Set in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, A WOLF AT THE DOOR is based on real events, and is a nerve-rattling tale of a kidnapped child and the terror of the parents left behind. When Sylvia (Fabíula Nascimento) discovers her six-year-old daughter has been picked up at school by an unknown woman, police summon her husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz) to the station for questioning. There Bernardo confesses his extra-marital affair with the beautiful young Rosa (Leandra Leal), whom detectives believe to be involved in the kidnapping.
Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Coimbra’s suspenseful debut feature captures the heightened anxiety of every parent’s worst nightmare, casting a light upon the cruelties of which humans are capable.
Fernando Coimbra majored in Cinema and Video at the School of Communication and Arts from the University of São Paulo (ECA-USP) in 1999. In 1995 he wrote and directed his first shortlength film, “As Agruras de um Homem-Sandwich” (The Bitterness of a Sandwich Man) in partnership with Murillo Mathias. The film, which was taken to the Brasília Festival the same year, received numerous awards.The following year, 1996, in partnership with João Carlos Lemos, he writes and directs his second short-length, “O Retrato de Deus Quando Jovem” (God´s Portait when He was Young). In 2005, he writes and directs the short-length “Pobres-diabos no Paraíso” (Poor Devils in Paradise), 35mm, 23 minutes, called for the Proposal from the Ministry of Culture. The film participates in several film festivals in Brazil and abroad, and wins the Tatu de Ouro Award for Best Fiction Film at the 32nd Jornada Internacional de Cinema da Bahia (2005), among others. In 2007 he directs and shoots the DVD of “Os Sertões – O Homem 1” in high definition video in a large structure with 11 cameras shooting the show, live, simultaneously. This year he also shoots and finalizes the short-length “Trópico das Cabras”, which wins the Festival de Brasília do Cinema Brasileiro, and takes part of more than thirty festivals in Brazil and abroad, winning more than 21 awards. In 2008 he shoots and finalizes “A Garrafa do Diabo” (The Devil´s Bottle), short-length, called for the Proposal for Short-Length Films with the topic on the Youngsters (known as the ShortLength for Kids), from the Ministry of Culture, in partnership with TVE. The film won the award for Best Fiction Film on the 1st Popular Jury Festival in 2009, taken place in several cities. In 2009 he participates in the Olympic Short Film Contest, promoted by the International Olympic Committee. He wins the Brazilian Phase with the short “O Rim de Napoleão” (Napoleon´s Kidney). He goes to Switzerland where he shoots the short “Playing Tennis with Jean-Luc Godard”, for the final of the Olympic contest. The film wins the international phase, being in first place in the jury´s choice. In 2010 he premiers “Magnífica Desolação” (Magnificent Desolation), winning the Stimulus Prize from the São Paulo Government, produced by Gullane, on the 21st São Paulo Short-Length International Festival where he wins the Canal Brasil-Acquisition Award. “A Wolf at the Door” is his first feature film.
Bijan Tehrani: How did you encounter the story of A WOLF AT THE DOOR and what motivated you to make it?
Fernando Coimbra: The film is inspired by a true story that happened in the sixties in Rio de Janeiro. I first read about it in an old magazine and got intrigued by the human side of this dark and cruel story. The press at the time talked about the perpetrator of the abduction as a monster. For me though, the case said a lot about human behavior. I wanted to understand what happened in the relationship between this man and his mistress, to try to understand the crime. There’s an animal component in all humans. We deny it and say we are superior, but I don’t believe we are. We have basic emotions and instincts.
BT: How close events and characters of your film are to the real story and people involved in it?
FC: The film is inspired by a true story, but it’s not an adaptation, as no one will never know what fully happened – it’s simply impossible. Because of this, I decided to tell the story through two different points of view, as I figured even in a fictionalized account of the story, each character would have a different side to what happened.
BT: Before writing the screenplay what kind of research you did?
FC: I did a lot of research into media reports on the case in the sixties from the larger newspapers and magazines. I read everything I could, visited the locations where the people from the story lived, and collected criminal records and reports from the police investigation and trial. Reading the different perspectives on the story, I realized that there was an opportunity to make a fictionalized version using various character’s point of views.
BT: This is a very dark story with the darkest ending one can imagine, but very honest. How has been the reaction of the audiences to your film?
FC: The reaction so far has been great. I’ve shown the film in various countries and cultures, and the audience has consistently been committed to the story and the characters, and the majority seem to feel that the end is organic and a part of the story. They don’t agree or approve of the character’s actions, but can understand her motivations. This was my biggest focus while making the film: to understand how and why the character is capable of doing such a cruel act, without judging her or any other character involved in the case. The ending and this kind of subject matter could easily be viewed as a mechanism for shock, and I knew if this happened, I would feel like I failed in telling the story.
BT: A WOLF AT THE DOOR may have a local touch, but I think this can happen anywhere in the world, don’t you think so?
FC: Yes, I agree. The film tells a universal story about basic emotions of human beings, as well as being an ancient Greek style tragedy. Because of being a universal story though, I felt like the film had to be grounded somewhere, which is why it was so important to set it in the Rio de Janeiro suburbs, a very specific and distinct place/culture.
BT: Does A WOLF AT THE DOOR bring any kind of awareness to the subject of our men manipulated world and abuse of women?
FC: I don’t think abuse is the main theme of the film, but it is an undeniable component. I believe our society remains very machisto, whether people agree with this or not. There is a pattern of men believing that their rights over a woman’s body are unlimited – sexually and physiologically. This mentality breeds violence.
BT: How did you go about casting of your film?
FC: Leandra Leal is one of the best actresses of her generation in Brazil. For Rosa, I needed a young and beautiful yet mature actress. Leandra has all of these qualities plus the ability to give a beautiful minimalistic performance. You look into her eyes and you see there’s a lot happening inside her mind and heart. She was the perfect actress to play Rosa, and also, being very famous in Brazil and having the face of an angel, it made the audiences believe her character and question her guiltiness.
Milhem Cortaz is another multi-layered actor. He looks very macho and strong, but he can also be delicate, minimal and funny. He brings an unexpected charisma to the character and a likeable personality. I chose him because he makes the character look very real.
Fabiula Nascimento is a new talent emerging in Brazilian cinema and TV. She is mostly known for her comedic roles, because she is very funny, but her talent in drama is also now being discovered and explored. I thought it would be a good idea to push her outside her comfort zone acting-wise, and her funny side and great capacity of being spontaneous would bring a lively vibe to her character. Physically, she can also change from a ordinary housekeeper to a beautiful and attractive woman.
BT: How did you come up with visual style of your film?
FC: This is a film about characters and their intimacy. We worked a lot with close ups, in sequence shots, where you can see the intimate performance of the actors. And in contrast, wide shots that inserts the characters into their environment. The visual style of the film is the result of a long time collaboration between Lula Carvalho, the cinematographer, and I. The lighting was also used to reflect the character’s emotions, meaning how the lighting was set up depended on the particular emotions in a scene.
BT: Are you working on any new projects?
FC: Yes, I’m working on finishing the editing of two episodes of a show called NARCOS, that I directed for Netflix, which will be released in August. The show was shot in Colombia, and tells the story of Pablo Escobar and the struggle of the Colombian government vs the Americans who wished to arrest him.
I’m also working on the script of my next feature entitled THE HANGED. It is set in Rio de Janeiro and tells a Shakespearean story about fighting for power and control inside a Brazilian mob that controls an illegal lottery.