There’s no more striking image in Love for Sale than the vast, twinned emptiness of land and sky in remote northeastern Brazil, the setting for this tale of dead-end lives and inchoate yearning. Hermila (Guedes), 21, grew up in the wayside town of Iguatu, and as the film opens she’s returning, with her baby boy, from a failed foray in São Paulo. She uneasily settles back into Iguatu’s torpid rhythms, moving in with her family and reconnecting with an old boyfriend (Miguel), as well as a friend (Castro) who now works, casually, as a prostitute. When it becomes clear that Hermila’s husband back in the city will not be joining her, she hatches a scheme to escape again, selling raffle tickets for “one night in paradise” with “Suely,” her alter ego. Where she will go—and how she will survive there—remains an open question.
Shot with painterly skill by Walter Carvalho (Central Station), Love for Sale is a less kinetic, less thrilling film than Karim Ainouz’s 2003 debut, Madame Satã. But as the central character, Guedes brings a protean intensity to the screen: Her face, beautiful one moment, can appear weary the next. Some viewers will respond to Hermila’s willfulness with exasperation, but her desperate longing feels perfectly true.