Venice 2021 review: Deserto particular (Aly Muritiba)

“Deserto particular is a film where everything clicks and not a single moment is wasted, a slow burn that blazes once it finally catches fire.”

After a violent training incident that leaves a rookie colleague within an inch of his life, police officer Daniel (Antonio Saboia) is put on suspension without pay. A video of the incident goes viral, which is bad press for the force, so all Daniel can do is waste his time away taking care of his demented father, a former sergeant himself, and working in a dead-end job as a bouncer. His one escape from this imposed hell is Sara, a woman he has met on the internet. Even if she is half a country away (and Brazil is a big country…) their long-distance relationship is the only thing that gives Daniel solace. On a whim he decides to travel north and go find her. Arriving in her hometown and showing her picture around, nobody seems to know her until a mysterious man shows up claiming to have more information, whilst clearly checking him out. Once Daniel finally gets to meet Sara he is in for a big surprise, as she is not who she seems to be: Sara’s real name is Robson (Pedro Fasanaro). Confused and angry, Daniel now has to decide which is stronger: his feeling for Sara or his aversion to homosexuality.

The strength of Aly Muritiba’s third feature film Deserto particular is perhaps not the fateful meeting between the two leads and the drama it extracts from that, but the time it takes to transform Daniel and Robson into multidimensional characters with a life and history outside of their relationship. In a lesser film the focus would be fully on Daniel and his process of coming to terms with his feelings for another man. But Deserto particular gives equal attention to Robson and his struggle as a gay man stuck in a community and a home situation that are not accepting at all, making him a fully realized character even though he doesn’t show up until halfway through the film. The film’s laid-back rhythm leaves room to breathe, giving ample time to scenes that give texture to the characters, even if they add little weight to the dramatic arc of the story. When Daniel’s sister announces that she is in a relationship with another woman, her brother’s reaction is one of barely contained homophobia. None of this is pertinent to the plot, yet Muritiba patiently lets the scene play out to add nuance to the character by establishing Daniel’s relationship with his sister, which makes his reaction to her revelation all the more impactful, certainly in light of what is to come later. On the opposite end of the relationship, and crucially after the two have met, we have several scenes of Robson interacting with co-workers who have no idea about his secret life, showing a character who is not solely defined by being gay.

There is a certain juxtaposition between the two characters which perhaps explains their connection (opposites attract, after all), with Robson being out of the closet that most people are trying hard to push him back into, whereas Daniel has no idea he is even in a closet, let alone trying to find its exit. This contrast is heightened by the physical attributes of the actors, with the bulky Saboia being the opposite of the slender Fasanaro. When it comes to acting, both are in excellent shape. Saboia has a whole range of emotions to cover, from the anticipation of finally meeting the love of his life, to anger and disappointment when this perfect image is shattered. Fasanaro’s Robson is more reserved and pensive, another contrast to the impulsive and passionate Daniel. When the latter finally overcomes his own apprehension and gives in to love, sparks fly in an unabashedly romantic scene in which both give their all.

Combined with Luis Armando Arteaga’s lush and sultry cinematography and Felipe Ayres’ beautiful score, Muritiba crafts a compelling story of two souls looking for a way out of their current lives, finding each other and fully connecting one final time before the film’s bittersweet ending. Deserto particular is a film where everything clicks and not a single moment is wasted, a slow burn that blazes once it finally catches fire.