Nina Medeiros is the incredibly gifted young actress at the trembling heart of Gabriela Amaral’s The Father’s Shadow. As Dalva – a nine year-old girl struggling with the death of her mother – Medeiros carries the weight of a film burdened with adults problems.
Dalva’s father, Jorge (Julio Machado), a construction worker, has blocked out the grief he feels from his wife’s passing and moves through life with ghostly silence. He also suffers another loss; the suicide of his best friend from work Almir (Dinho Lima Flor). He seems to ponder if life on the bleak construction site shows any glimmer of hope.
However Jorge’s sister, and Dalva’s primary care-giver Cristina (Luciana Paes), has different ideas about how to steer her life in the right direction. Cristina practices what Dalva can only view as ‘witchcraft’; the world of spells, voodoo and potions is what Cristina hopes will bring her good fortune – namely the love of her unfaithful partner.
It is no surprise that Dalva’s exposition to black magic through her auntie begins to conjure ideas of what she might be able to do to restore order to her family. Early on in the film we see a grave exhumed that turns out to be her mother’s. Various parts are removed from the grave including a long, black braid of hair, teeth and a necklace that Dalva believes she can use to resurrect her mother.
Amaral’s film sees this young girl forced to grow up too fast, in a world where the adults have failed her. Nina Medeiros fills each frame she’s in with a sullen face shrouded in disappointment, and carries herself with a maturity most child actors do not possess.
Amaral’s framing of Dalva and Jorge’s worlds as bleak and plain comes through with muted tones and dark shadows, Dalva’s own appearance often appearing ghost-like in white nightgowns and bushy hair. For fans of big scares, The Father’s Shadow will leave little to be impressed by, but as a simmering family drama with supernatural elements, the film bears some considerable emotional heft and spooky visuals.
The Father’s Shadow screened at the Final Girls Berlin Film Festival on February 6th
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson (she/her) is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here