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Just Like Our Parents

Just Like Our Parents

[…] There is also an awkward exploration of the feminist. Theories of “second” and “third wave” collide within the tentative writings of Rosa (the budding playwright), motivated by the perpetual dissatisfaction of being married to a man conveniently absent to pursue his own globally important affairs, and the separatist views of her lesbian, much younger half-sister.

[…] There are many shots that allow the emotion of the film to reach us in subtle tones. The dialogue is continuously fierce and rational. There are no moments where we get a Hollywood-style “breakdown”.

My pain is to realize
That although we have
Done everything we have done
We are still the same
And we live
Still we are the same
And we live
Like our parents

(Elis Regina, 1976)  

Just like Our Parents opens with one of two bomb shells. Clarice (Clarisse Abujamra), Rosa’s mother, informs her in the bluntest of ways that she was conceived on a trip in the absence of her father. This news unhinges the perfect performances of wife, mother and dutiful daughter that compose Rosa’s identity (Maria Ribeiro). And the rest of the film pursues the cracks in these molds of artifice as Rosa searches, with moral absolutism, the truth. While this journey sounds commonplace and “yawn” worthy, Rosa’s personal odyssey and interactions with her family are expertly executed. The whipping dialogue delivered by an energetic and technically fine cast in intense duets allows us to ponder the universal relations of parent – child and husband – wife; the notions of attachment—detachment; absence—presence; and the tensions between pleasure, desire, duty and truth.

There is also an awkward exploration of the feminist. Theories of “second” and “third wave” collide within the tentative writings of Rosa (the budding playwright), motivated by the perpetual dissatisfaction of being married to a man conveniently absent to pursue his own globally important affairs (Paulo Vilhena), and the separatist views of her lesbian, much younger half-sister (Antonia Baudouin). The question of how we live, or enact feminism becomes central in the recasting of Rosa’s identity. Her understanding of the women’s movement is outdated and largely romantic. The mode of resistance against what essentialises and constructs her as a woman (mother, wife, lover) is modelled on Ibsen’s character Nora from A Doll’s House – narrowly, a 19th Century male perspective.

But Rosa’s exploration of her own domestic suffocation and lack of desire within the context of her life as we come to understand it in relation to her parents, makes this part of the journey more valid and authentic than we might judge from a “third” or “fourth” wave perspective, or of a woman living in a liberal, progressive City like São Paulo. Rather than guiding one’s actions through the lens of a feminism theoretically fighting it out with other feminism(s), Rosa can question these experiences of inequality more gently with the character of Nora. And yet it is a Nora who does not lie to contend with her discontent. Rosa can only be a feminist in reaction to her context: the daughter of a fiercely independent and academic mother who still praises (and desires) any man who will save the world; a non-biological father who sweetly drifts between imagination, nostalgia, and the beds of many women in his creative haze (Jorge Mautner); and a husband who is this man that might save the world but needs sex to feel married.  

There are many shots that allow the emotion of the film to reach us in subtle tones. The dialogue is continuously fierce and rational. There are no moments where we get a Hollywood-style “breakdown”—even the sadness of Clarice’s death and her movements toward dying are never emotionally figured in their speech. Clarice’s tough exterior and aggressive acceptance of her pending death (the second bomb shell) dissolves in one close-up scene of her playing an astonishingly beautiful Fritz Dobbert piano. The keys of the piano are struck with both weighted melancholia and release toward her end as she plays Elis Regina’s “Just Like Our Parents”.   

In another scene, we understand the presence and absence of lives through the wafting trace of cigarette smoke: visibly there then gone with the scent still lingering. Parents can be ever present, but entirely absent to us. And even when they are gone, they remain in some form. In the case of Rosa, her biological father (Herson Capri) was always absent, but somehow present as that missing bit of truth to a life of enigmatic gaps artificially stuffed full of who and how she must be.

In one very benign, but moving scene between Rosa and her eldest daughter Nara (Sophia Valverde), the camera captures the two in an argument about why Nara’s bicycle stands protest in the living room with its flat tyre. The camera eavesdrops on the moment as we feel both young Nara’s frustration to be given the right to ride to school, and Rosa’s ultimate ending of the heated discussion with the parent’s default explanation: «because I said so». The authority of the parent – on which the state has been modelled since the Greeks – and how it is wielded or negotiated (Rosa then immediately embraces the exacerbated Nara and offers a compromise) will continue to structure the life of a child regardless of whether they yield, defy, or become just like their parents.

Director/Co-Writer Laíz Bodanzky and co-script writer Luiz Bolognesi with their very fine cast and crew have made a film that is unwavering in its characterisation and depth of interactions. It is a film that refreshingly saves us from mental and emotional exhaustion while still being engaging in every way.    

First published: November 28, 2017

Just like Our Parents | Film | Laíz Bodanzky | BR 2017 | 102’ | Filmar en América Latina Festival Genève 2017

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