The Capaœdocios and the Guerras are at war. Thirty years ago, Filomena (Marieta Severo) broke her engagement to Santos Guerra (Carlos Vereza) so that she could marry Borges Capaœdocio. Santos (whose last name means "war") finally exacts his revenge against Filomena by killing Borges and the two Capaœdocio sons. Now the powerful head of the Capaœdocio clan, Filomena orders her three daughters, the three Marias, to find and hire three professional killers to finish off their enemy, the Guerra family. The Three Marias, a Brazilian/Italian co-production, is the low-budget, spaghetti western-style tale of their sanguinary quests.

Filomena and her daughters are the latest incarnations in a long line of vixens, gangster molls, seductresses, vengeful wives, bad mothers and harridan sisters to spring from the fearful masculine imagination onto the big screen. Think Connie (Talia Shire) in Godfather III. The resolute Capaœdocio women, like their bellicose but maladroit quarry, may be cardboard characters, but this seemingly pointless revenge story is actually a spoof with a decidedly feminist slant. The women get the job done, and they do it as efficiently as any man. In fact, they learn useful techniques from the hit men, who are all in some way hampered by their mistrust of women. The Three Marias is a solid "B" movie with no meaningful dialogue, a creaky plotline and wildly evocative characters, but its crude charm is unmistakable.

Writer-director Aluizio Abranches' creepy dreamscape, dominated by darkly costumed women and dimly lit interiors, is often visually arresting, and there is a painterly touch to his vignettes of Filomena and the three Marias. In a particularly clever scene, Maria Francisca brokers a deal with hit man Z das Cobras, who will speak to her only through another man. His wariness of women began after his mother's death, when he developed an unshakable belief in the Adam and Eve story. As Z, appropriately slovenly and unshaven, shovels beans into his mouth and assiduously avoids gazing at Maria, and Maria, under her mysterious mourning veil, propitiates, making herself even more alluring to Z, you can't help imagining what Abranches might accomplish with a budget.

--Maria Garcia