Daniel Bandeira’s film Property highlights the ever-widening and ethically deflating socio-economic gap between workers and management. While faltering slightly in the middle, this remains a tension filled thriller.
After a near-death experience at the hands of an armed man, Tereza (Malu Galli) is taken by her husband to their countryside farm to recover. Sadly, their arrival is at the exact time their workers find out they are being sacked and kicked off the land. As they revolt, Tereza finds the only safe space in her new armoured car. Separated by a layer of glass, two universes are about to collide.
Property is a film where when things take a sudden turn for the worse, they dramatically become something unimaginable when the lower-income workers who have worked on the farm for decades take action into their own hands. Not just because they are losing their jobs, but because they are also losing their homes and have the threat of having their work papers withheld until they can pay for the money, they owe to their boss dangling over them.
Daniel Bandeira does some astonishingly good work here in his second feature, as the group reveal themselves to the couple staged in such a goosebump-raising manner that you sit there almost stunned. This technical excellence continues throughout the film with an absorbing score and some hair-raising cinematography from Pedro Sotero who manages to give us some great angles in such a small space within the car.
In that opening act of Property, Daniel Bandeira shows us the clear divide between the lower-class workers in Brazil and those who own and run the businesses. Here, we have a group of people whose entire income is in the hope that the farm makes a profit. When the farm struggles, they basically get loans to pay for simple things like food and toiletries and are made to feel thankful for those above them for letting them have that loan. These unfortunate people are effectively enslaved people in their own country.
They are stuck to the success of the land, and it is failing. There are little moments that gut-punch you. These people do not want their world; they just want to live and survive. With the farm turning into a hotel, they plead for themselves to be able to work there instead. However, the owner shrugs that off and asks how they knew about the hotel. It is heartless and devastating and an excellent piece of social commentary from Bandeira.
When first confronted by his workers, Tereza’s husband is defensive but tries to use a sense of calmness to have his workers leave his home and accept the situation. However, when they begin to question him, his patience becomes glaringly thin, and he loses all empathy for those he has hired for decades. Even Renildo, the manager of the farm and firmly in the middle of it all, has no sympathy for those he oversees. Reminding them that some owe the owner quite a debt before he can relinquish their papers.
That disconnect between classes is an apparent epidemic throughout the world. People are losing their empathy for their fellow humans at a startling pace. It makes Property such a better thriller as we have a group of characters who are losing everything with little solace from those they want justice from. You are enthralled with the film when Bandeira focuses on the class issue. It is tense and even brutal, but you can’t look away. When one mistake turns into two from an overly emotional character, your heart is in your mouth as you try to determine what this group will do next. They can’t get that blasted safe open to get their paperwork, so do they stick, or do they run? We know the response from any police will be fast and brutal thanks to our opening scene. As an audience, we have a genuine worry for the majority of them.
Where Property falters, however, is in its character’s decision-making; some of the workers on the farm carry out actions that, considering the circumstances, simply do not make sense. This maddening decision-making slowly takes you out of the film and away from what was its main compelling narrative. This accumulates in a second act that drags far more than needed. But it is bookended by a fantastic first act and a horrifically memorable finale.
We are also placed in a position of watching a home invasion where, other than the opening death, you want to side with the group of workers at the beginning. They just want to have a stable job and survive comfortably. What everyone wants in life. Yet, with Tereza, we have a woman who has gone through something traumatic and wants peace. You relate to her just as much as she tries to survive. To put these two specific sides against one another doesn’t wholly work as it needs to. It becomes a film firmly stuck in a moral quandary; it never finds or even seeks a solution, which is disappointing.
By losing its way in the middle due to the script, Property becomes a film of what could have been. There is still a lot to love about the film, from the exceptional performance of Malu Galli, to the exceptional direction from Bandeira. It leaves you wishing for more, which is a shame as it is so close to being brilliant.
The Brooklyn Horror Film Festival runs from October 12th – 19th. For more information click here.
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