The ramshackle Reboleira quarter on the outskirts of Lisbon is so tough that Sombra (Pedro Ferreira), the main character in this Portuguese film, even carries a machete in the shower. This dreadlocked outsider, whose name translates as ‘Shadow’, is a mystery to local gang leader Olos and his cronies, so an unexplained robbery and an unpaid debt soon make him a marked man.
The plight of the redeemable hero trying not to get drawn into gang violence is standard fare in ghetto cinema, and this moderately arresting effort by Swiss-based Portuguese expat Basil da Cunha plays out largely as you’d expect, though its vivid sense of place and cultural identity gives it a distinctive tang. However, it lacks dramatic punch, partly because we never grasp why Ferreira’s nocturnal loner is worth rooting for – and wheeling on a tattooed white heavy with a prosthetic arm as a dodgy interloper within an otherwise all-black community almost smacks of inverse stereotyping. The rich palette of colour that cameraman Patrick Tresch brings to the urban deprivation is the film’s main strength.