‘Motel Destino’ Review: Karim Aïnouz’s Neon Nior Examines Fate And Destiny In Brazil – Cannes Film Festival

Motel Destino, directed by Karim Aïnouz, begins with a burst of energy and intrigue, setting up a promising neo-noir thriller set against the vibrant backdrop of Northeastern Brazil. The film follows Heraldo (Iago Xavier) and his brother, whose favorite pastime of beach outings and capoeira practice belies their darker side as petty criminals indebted to a local madam. Their latest assignment — a high-stakes murder — plunges them into a realm of danger and desperation. However, despite its gripping start and lush cinematography, the film ultimately loses its way, bogged down by a sluggish middle act and narrative inconsistencies.

The brothers are tasked with assassinating a Frenchman in exchange for freedom from their debt. Before the mission, Heraldo decides to unwind at a nightclub, where he meets a mysterious woman who leads him to Motel Destino. After a night of passion, he awakens to find her gone, his money stolen and himself locked in the room. Here, he encounters Dayana (Nataly Rocha), the motel’s co-owner, who demands payment for his stay. Without any money, Heraldo promises to pay after completing his job, but upon leaving the motel, he discovers he’s too late. With nowhere to go, he returns, offering to work in exchange for shelter and food.

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Heraldo’s new life at the motel is anything but simple. The building is a maze, filled with peep rooms, 24-hour CCTV surveillance and a pervasive sense of entrapment. As Heraldo navigates this new environment, and longs for escape, he finds himself ensnared in dangerous a love triangle with Dayana and her husband, Elias (Fábio Assunção), who co-owns the property.

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The film’s opening scenes are electrifying, packed with mystery and movement. However, once Heraldo becomes a permanent resident at the motel, the pace slows to a crawl. The promise of excitement gives way to scenes of him cleaning, lamenting his situation and engaging in a lackluster romance with Dayana. For nearly 90 minutes, the soundtrack of moans and groans replaces the narrative momentum, leaving the audience to wonder about Heraldo’s transformation — or lack thereof.

Despite a backstory rich with potential — poverty, childhood trauma and a life on the run — the protagonist remains largely unchanged by the film’s end. In contrast, Dayana, who moves with a strong sense of confidence, emerges as a more layered and dynamic character. From the outset, her journey is multidimensional, her desires and intentions are clear, and she experiences genuine growth throughout the film. Dayana, and Rocha, are the real standouts of Motel Destino.

The script often undermines its own logic. For example, this place is equipped with CCTV, heightening the sense of surveillance and danger. Yet, in the third act, this premise inexplicably is abandoned as Heraldo and Dayana brazenly conduct their affair in view of the cameras. This narrative contrivance propels Elias to action but diminishes the tension and credibility of the storytelling. It feels like a missed opportunity for a more innovative or nuanced resolution.

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Despite these shortcomings, Aïnouz’s direction and Louvart’s cinematography are Motel Destino‘s crowning achievements. The design, look and feel of the setting are impressive — its sweat-soaked seediness is coupled with the use of natural light that beautifully accentuates the glistening skin of the characters, making them appear luminous both in the sun and under the neon lights. The film transforms the corridors into a location full of mystery and allure, enhancing the erotic and suspenseful atmosphere. The masterful work ensures that the characters and the setting are visually captivating, even when the narrative falters.

Motel Destino aims to explore themes of fate and destiny, suggesting that life’s twists and turns bring people together and tear them apart in unexpected ways, but so much of it feels like filler that lacks momentum until it’s too late. By the time the story reaches its conclusion, the audience is left with a sense of anticlimax, questioning the purpose of the prolonged buildup. Sure, the concept is intriguing, entertaining in parts, and the film is gorgeous to look at, but its full potential is unrealized.

Title: Motel Destino
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Director: Karim Aïnouz
Screenwriters: Karim Aïnouz, Wislan Esmeraldo, Maurício Zacharias
Cast: Iago Xavier, Nataly Rocha, Fabio Assunção, Renan Capivara, Fabíola Líper, Isabela Catão, Yuri Yamamoto, Davi Santos, Jupyra Carvalho, Bertrand de Courville, Katiana Monteiro, Vanessa Cardoso, Jan Moreira, Edglê Lima Moreira
Distributor: Tandem
Running time: 1 hr 55 min

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