André has an interesting life: he travels around in a beat up car and he puts on one-man shows in public locations. He makes a living from the donations of his spectators, mainly children and their parents. Following André’s path from city to city, the movie has a minimalist action, leaving the viewer to wonder what is going to happen next. The show the protagonist presents is about a young magician’s apprentice named Juan Salazar.
While watching André perform with his painted face, the viewers can observe an unmistakable difference between him in real life and him as a presenter, reminding the audience of a clown’s dichotomy: they have to always present a happy show for their audience while at the same time they are depressed. This can undoubtedly be observed in the film, as André’s flamboyant personality always attracts a crowd, but when the show is over he barely speaks to anyone and is pretty isolated, living in his car most of the time.
The story is quite simple and easy to follow (THE FOLLOWING LINES CONTAIN SPOILERS): one night he walks into a bar and the girl bartender flirts with him, but his response is pretty flippant. After she comes to his show the next day, they end up in her apartment and make love. She wants to go with him on the road, André refuses at first, but he says nothing when she comes along. Afterwards, while driving in the dark of night, André hits a blind man with his car. Clara, his companion, helps him hide the body in the woods and they drive off as if nothing happened. Later, André has his car stolen, along with all of his materials for the show. Being left with nothing, he leaves Clara with one of her friends and takes to the streets alone.
All throughout ‘Afternoon at the Abyss‘, André seems to be terrorized by some inner turmoil: he is always on the road, we do not know anything of his past, it makes sense to believe that he is running away from something. His nights are restless because of his ever present nightmares.
Director Pedro Oswald Padilha manages to portray the inner struggle of an artist in search for something greater than himself, while at the same time having to deal with existential problems. From this point of view, a nihilist audience would most likely enjoy the movie, whereas a mainstream audience might be left wanting more.