Based on real events, and set in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, Wolf at the Door starts with Sylvia (Fabíula Nascimento) finding out that her six-years old daughter has been kidnapped by an woman. The police then question her husband Bernardo, played by Melhein Cortaz, who also starred in Elite Squad (José Padilha, 2007) and Carandiru (Hector Babenco, 2003). There he confesses to an extra-marital affair with Rosa (Leandra Leal, from The Oyster and the Wind, by Walter Lima Jr, 1997), who turns out to be the kidnapper. Rosa then kills the child in an act of jealousy and revenge.
Brazilians are often associated with passion, hot temper and impulsive demeanor. In Wolf at the Door all of these elements are fused into a single female character, resulting in a cold-blooded femme fatale. Rosa is at the same time fragrant and harmful, just like a rose with thorns. She is also complex and captivating.
The Brazilian assassin is as callous as Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith, the real-life killers who became the centrepiece of Truman Capote’s book ‘In Cold Blood’, later portrayed in the biopic Capote (2005, Bennett Miller). The main difference here is the crime motif. While the American assassins had no relation to their victims, Rosa was intimately related to the child whom she killed.
The plot is also a twist on Medea’s classic. In the Greek classic, the female murders her own children, while in A Wolf at the Door, Rosa kills her lover’s daughter.
Coimbra’ s narrative transports us to suburban Rio de Janeiro, where locals dwell in a oppressive and tropical existence, with hardly enough air to breathe. Concrete houses are built with little architectural planning, and there is limited space to walk with freedom. People are trapped in a chaotic urban labyrinth. Rosa’s reasoning, just like these suburbs, is narrow and confined.
Leal’s performance holds the film together. Her psyche and feminine seduction soften all the brutal aspects of her twisted passion-drive actions. In the end, the romantic turmoil is a vivid and disturbing tale of Rio de Janeiro, “the marvelous city”, in all its contradictions.
Wolf at the Door was exhibited at the Barbican Centre, in London, as part of the Rio + Festival. It is now available to purchase in the best online outlets. Coimbra recently directed two episodes of the award-winning TV series Narcos, which have catapulted him to international fame. DMovies selected it as one of “the dirtiest Brazilian films of the past 10 years”.