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Sombra Review: The true story of a mother who awaits the return of her missing child

Directed and written by Bruno Gasco, the Portuguese film is based on the Rui Pedro missing case. The film is available on BookMyShow Stream.

  • Arya Harikumar

Last Updated: 05.09 PM, May 13, 2022

Sombra Review: The true story of a mother who awaits the return of her missing child

Story: When eleven-year-old Pedro goes missing, the boy’s family suspects the involvement of a man named Paulo, who was the last person to have seen him. However, the police fail to gather any evidence to charge him. When a sex worker comes forward and tries to help with the investigation, the officers dismiss her. Pedro’s mother continues to look for him although the chances of him being alive seem slim.

Review: On March 4 1988, 11-year-old Rui Pedro Teixeira Mendonça went missing from Lousada, Portugal. The police investigation that followed failed to gather any conclusive evidence, and the case soon faded from the public sphere. Fifteen years later, a man was found guilty in connection to the case but Pedro was never located.

The tragic incident forms the basis of Sombra (Shadow) which encapsulates the pain and misery that Pedro’s family went through between 1988 and 2013. The Portuguese film, written and directed by Bruno Gasco, depicts the soul-stirring story of a mother who goes to extreme lengths to find her son although those around her, including her husband, want her to leave the past behind and move on. The film had its world premiere at the Barcelona-Sant Jordi International Film Festival in 2021 and bagged two awards.

Gasco holds his cards close and one has to wait till the very end to find out what actually happened to Pedro. Instead, he focuses on the plight of Pedro’s family, and how one incident changed their lives forever. He successfully stirs a range of emotions and allows audiences to take in the situation as it unfolds. Even though we, as the audience, might never truly understand the extent of the family’s grief, the manner in which the details of the event are fleshed out will compel most to empathise with the concerned family.

The callous approach taken by the police towards the investigation is frustrating to watch. But when authorities fail to make any headway, Pedro’s family is seen out on the streets, distributing pamphlets, hoping to snag a lead from an unsuspecting quarter. Despite being well aware of the fact that the odds are not in their favour, the narrative allows us to remain hopeful for a happy ending.

Ana Moreira essays the role of Isabel, the mother who hopes and prays for the safe return of her son, even decades after his disappearance. Moreira slips into the broken-yet-not-crushed mother and pulls a measured and powerful performance. In a scene, she is seen assessing a few videos which could serve as clues in determining the whereabouts of her child. As viewers, we do not get to see the video, but through her expressions and the background audio, we can easily conclude that they are disturbing and would make for a painful watch. Another performance worth mentioning is that of Vítor Norte who plays Isabel’s father. Though his screen time is short, he leaves a lasting impression. The movie also features Miguel Borges, Tomás Alves, Joana Ribeiro, and Ana Cristina De Oliveira.

The colour yellow is integral to the film, which is otherwise shot in darker tones. Pedro is wearing a yellow T-shirt in the first photograph we see of him. From then on, the colour is present in most frames —as a flower, a suitcase or a coat — each a reflection of the missing child.

Gasco is aware of exactly what he wants and how he hopes to see it through. In an interview, he stated that meeting Rui Pedro’s mother Filomena Teixeira helped him develop Moreira’s character. His first feature film Carga, starring Sara Sampaio, Michalina Olszanska and Rita Blanco, is centred on a female victim of human trafficking. The film received positive reviews, with special praise for direction, performance and story.

Verdict: The end credits of Sombra mention that the film is dedicated to all those who await the return of their missing children. Aided by impressive performances by the cast, Gasco delivers a compassionate film that portrays pertinent topics sensitively.