Portuguese author José Saramago was reluctant to grant film rights to his 1995 novel about an epidemic of “white blindness” that strikes citizens of an unnamed country. Saramago worried about how the novel’s violence, rape and degradation would be treated by the wrong filmmaker. The well-regarded Brazilian director Fernando Meiralles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) won the rights, on the condition that he set the film in an unrecognizable city (it was filmed primarily in São Paolo). Some of the author’s fears, alas, were justified: Meiralles’ film is a technically accomplished but often excruciating experience. Meiralles and screenwriter Don McKellar changed the setting from the 1930s or ’40s to a contemporary period but retained its cast of allegorically named characters: Doctor (Mark Ruffalo), Doctor’s Wife (Julianne Moore, who’s excellent), Man With Black Eye Patch (Danny Glover), Bartender/King of Ward 3 (Gael García Bernal), Woman With Dark Glasses (Alice Braga). In the end, the characters’ suffering (and, by extension, the audience’s) feels unjustified and unredeemed. HH

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