‘My Darling Supermarket’ Review: Cosmic Tales From the Checkout Lane

Somewhere in São Paulo, Brazil, there’s a supermarket that looks awfully familiar. It has white fluorescent lights and endless shopping lanes. Every day, there’s bread to bake and meat to grind. It’s the kind of store you might find anywhere in the world. Yet, by the end of the slight but intriguingly strange documentary “My Darling Supermarket,” it might as well be on Mars.

“Just ordinary people doing their jobs — would anyone want to watch that?” chuckles a manager.

The director Tali Yankelevich tackles this challenge to mixed results, moving spryly between interviews with employees and observational footage, captured with experimental flair, of the store’s many rote operations.

There’s a forklift operator who spends his free time building cities on a cellphone game; a custodian with some decent pipes; a flirty bread maker interested in quantum physics. A standout character is an ebullient baker with dreams of Tokyo, who sometimes wanders the aisles in full anime cosplay.

Yankelevich occasionally glimpses deeper truths from her subjects, but it’s easy to wonder what such unfocused portraits communicate beyond the obvious fact that grocery-store workers are humans with personalities, too! Meanwhile, potentially interesting, distinguishing details about Brazilian culture are muted by the director’s commitment to abstraction.

Better late than never, the film’s spiritual thrust becomes clear by the third act. The stark symmetry of the shelved merchandise and the eerily dissonant score assumes an otherworldly, ritualistic power when our subjects begin musing on faith and the nature of existence. The cinematographer Gustavo Almeida’s camera glides around the store like a satellite drifting through the interdimensional cosmos. For a spell, I was reminded of what supermarkets felt like as a child: vast alien playgrounds.

My Darling Supermarket
Not Rated. In Portuguese, with subtitles Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes. Watch on Film Forum’s virtual cinema.

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