Cannes 2024 review: Bad for a Moment (Daniel Soares)

“Daniel Soares’ Bad for a Moment is rage filtered through a black comedy’s curated cruelty.”

In the real estate business, good views are expensive. Or at least, the systems in place decree that it should be so. When a striking vista is left unexploited, something must be done about it, or else it’s a missed opportunity. Daniel Soares’ Bad for a Moment opens with such a postcard shot of Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, seen from the Tagus south bank in all its sun-kissed splendor. DP Vasco Viana considers the landscape with an eye for commodifiable loveliness, starting the short film with a picture that could have been procured from some tourist brochure or sales website. However, the camera doesn’t remain so besotted for long, nor does the surrounding soundscape suggest an uncomplicated urban idyll.

Before the audience sees them, it can already hear the mercenary chit-chat of business folk discussing the view’s value, dreaming of potential revenue once their project takes over the land and commodifies everything the light touches. Far from some fantastic villains, these are the commonplace parasites of contemporary urban development, odious in their mundanity. But what about the place where they stand? As the camera spins on its axis, the gaze falls on a poor neighborhood whose housing is an obstacle for those who intend to turn the city into a luxury good for profit. Traces of domesticity can be seen in clotheslines and off-screen life, but the developers remain willfully ignorant of what misery they’ll wreak to the future unhoused. Then again, they’re not entirely blind to the optics.

Back in the architecture studio, there’s much talk about humanizing the building proposal, adding dogs to the digital layout of expensive apartments so that they don’t look quite as cold. In all this, Soares privileges master shots, allowing the corporate crowd to fill the frame. Actors like Isac Graça and Cláudia Jardim catch one’s eye through looks and sheer screen presence, but a sense of systemic rot persists in the images, so impersonally presented and performed. One saturnine figure stands out for his charged silences and flickers of what could be doubt flashing across his face. He’s the project’s architect, Adriano, played by João Villas-Boas, and it’s within his internal storm that Soares finds his most cutting indictment against gentrification. Though, it might not manifest as one would expect.

Done with business for the day, Bad for a Moment follows its gaggle of gentrifiers to a team-building exercise whose symbolic weight is so significant as to capsize the entire picture. As they leave the office and go into the neighborhood they plan to re-do, the characters find themselves at an outdoor rage room. In other words, it’s a parking lot full of vehicles, ready to be smashed to pieces for the right price. Rather than going along with the playfulness, Soares homes in on the exercise’s perversity, contemplating the wanton destruction and implicitly comparing it to what the developers are doing with the city. In fact, just as the bourgeois folk are breaking through windshields in wild abandon, so does a group of kids attack their fancy cars. Mostly, they focus on Adriano’s shiny new Tesla.

If you’ve got money, expressing rage through destruction is a service you can buy. If you’re the unlucky majority, such actions are criminal. Property is more important than people, making capital the defining attribute of someone’s personhood, what decides their relevance or irrelevance. Adriano and his colleagues are entitled to expiated fury, but not the neighborhood youths, who have more reason to be angry. Outraged, the architect not only screams them away but also wrecks one of the kids’ bikes, as if the rage room antics had bled beyond its borders. Oh, but guilt consumes him afterward, that nagging feeling of having done something wrong. It’s not only a matter of the bicycle, of course, for that gesture is a synecdoche of a larger problem. Adriano is keenly aware of his role in destroying other people’s lives, a cog in the housing crisis machine. Yet, he does nothing to change the course of things. Neither substantial nor trivial – nothing.

Passivity is a privilege and the easy way out, almost like another purchasable thing, one more service to buy. The satirical bite of Soares’ film comes in the search for temporary atonement, what this cog does to assuage the guilt, even if only for a night. His petty vengeance against dispossessed children feels untoward, and not even the audience’s pleasure at his comeuppance changes the inevitable conclusions of the story. And so, the narrative turns to pitch-black comedy, a dissection of insincere guilt whose alleviation is egotistical and hollow, manifest in surface-level selflessness that’s as flimsy as the plastic wrap Adriano uses to cover the hole where a Tesla windshield used to be. Rather than absolving its protagonist-turned-wannabe white savior, Soares indicts him further and even saturates the screen with a good dose of absurdity.

Some specificities will be missed by non-Portuguese audiences, but one should commend a filmmaker who repudiates over-explanation for international markets. The material is already pretty obvious as it stands, so there’s no need to up the ante in that regard. Still, there’s a cheekiness to how Soares inserts racial tensions into the class warfare of Bad for a Moment, having Adriano buy the object of his self-interested redemption at a shopping center that Lisbon audiences will recognize as the mall called Columbus. Even here, colonial history looms large, an original sin from which modern injustices sprouted one way or the other. Sometimes heavy-handed in its blunt approach, occasionally sharp and ultimately hopeless in how it sees no path forward, Daniel Soares’ Bad for a Moment is rage filtered through a black comedy’s curated cruelty. A farce on the Portuguese housing crisis and gentrification fever, the short is bold enough to recognize that, for some lucky people, even the pits of self-recrimination are temporary, fixable at the right price. For them, it’s only bad for a moment.