Instead of Stockholm Syndrome, the phenomenon of hostage identifying with their captors, you can call this Sao Paulo Syndrome. Basically, the hostages start killing everyone, including their hostage-takers and fellow hostages alike. Two small time criminals pick the absolutely worst restaurant to hold-up in Gabriela Amaral Almeida’s Friendly Beast (trailer here), which screens as part of Exitante! New Films from Brazil at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
As his henpecking wife is so helpful to point out over the phone, Inácio’s restaurant has not panned out as he hoped. That is why he is so reluctant to refuse a rich, entitled couple who arrive right before closing. The hostess Sara is willing to wait on them and the beefy guy finishing his rabbit, because she carries a torch for her boss. When Djair, the recently fired chef also turns up to have it out with Inácio, it gives the La Barca restaurant quorum for two masked hoodlums’ ill-fated armed invasion.
They torment the obnoxious woman for a while until Inácio turns the tables, shooting one fatally (although it will take him time to bleed out). However, the siege is not over. There are just new captors. Ostensibly to avoid scandal, the suddenly unhinged Inácio ties everyone up and starts menacing the surviving armed robber. Apparently, Sara is swept up in his madness, because she is right there with him. They obviously are not thinking at all (“now we just need a plan” Inácio says, in what could become a classic movie quote), especially considering one of their hostages is a public prosecutor and another is an ex-cop. Yet, Inácio and Sara are so far off their rockers, it is hard to respond to the situation with any confidence.
It is pretty impressive how insane Friendly Beast gets, so it is a bit of a disappointment when Amaral starts to play up the surreal and implies rather than shows the big climatic beatdown. Seriously, it is way too late to start worrying about our delicate sensibilities. Regardless, Luciana Paes is scary intense as Sara, ranking up there with Isabelle Adjani’s subway tunnel scene in Possession, but Paes’s ferociousness is more prolonged. This a bold performance that involves blood splattered nudity and total emotional meltdowns. Just wow.
She blows everyone off the screen, but Irandhir Santos still gets his spotlight time as the flamboyant Djair and Ernani Moraes scores by dialing it down, in a lowkey, world-weary kind of way as Amadeu, the ex-cop. Murilo Benício is a somewhat weak presence, but in a weird way that works for the bitterly put-upon Inácio—sort of a sinister Walter Mitty who finally snaps.
If you like mayhem, Amaral has plenty for you right here. This film will be too maniacal for some peoples’ taste, but it is quite a bracing auteurist depiction of human nature at its most animalistic. Highly recommended for cult movie fans, Friendly Beast screens this Saturday and Sunday (3/24 & 3/25) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, in San Francisco.