Dir: Bruno Gascon
Shadow changes a few names, but otherwise sticks close to the facts of the case, following Ana Moreira as Isabel, after her 11-year-old son Pedro goes missing and Police botch the initial investigation the film tracks both the devastating psychological effect on Isabel and her efforts to keep the case alive and find her son.
Shadow is largely a performance piece. The cast that surround her, including Miguel Borges as her husband and Tomás Alves as the man she believes holds the key to what happened to Pedro, are effective, but this is Ana Moreira’s show. There is little in the way of grandstanding in her performance, instead we see the impact of Pedro’s absence reflected in her body. The film unfolds in chapters: 1998, 2004, 2011 and 2013. Across the first three we watch as Isabel slowly shrinks before our eyes; an already slender woman becoming anorexic and sunken as if the stress of Pedro’s absence and simply of not knowing is eating her from the inside. The dialogue can be a little blunt (at least based on the subtitles), but Moreira’s physical performance always cuts to the core of the emotion of her scenes.
Much of the film looks like a typical Netflix true-crime story: it communicates the story well enough, but Gascon doesn’t find many images that stand alone. The exception, and the film’s most interesting purely visual thread, is in the use of yellow. The portrait used on Pedro’s missing poster has him in a yellow short, and for almost the entire film, Isabel is either wearing or carrying something yellow. Most of the time it is her shirt, but when she travels to meet another mother of a missing child, it is her suitcase. When Gascon, at Isabel’s low point, strips yellow out of the frame it feels like a final signal that Isabel has, at least in the moment, truly lost hope. Interestingly, this isn’t noted in the dialogue, so it’s only late in the film that it feels entirely intentional on Isabel’s part, but the emotional impact of the choice is there throughout.
The problem with the film is that nothing that surrounds Isabel is particularly well developed. To a degree that’s because she tunnel visions just about everything else in her life away, but there’s a lack of much sense of the impact of that on her husband and especially on her daughter. The final chapter focuses on a court case that, important as it is to Isabel, never gives us a feel for the stakes of its outcome, nor the specific charges it is over and which is much more formulaic than the rest of the film. It’s a weak note to end the film on.
Of course, the problem that Gascon has is that there really isn’t an ending here. Nobody knows what happened to the real Rui Pedro, he was declared dead in 2019, but that’s an assumption, and the film never quite finds a way to deal with that beyond just stopping and dedicating itself to him and his family. The ending here ought to be lingering and haunting, instead, it just feels rather hollow. This is a tragic case, and Ana Moreira’s performance impressively articulates the impact of it on Pedro’s mother, but the rest of the film doesn’t land with quite the same impact.
Shadow screens at the Raindance Film Festival on October 30th at Curzon Hoxton and online on October 31st. Tickets are available here.