Hard Labor

03/12/2021 06:09

Film: Hard Labor (Trabalhar Cansa)

Year: 2011

Director: Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas

Writer: Marco Dutra and Juliana Rojas

Starring: Helena Albergaria, Marat Descartes and Naloana Lima



This was a movie I’ll be honest, I had never heard of. It popped up for me when I was looking through the Letterboxd top 100 films with a woman director. This one is interesting though as we have a woman co-director. It still counts and I’m making this a Featured Review as part of Women’s History month in February. The synopsis here is young housewife Helena (Helena Albergaria) is on the verge of fulfilling a dream as she prepares to open her own business: a neighborhood grocery store. Things don’t go as planned and as pressure mounts, Helena has to find a way of making things work.

We start this off with Helena being shown around a building. It doesn’t look great and it really a fixer-upper. She is considering it though. When she goes home though, she gets the bad news that her husband of Otávio (Marat Descartes) has lost his job. She tells him that she can put this dream on hold. He instead wants to look over the paperwork.

She ends up renting the space. The two of them clean it up where they find there was a cockroach infestation. There is also an unsightly brick wall that is going to be covered up. To add another big change, they hire Paula (Naloana Lima) to be the nanny to their daughter of Vanessa (Marina Flores).

As the synopsis states though, things don’t go as planned. Otávio is going to interviews, but hasn’t had any luck in finding a job. Helena hires a staff, but she is distrustful of them. This employee has the name of Ricardo (Thiago Carreira) and he told a customer on their opening day they do not have skim milk. When Helena looks at the invoice of receiving in items, there should be some there. She confronts him about it and he states he will look again. There are other items that the inventory isn’t matching up so it makes her think Ricardo is stealing. This causes her to do some other measures to confirm it.

The tension isn’t just at work. Paula does some things around the house that bother Helena as well. With Otávio not being able to find work and being too proud to ask for help, the couple is struggling. It also doesn’t help that the wall that was put up to hide the brick wall at the store has an unsightly stain on it that keeps getting worse and worse. Running a business is hard work, but Helena is pushed to the limits and there is something not quite right about the building she is renting either.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap for the movie and the where I want to start is that as this ended, I was questioning if this is horror or not. I’ll get into what I think makes it that, but this is really a character study of this married couple with the stresses that they are dealing with here.

Where I want to start is with Helena. From what I gather, she comes from money. She has this dream to open up her own grocery store. She has a picture of the place that she is looking at with the former proprietor. His place seemed to be successful back in the day and I’m assuming she thinks that she could make it work by putting in her own grocery store here. What I like is that we really get a true look what it is to run a business. At every turn, Helena is having issues. She believes that Ricardo is stealing from her as the inventory isn’t matching up. She can’t prove any of this though. She is also having issues with like a pipe backing up and leaking. There is the wall that is rotting. She rubs her employees the wrong way with things like wanting to be open on a holiday. We see that it doesn’t work out as well as she hoped and her employees are turning against her in a way.

To continue with this character, there are problems at home as well. She butts heads with her husband regularly. There is a bit of him being emasculated by her bringing in the primary income. I’ll get into that, but she gets annoyed with him is what I’ll say here. She also convinces Paula to work for her, despite it being under the table and no benefits. When Paula does some important life events with Vanessa, it rubs Helena the wrong way. I feel this is showing how time consuming running a business can be and the strain it is putting on her home life because of it.

As I was alluding to, I want to take this over to Otávio. He loses his job to a younger man. There are multiple times in the movie that it brings up with his age that finding a job is difficult. We see him go to interviews against younger men and even learn later in the movie that jobs are hard to find. For every opening, there are 100 applicants. He does find a commission only job and gets to work from home, but we see his heart isn’t in it. He is lost in what he should be doing and a bit prideful when it comes to asking for help.

The last things that I want to delve into here will start with Paula doesn’t necessarily need this job. She wants something that is more official, but she sees the need for Helena. She gets treated horrible by Helena’s mother from the moment they meet. Helena isn’t that nice to her either. It is really only Vanessa and Otávio from this family. The other is the horror aspects. I’ll be honest though, these are quite light. There is this dog that keeps barking at the store from outside. This makes Helena uncomfortable. We also see there something that was chained up in the back of the store that left deep and scary scratches on the wall. There is something some thing behind the brick wall that is monstrous. We really don’t get enough of this or much an explanation unfortunately.

Since I’ve really broken down the characters, I’ll take it to the acting next. Albergaria does an excellent job. This movie really does fit for being woman appreciation since she is the star here. She is strong, but we see how hard of work this place is wearing on her. I think her performance is really good. Descartes is also really good as her husband. He just looks defeated and we see his plight wear on him as well. Lima does a solid job in her role with how things roll down hill onto her from the stresses in their lives. The rest of the cast does round this out for what was needed as well.

Now really the last things about the movie would be the effects, cinematography and the soundtrack. We don’t get a lot of the former, but it isn’t that type of movie. Everything is done practically and I think that makes it much creepier. They don’t emphasize too much a claw or tooth that is found. Then there is the backroom and what is behind the wall. It made me feel like it could be real. The cinematography is really well done in how the movie was shot. I like getting the monitors of the grocery store to see if I could see anything. It also knows how to focus to make things uncomfortable. The last thing here would be that the soundtrack fit for what was needed as well.

In conclusion, I think that this is a good movie, but I could also see people thinking that nothing really happens. We are getting a look at this marriage between two people who are flipping gender roles and the stresses of their choices. There is also the underlying story of their maid who they don’t treat the best. The story is simple, but it is really how the characters handle it. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but we don’t need them. It is shot well and the soundtrack fits. I would rate this as a good movie. If they would have leaned more into explaining the horror elements or giving us more there, I think they would have had a masterpiece. Since they don’t, it does lack for me to really go higher.


My Rating: 8 out of 10