SXSW Review: “My Drywall Cocoon”

Ritzy condominiums dot the majority of Brazil’s urban landscapes. They have everything their typically upper class residents could ever want or need, their safety ensured by the security cameras scattered around the complex. Writer/director Caroline Fioratti draws on her experience growing up in one such condominium, but watching them become more and more elite and closed off over the years, for her feature My Drywall Cocoon.

It turns out that the suffocating nature of living behind walls, surrounded only by people of the same race and class, the workers who commute in not even allowed to share the same entrance as the residents, can create its own deadly cocktail of pent-up frustrations and emotions. When the film opens, it’s the night of Virginia’s (Bella Piero) 17th birthday party. She’s in front of a mirror getting ready, waiting for her friends to arrive to her family’s penthouse apartment. Her relationship with her mother, Patricia (Maria Luísa Mendonça), who is clearly trying extra hard to give her daughter a great night, walks the line between fraught and friendly, as Virginia begs her mom to leave her and her friends alone for the night. She does, but after this, the film cuts to a tragic scene: it’s the next morning, and Virginia is dead, the apartment torn apart, Patricia in hysterics and Virginia’s best friend (Mari Oliveira) and boyfriend (Michel Joelsas) shell-shocked. While everyone in the present deals with the aftermath in their own ways, the events of the night before unravel in a series of flashbacks, where it soon becomes apparent that anything from violence to drug abuse could have been the culprit in Virginia’s demise.

Michel Joelsas and Bella Piero in “My Drywall Cocoon”

My Drywall Cocoon possesses a tangible sense of place. Virtually the entire film is set within the walls of the condo, the clinical appearance of the interiors in particular lending to that suffocating feeling the characters are clearly experiencing. The warm, vibrant lighting in the party scenes stand in stark contrast to the dim gray tones that dominate the scenes following Virginia’s death. Besides standing as a solid technical achievement, several of the film’s young actors deliver brave performances in roles that really demand a lot of them. But the material veers so heavily into melodrama, there’s a tendency among some of the supporting players to overact.

Ultimately, any sort of societal critique My Drywall Cocoon may have been aiming for misses the mark. The characters, so stifled by their lifestyle, flirt with danger in the form of drug use or violence, but the use of a young woman’s sudden death as the plot device driving the story forward comes off as manipulative in a narrative that depicts a lot of sexual and violent abuse (especially toward women from men) without a lot of nuance. That this is a vicious cycle that no amount of money, looks, or power can break you from is obvious, but from its downer of an opening to its downbeat conclusion, My Drywall Cocoon wallows in it with little clear purpose, despite the intrigue drummed up but it’s structure and pacing. The mournful score by Flavia Tygel doesn’t help, telling the audience what we should feel as opposed to depicting that onscreen with any kind of sincerity; only occasionally does the film successfully prompt the viewer to consider their own feelings as the truth and each character’s possible culpability in the events of the night comes to light. Fioretti’s direction is skilled and her premise promising, but the final piece that unfolds on screen doesn’t fully deliver.

My Drywall Cocoon had its world premiere at the SXSW Film Festival on March 11, with additional screenings to be held on March 13 at 12:45 pm and 1:15 pm and March 17 at 5:30 pm. Runtime: 115 minutes.

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