Hugo (Marcello Novaes), the patriarch of a white Brazilian family, predicts that his son Jean’s (Thales Cavalcanti) friend Catule is going to be the richest of the latter’s friends. This scene happens early on in Felipe Barbosa’s Casa Grande. This has a mirroring scene in the film’s middle section showing him in a headhunting session where he talks about a money making hunch. One that he doesn’t invest in. He has a lot of insight except for his own family that experiences a financial freefall.
The film is partly about Hugo and his wife Sonia (Suzana Pires) trying to keep their family together, or at least, Sonia trying to do so. The rest is about Jean who feels the effects of this freefall. Because of it, he finds himself having moral quandaries and exposes himself to different perspectives and people. That perspective and people mostly manifest through girls, the first being their maid Rita (Clarissa Pinheiro). The second is Luiza, a biracial girl who normally belong to different circles from Jean.
However, Jean and Luiza only intersecting because he starts taking the bus to and from school. He drifts further and further from home, and in doing so, Casa Grande uses an obvious trope in recent ‘Western’ cinema. That white boys have a steep learning curve. He makes assumptions about Luiza’s life because of her race and because of whatever bus stop she get off at one day. The social commentary is fine here. But the film still doesn’t sell me on its Brazilian Rohmer afternoon approach.
It’s understandable that films need to use tropes sometimes, but at the risk of sounding like Cinema Sins, Luiza is also a trope and is not the best execution of that. She exists to remind Jean of the racial order in his home. Becaus eof her, the Black and more racialized people in his home come up in conversation. One of the names he recalls is Severino (Gentil Cordeiro). Both lead him to his Jesus moment which still feels like a Jesus moment.
The viewers watching this know where we’re going, rich houses in movies either show signs of decay or emptiness. But the execution of that idea is commendable here. During the beginning of Casa Grande, their other maid Noemia (Marilia Coelho) dresses up like a maid. But she, like everyone else, slowly stops bothering with keeping up appearances. International viewers like this more than local ones, but I’m not mad at the way this film shows a social breakdown.
Casa Grande comes soon on OVID.