Experimental cinema can be a double-edged sword. When done well, it can push the boundaries of Avante-garde filmmaking, but if it turns out to be an exercise in indulgence, the results can be rather bland and underwhelming. Director Guto Parente, who previously helmed My Own Private Hell and The Cannibal Club, expertly weaves through the excesses that the genre potentially posits in his sublime, introspective A Strange Path. Using experimental footage to effectively convey the moods that David (Lucas Limiera) goes through during his homecoming journey, Parente etches a vivid portrait of grief, loss, and what it means to belong. 

Returning to Brazil after ten long years, David is on the brink of initiating an exciting journey as an experimental director, as his film is about to premiere at a film festival. He arrives just as COVID-19 spreads across the country. However, since the pandemic is at a nascent stage, people are unaware of how life-altering this experience is going to be. David is no different, too, as he is expectant that the festival will take place without any hitches, which gives him the strength to adjust in a space that doesn’t feel like home. After a few moments of solace when he meets up with old friends, David spends most of his time here resting in the shabby accommodation that the festival has arranged for him. 

There’s something amiss with regard to David’s emotional landscape from the get-go, as he witnesses visions of his estranged father from time to time and even dreams about encountering him often. These dreams spill into reality when he glimpses him on the street one day, urging him to reach out to him by visiting his flat in Brazil. There’s some unresolved tension between the two when they meet. Although David is begrudgingly polite despite his father’s frank dismissal of him, the experience holds more weight in his psyche than he initially realizes. 

A still from A Strange Path (2023).
A still from A Strange Path (2023).

With a nationwide lockdown in effect, David’s life is upended: his film, obviously, does not get premiered as the festival is canceled, and he does not have the requisite funds to reschedule his ticket. After a string of unfortunate events, David finds himself homeless and cut off, forcing him to request his father to let him crash at his place. The process is uncomfortable, as Geraldo (Carlos Francisco) is less than accommodating, and the two need to find a way to coexist peacefully in a cramped space filled with whispers of disappointment and regret. 

With the lockdown in full force, David’s mind is singularly focused on an aspect of his life that evades closure: his relationship with his father and whether the man truly ever cared for him or felt proud of his achievements. These ruminations clash with the reality of his interactions with Geraldo, which are often bittersweet, comprising of microwaved meals and expired yogurts, incessant bickering, and sincere empathy. 

Parente uses the lockdown to hone in on a deeply personal microcosm, but the pandemic is more than just a mere backdrop to accentuate the trials that David faces in his journey. There’s real, palpable anxiety about losing loved ones, and despite all the precautions taken to limit infection, a perpetual “what if?” hangs in the air. The utter devastation of losing a loved one to something so drastic and unpredictable is underlined here, but the heart of A Strange Path is much more nuanced, as it is personal and universal at the same time. 

Much like David’s experimental horror footage that we get to witness at some point, the film uses dream-like, surreal shots to underline the calm chaos that brims inside the filmmaker, who roams the streets yearning for something he cannot quite put his finger on. Despite Geraldo’s hold and cot behavior, his eccentricities, and his perceived flaws, the reality of their bond is much more sacred, hinging on quiet, unexpressed acts of tenderness that are realized when it is, perhaps, too late. However, these memories are not merely memories but life-affirmation reminders that David is loved and appreciated, even when he feels like he isn’t. 

A Strange Path was screened at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival

A Strange Path (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Tribeca
A Strange Path (2023) Movie Cast: Lucas Limeira, Carlos Francisco, Tarzia Firmino, Rita Cabaço, Renan Capivara, Ana Marlene
Director/Screenwriter: Guto Parente
Language: Portugues
Runtime: 84 Minutes
Editor: Victor Costa Lopes, Guto Parente, Augusto Lima Sisters
Cinematographer: Linga Acácio

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