SXSW Film Review: My Drywall Cocoon

Brazilian drama stylishly reduces its characters to metaphors

“You live in a pink-colored world,” the disillusioned teenager Gabriel (Daniel Botelho) tells his wealthy childhood friend Virginia (Bella Piero) at her 17th birthday celebration. And while on the surface her opulent debutante bash in a lush São Paulo penthouse glows like neon, not all that glitters is rose gold.

Jumping back and forth between the night of the party and the day after, Brazilian film and SXSW 2023 selection My Drywall Cocoon from writer/director Caroline Fioratti opens on bruises scattered along Virginia’s exposed shoulders. Her mother (Mendonça), preparing her for the evening, doesn’t seem to notice the bloodred blemishes. Cut to the cool tones of morning, tears streaming down Mendonça’s petrified face as she grapples with the news of her daughter’s death.

What begins as a melancholy who-or-what-dunit slowly morphs into a cathartic exploration of unspoken crises. The baby-faced guests, including a reluctant Gabriel, Virginia’s arrogant but quietly insecure boyfriend Nicolas (Michel Joelsas), and her aloof friend Luana (Mari Oliveira), trade such menacing glances that even the steady flow of Aperol can’t lighten up. Like a soap opera noir, the unsupervised teens unravel as the night creeps toward the inevitable tragedy.

Tight shots framed inside the cramped condo force an immense feeling of claustrophobia, which is reflected in the guarded worldview of these upper-class high schoolers. Taboo runs amok in this society, and the walls never come down. It takes the death of a 17-year-old for anyone to open up about the repression they reinforce. And boy, is that a cynical outlook.

Although Fioratti’s Cocoon is stylistically concise, the sprawling themes of surveillance, chauvinism, and class privilege are never fully fleshed out. Each character seems to be a microcosm of some social problem, whether that be self-harm or homophobia, and it feels as though the characters serve only one purpose rather than embodying wholly complex humans. Superb acting chops from the principle cast, though, partly make up for the dull caricatures.

Whatever Cocoon lacks from a screenplay that drags, especially during the middle third, it accounts for in its visual and aural aesthetic. From the pastel lighting design to the haunting strings score, Fioratti orchestrates a singular sophistication throughout the film. A motif of mirrors, signaling the vanity and posturing of the elites, is omnipresent and unmissable. The organs and Gregorian chanting heard in the background of the most harrowing scenes match the bleakness of the post-party color scheme, too. Sure, there’s a fair amount of style over substance, but a strong sense of style counts for something.

My Drywall Cocoon

Global, World Premiere

Mon 13, 12:45pm, Violet Crown Cinema 2
Mon 13, 1:15pm, Violet Crown Cinema 4
Fri 17, 5:30pm, Alamo South Lamar C

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