When the cast of Alma Viva took to the stage prior to the start of their screening, they described the project as a “family film” and spoke at length about how they grew closer throughout production. And while Alma Viva is certainly about a family and describing it as a family film is accurate, doing so also does a disservice to how masterful Cristèle Alves Meira’s feature debut is at etching out a portrait that’s intimate, joyous and utterly heartbreaking. Throw in a touch of mystique and an eye-widening setting, and Alma Viva is an astonishing marvel of visual creativity.
Returning home as she does every summer, youngster Salomé (Lua Michel) starts her vacation like any other. She spends the long, hot days enjoying her time with her clan, most of all her grandmother, Alma. She’s the fiery matriarch and their spiritual anchor. However, when she suddenly passes away the family are torn apart. Without Alma to keep the peace, the adults argue and scream at each other as they process their grief. Meanwhile, young Salomé gradually comes to understand the levity of the situation, and she comes to believe she’s being haunted by a witch.
Meria’s direction is nothing short of incredible. In lesser hands, some of the sequences (especially one involving a mishap at a funeral home) would be played as a cheap laugh. But, here, the filmmaker hones in on the emotional core of the family’s ordeal. Just in the way each member interacts with the others, viewers will observe the rich complexity of each of their relationships through the smallest interactions: whether that be annoying Alma with atrociously bad singing, playing with the young Salomé, or by saying nothing at all, the filmmaker takes audiences into the centre of a family during a difficult time.
Moreover, the rich dynamic is just one half of what makes Alma Viva so wonderful. The film is portrayed primarily from the perspective of the young girl, meaning that viewers will understand events from a child’s eyes in a journey that spans wonder, terror and confusion. Amin Bouhafa’s remarkable score does a lot of the heavy lifting here as he uses a foreboding, rhythmic pounding to characterise the youngster’s unease before switching to a dizzying orchestration reminiscent of Herzog’s Grizzly Man to colour the sprawling countryside with adventure.
From the intimate and moving writing to its expressive and equally nuanced visuals, Alma Viva marks a sensational feature debut from a marvellous filmmaker.
Alma Viva does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Alma Viva here: