Product of a hyper-masculine upbringing, Daniel (Antonio Saboia), a police officer released from his duties after a violent incident, cares for his ill father while in an emotionally stunted state. It’s only when communicating with a love interest hundreds of miles away that his stoic, macho demeanor softens. But a long-distance connection isn’t enough.
“Private Desert,” Brazil’s entry for best international feature film at the most recent Oscars, is a sultry journey toward self-acceptance that tracks Daniel as he traverses the South American country from the southern city of Curitiba to find his love. Yet, the most inhospitable terrain he must cross to reach her is that of his own ingrained prejudices.
The young woman, Sara (Pedro Fasanaro), leads a secret double life in a conservative religious town. Meeting Daniel in person could derail their relationship and put her at risk. Buoyed by two superb performances, writer-director Aly Muritiba’s tenderly electrifying new feature is part sensual queer romance and part moving character study.
Saboia (previously seen in “Bacurau”) is a magnetic leading man deserving of wider international exposure. His muscular body and rugged facial features contrast with the nuanced expressiveness of his eyes as he plays a first conflicted, then confused Daniel. An arm cast from the outburst that got him in trouble accompanies him on the treacherous road to accountability like a shackle anchoring him to the man he doesn’t want to be.
Just as poignant is Fasanaro’s turn, which requires the young actor to convincingly alternate between the two identities that inhabit the same body. Together at last and with no secrets left untold, the cop and the enigmatic damsel dissect their entanglement. Strong motifs, the warm light of the arid landscape and the perspiration that coats their skin in every scene seem to further color their auras with a passionate virulence for one another.
One becomes certain that “Private Desert” is the type of unshowy treasure at risk of being overlooked during a sublime, musically driven embrace to the tune of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” For a moment, under the nightclub lights and to the cadence of a power ballad, the lovers feel safe from the world that judges them. In each other’s arms, they are found.
In Portuguese with English Subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute
Playing: Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica; Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood