Popular Cinema in Brazil
(aka, "Casa de Areia")
This multi-generation saga tests the patience but, by the end when some clarity is achieved, it proves meaningful enough to register with a lasting impression. By then, the long soundless lapses and laconic dialogue becomes a minimalist tone poem study of off-beat female relationships.
For this, Brazilian director Andrucha Waddington ("Me You Them") employs some fancy casting footwork to trace the fate of three generations of women across a time zone from 1910 to 1942 in the northern Brazil region of Maranhao. It centers on Aurea Sa (Fernanda Torres), the pregnant and not altogether happy wife of Vasco de Sa (Ray Guerra), a lunatic visionary who leads a motley band of people across the desert to a place where sand dunes move in the winds near the sea and form low level gullies.
It's a desolate, unpromising place but Vasco insists that this land for which he legally holds the deed is full of promise. By the time some of his followers begin to think the grand vision is a little distorted by wishful thinking and too much rum, hardy Aurea comes to the same conclusion and tries to talk him into returning home to Rio. He staunchly refuses but gets put out of the way by getting crushed to death by an avalanche of loose building material.
Aurea and her mother Maria (Fernanda Montenegro, "Central Station") are left by the remaining flock of potential settlers and find themselves virtually abandoned and penniless (peso-less?) in an arid white wilderness--not an hospitable environment for anyone, let alone two women. But, they soon discover that among the natives of the area, a scatterring of freed slaves, a single man named Massu (Luiz Moldia) lives with his son. This good man helps the ladies settle into a beach house of their own and shares the food he obtains from the sea. Still, all Aurea thinks about is how she can get to the nearest town.
Years later (1919), when Aurea's daughter Maria is around 10 (Camilla Facundes), she follows a track in the sand to a temporary settlement of international scientists studying stars during an eclipse. Here she meets Luiz (Enrique Diaz), a young military man who provides her a wanted reminder of physical joy and the promise of an escape with the caravan when it leaves the area for other parts. But when she returns to her beach house, she discovers --to her horror-- it's been partly claimed by a dune, along with mom. That slick escape she envisioned is not in the cards.
At this point in the tale, time rides by swiftly to 1942 as Aurea becomes the elderly mother (now played by Montenegro) and Maria a spitfire of a daughter (limned by Torres). As these changes inject energy and passion into the arteries of the drama, a new vitality takes hold with more energy leading to a surer path to the meditation's ultimate goal: a message about time, place and adaptation.
The primary fascination is Torres' transition from the stalwart single-mindedness of her wife and daughter in the first act, then concerned mother, then mischievous, seductive daughter, all of which she pulls off with penetrating skill. This is a performance that belies the film's limited production resources.
In its entirety, dressed in the textured, penetrating images of cameraman Ricardo Della Rosa, Waddington evokes Japan's unforgettable sand classic "Women of the Dunes" though with its own emphasis on generational relationships and negative spaces in time. And, though it's a journey with more prolongued mystery of purpose than you might think you have patience for, its dramatic reward is its lingering impression and the feeling of a sturdier foundation than the title implies.
~~ Jules Brenner Cinema Signals