The Secret Cause | Chicago Reader

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Susan Sontag once proclaimed 19th-century Brazilian writer Machado de Assis “the greatest author ever produced in Latin America,” but you'd never guess it from this loose adaptation (1994) of one of his stories. An aging director celebrated for his radical productions in the 1960s attempts a comeback with a play that's supposed to reflect the harsh realities of urban life. The actors, researching their roles in housing projects, hospitals, and laboratories, are too absorbed in petty power games to perceive the suffering around them, and in rehearsal they harangue one another in a series of slapped-together agitprop skits. Director Sergio Bianchi overplays his hand by indulging in the very intellectual and psychological histrionics he seems to critique. At one point, after seeing a rat tortured to death onstage, an actress yells, “Stop!”; pummeled by the film's dreadful rancor, I wanted to do the same. In Portuguese with subtitles. 93 min.

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