Ricardo Alves Jr.’s Elon Doesn’t Believe in Death does something incredibly interesting at the outset—it makes you invest in a relationship you haven’t seen. Rather than build up a relationship and take it away, Alves leaves the audience guessing at what transpired between Elon (Rômulo Braga) and his wife Maladena (Clara Choveaux). Leaving this blank should be a strike against the story, but instead it lures us in as we get to know their relationship through its absence rather than the presence of both parties. However, while Alves is able to get us hooked into Elon’s search for Maladena, eventually the film becomes just as lost as its protagonist.
Elon has gone looking for his lost wife Maladena. She’s not at the factory where she works, she hasn’t been in touch with her sister, her friends don’t know where she is, and Elon seems to have exhausted every lead in trying to find her. However, what goes unspoken in his search is that no one is particularly happy to see Elon and his slow self-destruction points to an unhealthy relationship with Maladena. It’s a marriage that raises more questions than it asks. We see their relationship through the eyes of the people Elon meets, and we slowly learn that this isn’t necessarily a case of lost love, but something darker and twisted.
For its first thirty minutes or so, Elon Doesn’t Believe in Death is a fairly gripping drama with some nice, noir undertones. Cinematographer Matheus Rocha does an outstanding job with the lighting, and helps create a brooding, sinister tone as Alves clues us in that Elon’s motives for finding Maladena may not be exactly pure. The film does a solid job of subverting expectations while sending Elon on a journey where everywhere is a dead end. While the title could be taken literally—Elon refuses to believe that Maladena is dead—it could just as easily apply to how he views his marriage. In its strongest moments, Elon creates a nice fusion of futility and fatalism.
Unfortunately, as the picture winds on, Elon starts to meander and become tedious. Just like Elon’s investigation, it hits a dead end, and then when it tries to create a twist, it feels like a poorly conceived attempt to shake up the narrative. Even at a scant 75 minutes, Elon doesn’t really have the plot to sustain its runtime. There’s only so many times we can see a tracking shot of Elon from behind, and it seems like Alves had a solid idea for a short film that he stretched out into a feature.
That being said, Elon displays a lot of promise from both the director and his cinematographer. Moreover, I was captivated by its initial premise, and while Elon Doesn’t Believe in Death could have easily fallen into the trap of telling instead of showing, what’s left unseen and unsaid about Elon and Maladena’s marriage speaks volumes. The problem is that eventually Elon Doesn’t Believe in Death doesn’t have enough to say.