Blood (O Sangue) is director Pedro Costa’s first feature film and, it could be argued, the most conventional of all his films, in the fact that it has a linear narrative and characters played mainly by professional actors. However, it paves the way for his later films, particularly in the themes of abandonment, loss of home and depicting the underclass of society, and in techniques, such as using disembodied voices and leaving the audience confused about what is happening and how much time has passed. Students of film will also enjoy the homage to other directors including Robert Bresson and Nicholas Ray.
The film centres around two brothers, 17-year-old Vicente (Pedro Hestnes) and 10-year-old Nino (Nuno Ferreira), who are abandoned by their father (Canto e Castro) early in the film. The protective role is assumed by a classroom assistant in Nino’s school, Clara (Inês de Medeiros), and the three of them form an unorthodox family which is destroyed when Vicente and Nino’s uncle (Luís Miguel Cintra) takes Nino to live with his family.
The black and white cinematography and the constant threatening presence of two gangsters who want Vicente to repay his father’s gambling debt, give the film a film-noirish quality, but the stylized acting, unnatural dialogue and overlit faces against unrealistic backgrounds make it appear slightly self-conscious. Costa generally uses music sparingly in his films, but in Blood there are unexpected and rather incongruous moments of music. One moment is when the employees at the warehouse storing pirated cassettes, where Vicente works, rush to load all the cassettes into a van after a tip-off that the police are coming. This slapstick moment, accompanied by uncharacteristic comedy music, only lasts a short time, but the scene feels like it should be in a different film. The second moment is when Vicente and Clara go to the funfair. The music and direction is reminiscent of a 1980’s pop video and suggests a last moment of happiness before the inevitable destruction of their lives.
Pedro Hestnes as Vicente convincingly conveys his character’s journey from innocence to experience and the loss of joy that this brings, but for me it is the performance of Nuno Ferreira as Nino that stands out. Ferreira was not a trained child actor, but an orphan at a Catholic school who Costa discovered when he was searching for a boy to play Nino. Nino literally appears to age during the film as he moves from being a child with a father, brother and home at the beginning of the film to taking control of the boat he is seen in at the end of the film; a scene which raises more questions than it answers.