Review: Our Lady of the Chinese Shop

Written and directed by Ery Claver, when a Chinese merchant brings to a neighbourhood of Luanda a peculiar holy plastic figure of Our Lady, a mourning mother will seek peace, a committed barber starts a new cult and a stray kid will look for revenge for his lost friend. Starring: Cláudia Púcuta, David Caracol, Willi Ribeiro and Meili Li.

The first thing that’s apparent with Our Lady of the Chinese Shop is that it’s an impressively ambitious debut feature from Ery Claver. Its opening is reminiscent of Roma, it moves in a slow and thoughtful manner. The style is elegant and understated, initially it even moves like a documentary. It also manages to capture a great variety to its shots and to the textures of the cinematography. It evolves and adapts as it moves through this story. There’s a strong atmosphere at work, even right from the start it instils a superb amount of tension but at the same time it never dives too deeply into a serious tone.

Claver’s writing is similarly well balanced, one of the greatest things about it is the underlying sense of humour. It runs incredibly under the radar but his use of satire is clever and intriguing, there’s layers to this story which would probably take a few watches to truly appreciate them. There’s then the key theme of how countries with ingrained religion are constantly battling between belief and logic. It’s familiar and yet approached with a fresh tone and perspective, especially in how it creates the character of Domingas (Cláudia Púcuta). She’s smart, sharp and strong so putting her in the centre of this story allows you to see the different sides to their society and how it pulls its people in multiple directions. However, there are a few lesser explored threads which may leave some viewers a little unsatisfied; there was potentially room to build up its secondary characters more to round out the story further.

One of the more surprising elements to this story is how it’s split between its characters, with it feeling as though Púcuta’s Domingas takes the lead while it occasionally wanders down a few different roads. It’s also interesting in the sense of how it uses narration only on some parts of the story, allowing for a more compassionate and lively but still humble tone to follow Willi Ribeiro’s Zoyo. While Cláudia Púcuta gives us tension, conflict, frustration and grief, it’s a compelling mix and a powerful performance, she has a superb presence.

Our Lady of the Chinese Shop is an impressive debut feature from Ery Claver, it’s smart and witty, as well as being shot in a style which feels established and graceful. Cláudia Púcuta gives a standout performance as Domingas, she has an undeniable presence and brings such strong emotion while remaining understated. The unusual split that the story takes between its characters and the way that it leaves a fair amount of things unsaid does hold it back slightly from its full potential but it’s nonetheless a clear example of Ery Claver’s sincere talent.

Verdict: ✯✯✯½ | 7/10

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2022

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