Certain films, like Chico Teixeira’s Alice’s House, currently enjoying a limited theatre run nationwide, give us an unobstructed view onto the mundane lives of others. Because their lives are usually mundane, especially the people who live on the other side of town. Overcrowded apartments, men eating voraciously in silence (making diner conversation is not key), the occasional tiff breaking out.
This is life in Alice’s House as told by Teixeira. Alice (Carla Riba) and her family live in Sao Paulo. Teixeira’s stationary camera is the family’s silent observer and we’re complicit. As time elapses, slowly, you realize that the grandmother, Dona Jacira (Berta Zemel), who has been relegated to the rank of live-in maid, pieces together all of her family’s secrets. She is often shown alone, ironing, washing, sometimes staring from the balcony at the scene below, and she takes note.
It is not clear what she does with the information (one of her grandsons is a hustler, her son-in-law has photos of the neighbor striking salacious poses) and sometimes you wonder if it might not all be too much for her. Dear heart! She is the reluctant link that holds this family together. Scenes transition into one another as night turns into day and again into night. There must be four or five dinner scenes, and several breakfast scenes.
Scenes in the shower, in bed (nighttime and morning) and scenes in the workplace (Alice works in a hair and nail salon). All vignettes which might begin to show time’s unforgiving passage: age, idleness, the slow withdrawal into old age. Alice, her sons and her husband lead the lives of quiet desperation which Thoreau famously had pointed out and Teixeira simply help to uncover all of their untidy secrets for us. At the end, everything unravels but it isn’t all fire and brimstone.
In fact, things are far from lost. As the parting shot nears, we should know that these lives will continue, unabated. Something surprising happens, however, to the most sympathetic character of them all: the grandmother. Some long-standing halcyon dream of hers is finally realized and she feels catharsis. But Teixeira does this moment so well that it leaves you on a high note, wondering perhaps what could have been for these people but mostly just glad that such a marvelous film could see light of day.