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Motel Destino

  • Film
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
Motel Destino
Photograph: Santora/Cannes Film Festival

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Erotic thrills and brooding menace raise the temperature on this deliciously seedy Brazilian potboiler

Brazilian director Karim Aïnouz (Futuro Beach) channels the spirit of James M Cain’s classic pulp novel ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ in a hot and heavy erotic thriller that goes like a clappers, before running out of steam in its final stretches, like a film gasping for a post-coital ciggie.

Motel Destino is set almost entirely in the establishment of the title, a neon-lit lodgings frequently by horny couples in a dusty Brazilian beach town. The kind of place soundtracked by banging walls and loud groaning, it’s run by the impetuous Elias (Fábio Assunção) and his dissatisfied younger wife Dayana (Nataly Rocha). She does the day-to-day stuff; he shops for sex toys and roams the corridors in sweaty shirt and shorts, occasionally peeking in on the guests through the rooms’ shutters.

It’s the Bates Motel on Viagra, and the arrival of the handsome 21-year-old Heraldo (Iago Xavier) only stirs things up still further. A gang member who messed up a job that left his brother dead, he needs a place to hole up while a ruthless mob matriarch hunts him down. But he and Dayana are soon stealing off for their own covert assignations, with the bullish but oblivious Elias none the wiser.

After his so-so stab at Tudor history with last year’s Firebrand, Motel Destino has Aïnouz back on home turf, and he creates a magnificently lurid seaside setting for this three-hander to play out. With legendary female cinematographer Hélène Louvart, he makes liberal use of crimson filters and hazy light to supercharge that sensory overload. The motel is a place where you can help but make bad decisions and sure enough, everyone does. 

It’s the Bates Motel on Viagra

The 1934 Cain novel is more of a loose inspiration than a text here, but if you have seen Jack Nicholson or John Garfield in the Hollywood adaptations (or in Massimo Girotti in Visconti’s Ossessione), you’ll have a sense of where Heraldo’s philandering takes things, although the younger Xavier gives a more boyish, even childlike, version of the opportunistic drifter.

The impressive Assunção injects homoerotic undercurrents that give the love triangle an unexpected extra frisson. But Motel Destino never deviates radically enough from that tried-and-tested Postman template to throw up too many surprises. The result is frisky but fleeting.

Motel Destino premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Cast and crew

  • Director:Karim Aïnouz
  • Screenwriter:Karim Aïnouz, Mauricio Zacharias, Wislan Esmeraldo
  • Cast:
    • Fábio Assunção
    • Iago Xavier
    • Nataly Rocha
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