Unemployed boxer Jorge (Nuno Lopes) is drowning in debt, and everyone around him struggling similarly. Due to the fact that he still trains as a boxer, and competes now and again, Jorge has an impressive physique, and it is this that lands him a job with a debt collection agency. Knowing he is intimidating people as badly off as himself obviously tortures Jorge, but since he is on the verge of losing his wife and son to Brazil, he justifies his actions, even as he takes some fairly desperate measures.
Set against the backdrop of the Troika bailout in Portugal, Saint George is an examination of dual standards, and the lengths that ordinary people will go to in order to keep their family together.
Nuno Lopes leads the cast as the relatively monosyllabic Jorge; Lopes makes Jorge a gentle giant who has gentle relationships with his family and loved ones, and it is the conflict between surviving and taking pity on others that motivates the character. Lopes does the character justice, and it is through his actions that the audience understands the film. The rest of the cast features Mariana Nunes as Jorge’s beleaguered and stressed out wife Susanna, who is obviously fast approaching her breaking point, as well as David Semedo and Jose Raposo.
Marci Martins and Ricardo Adolfo’s screenplay is clever, since it is obviously a Portugese story, but will resonate with European audiences who have also struggled through debt, Troika bailouts and the after effects of the same. The story takes its time to get going, but carefully shows the poverty in Portugal, and the financial trouble that the characters of the film have got themselves into, leading to rash decisions being made as a reason to escape the day to day drudgery of their lives. That said, there are times when Saint George feels as though it is dragging its heels, and while audiences unfamiliar with the devastating effects of the financial crash in Europe my find the examination of Portugal on screen interesting, the film seems to spend too much time on lingering on misery, before the tension of the story truly rises.
As director Marco Martins allows the quiet and internal George to take centre stage, and makes his presence on screen both physically and emotionally intimidating. It is through his interactions with Mariana Nunes’ character Susanna that we learn the most about the character, and this method of exposition feels both gentle and engaging. There are times when the pacing of the film struggles due to the time spent with characters engaging in misery, and this drags the film down from an examination of morality into a slightly more grim and unengaging tale.
In all, however, Saint George is a film that will resonate with audiences across Europe, and feels timely in its release in such a time of economic uncertainty. The performances and story are strong, but the pacing of the film feels drawn out, leading to a disconnect between audience and emotion.