A Wolf at the Door (2013)

In small towns, where economic stagnation abounds and sex ratios are skewed, it often goes that you don’t lose your girlfriend, you just lose your turn. Oddly enough, and, while I do not recollect its overarching context in the argument, this was an expression I was introduced to by someone who—to my dismay—simply wouldn’t go away. Quite the contrary for her, it turned out, in becoming the acquiescent moment arrived at with equal parts resignation and a faux optimism. That no sooner than I’d dump her, I would find my way back around as if sliding on love’s Moebius strip. In other words, why bother?

To compound this colloquialism’s relevance was after the first hook-up, she “two-timed” me on the rebound. Though it would go against an unspoken agreement to be exclusive with benefits, i.e. sans the requisite obligations, I hark back to this earlier episode where her quip was apt despite its showstopper profundity in the latter; that more than anything it was possibly a reconciliatory rebuttal during an attempted break-up. Contextually out of place, yes, but has my guard dropped. What can I say, the blowjobs were otherworldly.

But what of a place like Rio, a city of millions, abundance and polarity? And likewise for the incessant? Surely, the issue of scarcity should not be severe as to engender an obsessive clinging in the jettisoned. Not for Rosa Correa. For Rosa Correa, it was never about the numbers game dealing a straw shorter than most. Certainly, her lover Bernardo is too tied down for her liking––ball, chain, with the kid. For instance, in the film’s sole sex scene, shot close-up in profile, he wields a bucktoothed grin that, on the surface, betrays whatever keeps her coming back. She is stunning, much younger, and, perhaps, out of his league. Not that his wife is lacking, but mutually for him, Sylvia has deserted their love bed, a shirked revelation left unexplored.

As the film opens to a frenetic flurry, a flawless but misleading set-up, hints of a procedural begin to take shape. After school, Clara, of six years, goes missing when she is carelessly allowed to leave with a stranger posing as a friendlier face. Her daycare teacher, mother, and father get brought in for questioning. As the police grill everyone individually for a motive, no sanctity is spared when the couple’s troubled marriage is revealed. Rosa, as Bernardo’s lovestruck mistress, is immediately identified as a suspect but not before recanting her first statement. That of an accomplice in cahoots painted as Sylvia’s lover.

These initial discrepancies are duly sifted through and we spend the bulk of runtime recounting the “truer” version in flashback. Rosa ultimately devises a payback on her own, enlisting a hooker to tip Bernardo off to a fabricated affair involving Sylvia and with hooker’s “husband.” Alas, it was not to be more than a red herring. Had the film stayed its course, for it had the combustible makings of a murky, tangled mystery, Wolf at the Door would have fared somewhat more favorably. Sylvia is absolved of an illicit crutch, and all the depth that entails, relegated instead to playing the hapless, unassuming bystander as Rosa poses as friend of a long lost friend. Their newly struck friendship eventually becomes the conduit for reprisal, a forced shoehorn and an unforgivable error as it dehumanizes an entire side of the triangle.

And had its director been the wiser evading rookie mistakes, this debut would have been a different film altogether. Never mind the crippling omission justifying the philandering. Or that a possible recollection of that mutual friend would somehow, just maybe, not add up, giving rise to suspicions. Here, it chooses to tackle its narrative fork in the road fairly soon. No wonder then that it goes limp mere strokes in, resigning the film to a hollow, bloated interior flanked by gripping set-pieces. And yet, far from the colossal write-off it threatened to be, the acting and execution are superb. Its mood? Much too subdued to conform with its promise and keep up with its conviction. It becomes a character study of the jilted, scorned lover. And at what cost? The dashed hopes of a portrayal of humans’ as of yet undefined capacity for cruelty and deception in the name of wanton indulgence. A film within a film, with all the complexity of a linear progression.

The titular wolf could well be a stand-in for marital infidelity; the action of consenting adults ultimately, jeopardizing the household and, more crucially, its children. In response to the detective, the jobless Rosa defines herself with her last held job. If she symbolizes the wolf in question, certainly her now drab existence is aggravated further by apathetic parents. This is the impression Fernando Coimbra gives. Lest we give him less credit, the wolf may just be a representation of any societal dysfunction resulting in oppressive idleness. Yet, I refuse to see it that way. This is after all coming from a director who chose the contrived when daunted with the intricate. Still, Rosa is all too easily kept in Bernardo’s thrall, advances that began as schoolboy level flirtations. And whether one is employed or loafing, for the needful it is one form of bondage merely replacing another.

Therein lies the caveat. The tried and tested conventional thinking that were something to appear too good to be true, it, in all likelihood, is. That passion’s swift throes come unannounced despite a long gone telltale sign. That the road to ecstasy is often convoluted; deceptively adorned with pitfalls both treacherous and seldom heeded when at the behest of potential rapture. And while we may straddle both extremes of whichever spectrum of emotions we call our temperament, the widest range is the most intensely felt. As it cuts both ways, it just so happens that crazier the woman, the greater the sex. So forget the occasional unexpected appearance, for what once innocuously began as a chance encounter slowly becomes a coincidence contrived. Workplaces are encroached as a coworker gets probed. An unanswered call is immediately redialed. New numbers appear in the call log. Red flags chalked up to erratic nuisance for the allure of another conquest beckoning shall not be denied. Because in tow is an ego now spruced from a masculinity reaffirmed. Each time serving like a discovery, a reminder of a once underestimated prowess. And so must men, weak, simple and unquenchable, keep returning to that well. The only sensible course of action remaining is when, if at all possible, to safely pull out.