MOVIE REVIEW: Liquid Truth

(Photo courtesy of the Chicago International Film Festival)

Cinema of the Americas and World Cinema selections of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival


The discolored and dingy tile grout at the bottom of a swimming pool and the imagery effect of rippling water seen under the surface bending the images above perspective starkly symbolize the many warped dimensions of Liquid Truth.  The truth in the title is as slippery as the water in director Caroline Jabor’s simmering social commentary.  The film may be foreign from Brazil, but it typifies all too many social media ills that would explode in a parallel fashion here in this country.  Liquid Truth made its North American premiere as a World Cinema and Cinema of the Americas program selection at the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival to high regard.

Rubens is a beloved YMCA swim instructor, played by Brazilian TV star Daniel de Oliviera.  In public, he is fit, attractive, popular, a smiling smoothie, and a welcome presence to the children and pre-teens he teaches and coaches.  He is hands-on, helpful, and quick with a high-five, arm around the shoulder, or supportive hug, earning high marks from parents.  When the kids are gone, his dirty and crude side comes out to his fellow co-workers.  Though he has a steady girlfriend Sofia (Luisa Arraes), Rubens is a braggart on bedding women, scouting cougars, perusing underage girls on social media, and smoking in the locker room.  This dichotomy of behavior begs the question of which side is the true Rubens.

When their son Alex (Luiz Felipe Mello) comes home upset one day, a father (Marco Ricca) and mother (Stella Rabello), two helicopter parents with high demands for their son’s success, make the serious accusation of inappropriate contact involving Rubens.  With an alarming pause, Rubens’ supervisor Ana (Malu Galli) attempts to make sense of both sides before authorities are necessary.  Any calm means of compromise or conference are destroyed when the mother takes to Facebook and Instagram to blast out her ranting claims.

LESSON #1: THE BOUNDARIES OF TEACHER-STUDENT RELATIONSHIPS-- We have reached the day and age, no matter the country, where something like a hug has become a risk for a teacher or caretaker.  Like the collected feedback of this WeAreTeachers article states, the span between those for and against is wide, cautious, and contentious.  It shouldn’t matter, but that risk is greater with male teachers versus female teachers.  Sadly, the last numbered point of the cited article reading “the safest route is to avoid hugs altogether” is probably the necessary current climate.

Translated from Aos Teus Olhos and adapted from a stage play, Liquid Truth won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Film at the Rio International Film Festival and the kudos are clear to see towards the film and Jabor's direction.  Writer Lucas Paraizo creates a microcosm situation that veers grossly out of control.  The camera observes with wide shots teasing the distance and borderline voyeurism of wondering if you’re about to catch someone or something in the act.  The film edgily tiptoes between the accuser and the accused with the authorities in between either throwing their hands in the air or folding their arms in seriousness.  

It’s a simple story arc essentially, but the thorny edges of malice and misinformation are anything but simple when it comes to moral consequences.  Frighteningly topical and entirely conceivable no matter the workplace, Liquid Truth drips with a slow boil from just short of the temperature of seething anger.  You can’t take your eyes off the screen fishing for clues and comeuppance.  

LESSON #2: HELICOPTER PARENTS ARE PROBLEMATIC-- Crassly in a moment of disgust, Rubens says “some parents f--k up a kid’s mind.”  He ain’t wrong sometimes.  Take a gander at the topic of “helicopter parenting.”  In the article, Dr. Carolyn Daitch, director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders states, "They typically take too much responsibility for their children's experiences and, specifically, their successes or failures."  There is a level of responsible parenting that is excessive.  Pump the brakes.

LESSON #3: SOCIAL MEDIA DANGERS-- The number of social media and digital citizenship red flags raised by Liquid Truth can look like the Olympic opening ceremonies.  This leads into Lesson #3 on words and actions, but we cannot educate children and adults more on the digital footprint they leave.  Each person is the curator of their own content and needs to act with such mindfulness.

LESSON #4: WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AND DO-- This lesson goes for both sides, the parents and Rubens.  How you carry yourself is everything.  Words and actions made public are nearly impossible to take back or correct, so you have to be fair or correct before.  All it takes is the claim to smear someone.  Folks pass judgment even if the claim becomes unfounded.  Take a pause.  Gain context and talk to people before throwing out accusations.