Connect with us
Karim Aïnouz Motel Destino Movie Review


Motel Destino | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Motel Destino | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Destiny Indemnity: Ainouz Retrofits a Noir Classic

Karim Aïnouz Motel Destino Movie Review“Love, when you get fear in it, it’s not love any more, it’s hate,” wrote James M. Cain in his indelible, eternal noir 1934 novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. Director Karim Aïnouz returns to his native Brazil to deliver a queer take on the text in Motel Destino. Ultimately, set almost entirely within the confines of an isolated ‘love motel’ in Ceara, little does the protagonist realize it’s the kind of place he can check out any time he likes but may not ever leave. A vibrant palette of deep hues courtesy of DP Hélène Louvart enhances the brooding elements underneath the surface of an idyllic captivity, a sweaty, web gilded with dangerous desires, where death has a better chance of knocking than the postman. Co-written by Wislan Esmeraldo and Mauricio Zacharias (partner of and regular scribe for Ira Sachs), this is a slow burn, glossy portrait of hedonism on the verge of running amok, though, to evoke Leonard Cohen, ‘you may want it darker’ than the places Aïnouz takes it.

Heraldo (Iago Xavier) wants to leave behind the lethargic beach life he shares with his brother Jorge in Ceara, desiring to move to Sao Paulo so he can open his own garage. But Heraldo is indebted to a local drug dealer, Bambina. Before he can pursue his happiness, he must complete one last favor in collecting a large sum of money from a local, well-guarded Frenchman who owes her. But the night before the job, Heraldo meets a young woman at a bar and takes her to Motel Destino, the area’s local sex hotel. He wakes up to find he’s not only been swindled but late for the appointment he has with his brother. In a panic, he convinces the woman working the front desk, Dayana (Nataly Rocha) he will return with money later, leaving behind his identification. But Heraldo arrives too late, seeing his brother’s dead body loaded into an ambulance, the Frenchman calmly talking to the police.

Karim Aïnouz Motel Destino Movie Review

Now, on the run from Bambina, who will likely kill him for bungling the job, Heraldo returns to Motel Destino, asking if he can stay the night while he gets himself sorted. Finding him attractive, Dayana allows him to stay in a room with a defective air conditioner. Dayana’s husband Elias (Fabio Assuncao), who she owns the hotel with, also agrees to let Heraldo stay upon seeing him. Trained as an electrician, Heraldo fixes the broken air conditioner, and suddenly finds himself a new employee at the hotel. But manual labor and handiwork aren’t the only things the couple seem to want in exchange for free lodging.

Aïnouz introduces handsome newcomer Iago Xavier as the potentially doomed Iago, a twenty-one-year-old with beauty but not necessarily brains, considering his inability to make sound decisions regarding self-preservation. As luck would have it, oversleeping on the big day more than likely assisted him in avoiding the same tragic fate as his brother. The lyrics “Anything that may delay you/Might just save you” from Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch” comes to mind. His eventual torrid affair with Dayana (resembling a stressed out Greta Scacchi), which seems more born out of propinquity and mutual need than anything remotely resembling love, obviously ends up being the catalyst which topples his tenuous refuge. Fábio Assunção is reminiscent of Mickey Rourke before his significant modifications, a gone-to-seed beach bum playboy whose not-so-secret homosexual tendencies are the real reason for Heraldo’s acceptance within his marriage.

Even for those unfamiliar with Cain’s original, adapted famously by Tay Garnett in 1946 with Lana Turner and John Garfield, and then again by Bob Rafelson in 1981 with Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson (not to mention several other versions, including from Christian Petzold), nothing quite unexpected happens in this scenario. The subplot involving Heraldo’s brother and the menace of the frumpy drug lord Bambina surprisingly never comes to fruition.

Aïnouz’s take doesn’t take any narrative chances, choosing to let Elias’ desires hover in the periphery. Certainly better than Neil Labute’s cheesy 2022 rehash Out of the Blue (featuring Diane Kruger and Nicholson’s son), Aïnouz channels sun-dappled neo-noir, making fantastic use of Ceara as a paradise rotting from within. Besides Louvart’s electric interiors at Motel Destino, the next best thing is the sound design, the performative screams of women’s exaggerated moans echoing through the pleasure dome’s hallways, formatting the constant soundtrack of their lives.

Sexual tension simmers between Heraldo and his friendly new keepers during specific administrative duties. Dayana scrapes cocaine out of baggies left behind in the room, trying to hit on Heraldo as they change semen stained sheets. Elias prefers adolescent voyeurism as a path into Heraldo’s short shorts, spying on guests having a threesome, a man in the middle whose moans drive him into testing boundaries.

While Motel Destino feels like a narrative on autopilot, Aïnouz veers into a patch of salty dialogue during the denouement, both Heraldo and Dayana explaining themselves to the police, which feels a bit silly, and quite unnecessary. Still, it’s an enjoyably louring queer noir and, following the dull costume drama Firebrand (2023), it’s a welcome return to Aïnouz’s erotic flair, evidenced in earlier works such as Madame Sata (2002) and Futuro Beach (2014). Ending with a propulsive electro beat he strikingly avoided including in the film, Aïnouz does indeed succeed with channeling a dark poetry worthy of Cain’s foreboding prose, leaving his surviving duo cavorting on the beach, where they seem to have acquired “Kisses with dreams in them. Kisses that come from life, not death.”

Reviewed on May 23rd at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Competition. 115 Mins.


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

Click to comment

More in Reviews

To Top