Private Desert – ★★★ 1/2 (BFI Flare)

Private Desert – ★★★ 1/2 (BFI Flare)

Aly Muritiba’s character drama Private Desert challenges masculine expectations in the most delicate of ways. We have a film that takes its time but rewards us with how moving it ends up being.

40-year-old Daniel (Antonio Saboia) has been suspended from active police work and is under internal investigation for violence. When Sara, his internet love affair, stops answering his texts, he decides to drive north in search of her, starting on what is a fool’s errand. He shows Sara’s picture around, but nobody seems to recognise the woman. Eventually, a guy pops up, saying he can put the two in touch under specific conditions.

Daniel is having a tough time of it, and for the most part, it is all of his own doing. He is so wrapped up in keeping a masculine appearance to those at work he has beaten a rookie to an inch of their life. Faced with increasing media anger and jail time, he also has to aid his Alzheimer stricken father through his daily chores. His online girlfriend, Sara, keeps him going thousands of miles away.

Aly Muritiba and co-writer Henrique Dos Santos clue us in early that this macho version of Daniel is not the real him. We see him carefully look after his father, try and understand his far younger sister. He is a man who discovered that to be accepted by those in such higher positions in his field of work, he could not be himself, and thus, an underlining frustration resides within him as he tried to fake it. That frustration in his soul that was unleashed in the worst way on a poor rookie is that he has a massive void in his life. Only Sara seems to fill it; she doesn’t know him and his (internal investigation aside) rather mundane life.

This is a film that could easily have gone one route, and still, the world has worked, but the fact that it was able to be broader and tell not only Daniel’s journey but Sara’s is fantastic. Daniel is so pent up with an aggressive energy that you don’t particularly blame Sara for closing off contact as abruptly as she did. We see how much Daniel wants to feel love and affection, yet the film does struggle with the fact that we have a main character who we shouldn’t necessarily be rooting for. He did almost murder someone, and with that rookie’s fate left unknown, we have a protagonist who, while interesting, is also dangerous.

Saboia convincingly plays the emotionally conflicted Daniel very well, and without him, there is the chance Private Desert falters. His performance allows us to try and view this man as something more than a hot-headed monster. He cares and desires love. He is a man battling with himself on who he truly wants and needs to be, and as the film progresses, he transforms. Indeed by the end of the film, it is like day and night on the man we saw running down an empty street at the film’s beginning.

The slow approach utilised by Muritiba works wonders, to the point where almost half an hour in is when we get the opening credits. We have a film that knows exactly what it is doing with long takes filling out the film. Luis Armando Arteaga allows his camera to watch on. These are complex characters, and with limited editing, their story never feels smothered. With close-ups are only chosen when absolutely necessary. By doing this, the emotion of the story is able to flow so much better for the audience. Private Desert leaves you continually guessing as to where its final destination is, leaving you thoroughly fulfilled.

Private Desert is a film that, if possible, you go in with as little information as possible, so expect no spoilers here as we have a movie that makes that journey worthwhile. For this is a wonderful film that takes its time and allows you to seep into it before it begins to reveal its true self, leaving us with a film that keeps its focus on compassion and humanity.

★★★ 1/2

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