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Life After Death

Paulo Menezes

Cidade Rabat (2023)

Cidade Rabat is the neighborhood in Lisbon where Helena (Raquel Castro) was born and reared. She is a film producer, which means her life involves solving other people's problems, most of which they have also created, obviously. But after the death of her mother (Paula Bárcia), Helena begins to feel like she can truly chart her own course for the first time. The mistakes she makes, at last, will be wholly her own.

The resulting misbehavior, while serious, is one her privilege allows her to handle with a small fine and 80 hours' community service, which Helena elects to spend at a soccer club run by an elderly couple. She isn't a delightful volunteer - she has to be scolded into doing the dishes - but the change to her routine gives her some space to consider how she is spending her time, and whether she's making the most of herself. The kids at the club obviously have little money, as do the film extras Helena is responsible for. The contrast between the comfortable homes of Helena and her mother with the rougher places where she works offer a chance to ponder societal issues such as which parts of the city have garbage collection, and why.

However, this is an internal movie about grief and how losing a parent alters your worldview regardless of your age. Sadly, the struggles here are not significant enough to justify inclusion at the Berlinale. Writer-director Susana Nobre has faith us viewers will understand Helena’s feelings without spelling them out, but that faith is not always repaid with a worthy plot. Helena's sister Lina (Paula Só) does the majority of the admin needed after their mother’s death; the funeral goes off without a hitch, even when Helena complains it’s too religious for their atheist mother; Helena largely gets along with her teenage daughter, Maria (Laura Afonso), and she coparents well with her ex. Her bosses are sympathetic, and even the extras from the movie are happy for her to bop along at the edges of their parties as the only white woman there. When Helena overindulges at a wedding someone merely laughs and tells Maria, “You have a fun mom.” More movies which center adult women and the routines of ordinary life are desperately needed, but the grief here and its consequences needed a little more drama in order to be truly interesting.

All that said, there’s a shot of Helena sleeping with a stuffed polar bear, so much is forgiven.


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