Review by Sean Boelman
There are some films whose message is so important that it is easy to overlook some of their flaws with regards to their delivery. Lilah Hallah’s debut Power Alley — known as “Levante” in its native Portuguese — is an often unsettling exploration of timely themes, even if its power is sometimes undermined by an uneven tone.
The movie follows a teenage volleyball prodigy who finds her future at threat when, on the eve of a massive championship that could change her life for the better, she is faced with an unwanted pregnancy. This is the type of movie that is clearly meant to be provocative, and while it deals with controversial themes, it doesn’t always challenge the audience as much as it clearly hopes to.
This is an extremely political film, and while it is focused on Latin American politics — particularly in Brazil — many of its themes will resonate worldwide. The infringement of womens’ rights is an issue that has been a hot topic of debate for many years in many countries, so it seems that (unfortunately) this movie will not lose its timeliness anytime soon.
The tone of the film is somewhat off-putting, failing to capture the balance that so many other pro-choice movies have recently. We’ve seen different approaches to these themes — from road trip comedies to melodramas and intense thrillers. What we get here is a mix of high school comedy and race-against-the-clock thriller, and the tonal whiplash is jarring.
Obviously, viewers will immediately sympathize with the protagonist for her struggles. However, the other characters leave something to be desired. For example, her teammates on the volleyball team are all archetypal and the conflict they cause is rather generic. And her father, while a welcomed supportive figure, is also underdeveloped.
Ayomi Domenica Dias is absolutely astounding in her leading role. Obviously, the role she is playing is asking a lot of her, with plenty of harrowing, emotionally draining scenes. Yet something that really sets Dias’s performance apart is its confidence. Whereas most films about these themes require hesitation, there is absolutely none of that here, and Dias does an exceptional job of rendering that absoluteness.
The movie is also extremely accomplished on a technical level, with the soundtrack, cinematography, and editing being a highlight. The use of pop music in most films usually creates an upbeat tone, but here, it creates a feeling of pulse-pounding suspense that heightens tension and makes the stakes feel even higher.
Power Alley doesn’t always work, but when its pieces are all working together properly, it’s a powerful, harrowing film. Although the movie doesn’t necessarily say anything that we don’t know about its themes, it still serves as an important reminder of the suffering that governments are putting their citizens through.
Power Alley is screening at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Semaine de la Critique sidebar.