will to vanquish or conquer. In her queer look on the world, Lillah Halla and her brilliant actresses offer an exciting new perspective on this aspect of life that we have grown used to seeing as very masculine and aggressive, and put it to good use in the everlasting fight for rights and equality.