Set in the remote countryside of Sao Paulo, Charcoal tells the story of married Irene (Maeve Jinkings) and Jairo (Romulo Braga). Struggling to pay the bills and survive their own personal issues, Irene and Jairo fight to raise their 8-year-old son Jean (Jean Costa) and her elderly (and very ill) father. However, when Irene is offered the opportunity to put her father to rest and take in a drug kingpin in his place, she takes the chance. But now, she must fight to keep up appearances so that the community does not become suspicious.
Wild and surprising, the darkly comedic Charcoal feels almost Hitchcockian at times. Written and directed by Carolina Marcowicz, the film is a savage satire that pulls back the illusions of the status quo. Highlighting the division between worlds, Marcowicz uses the film to speak into the absurdity of a culture that celebrates violence but denies basic human rights. In this world, the church is irrelevant, calling people to give out of their poverty to feed their own wealth. Meanwhile, people hide their sexuality out of fear of judgment. Alcoholism and addiction are kept in the shadows in order to maintain appearances. However, at the same time, violence is simply accepted as part of everyday life. There is a cycle to violence that continues and goes largely ignored. (This is particularly evident through the character of Jean who witnesses abusiveness and corruption in the home, first hand.)
In many ways, it’s interesting that the film is called Charcoal. In this world, the fire is always burning and willing to incinerate their sins without judgment. When thrown into the fire, everything becomes charcoal and ash. Set primarily within the family’s home, Marcowicz keeps the emphasis on the doors that can be closed. Although the story suggests that this action is to keep people in, the reality is that it’s also about keeping people out. In order to keep up the status quo, Irene will do everything that she can to keep people at a distance for the sake of appearances.
In Charcoal, the thing that’s truly being kept hostage is the truth.
Charcoal is now playing at TIFF ’22. For screening information, click here.