Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Casa Grande [2015]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Adorocinema.com listing*

A Folha de São Paulo (A. Agabiti Fernandez) review*
Gazeta do Povo (
O Globo (S. Rizzo) review*

AdoroCinema.com (R. Hermsdorff) review*
aVoir-aLire.fr (J. Zimmer) review*
eKran.si (S. Popek) review*

Slant Magazine (D. Semereme) review
The Hollywood Reporter (N. Young) review
Variety (J. Weissberg) review

Casa Grande [2015] [IMDb] [AC.br]*(directed and cowritten by Fellipe Barbosa [IMDb] [AC.br]* along with Karen Sztajnberg [IMDb]) is a Brazilian "coming of age" story that played here this Spring at the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival.  I was unable to see it then but was happy to see it return for a week-long run (Dec 19-23, 2015) recently at Chicago's Facets Multimedia.

Indeed, the film is one of several teenage "coming of age" films to have come-out of Brazil in the past year and made it to the United States (for me, Chicago).  These included After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013] that also played at the 2015 Chicago Latino Film Festival in the spring, and Hopefuls (orig. Aspirantes) [2015] that played at the 2015 Chicago Int'l Film Festival in the fall.

Yet if After the Rain (orig. Depois da Chuva) [2013] had definite John Hughes-like tones -- that film was about a student election held at a thoroughly random (if still private) high school in the (still somewhat random) northestern Brazilian city of Salvador (if also set in the late 1980s in the context a Brazil which was then just coming-out of two decades of military dictatorship...) -- the current film, Casa Grande [2015] [IMDb] [AC.br]*, could perhaps be best approached by (North) American viewers as a play-on / "riffing-off of" the (North) American (and Tom Cruise starring) "coming of age" classic Risky Business [1983]:  For both films - Casa and Risky - were about somewhat oafish, still a little-bit "chubby," definitely still quite insecure 17-year olds from privileged backgrounds trying to navigate their last year before maturity and proceeding to (the parents hope "a good") College.  Tom Cruise's Joel in Risky Business [1983] was growing-up in the upscale suburban "North Shore" region of Chicago and going to New Trier High School (yes, a "public school" but, as it is supported by local (wealthy) tax payer money, it is _always_ among the best college prep schools in the entire country), while in the current film Jean (played by Thales Cavalcanti [IMDb] [AC.br]*) was growing-up in a definitely upscale (gated) suburb of Rio de Janeiro and attending an attending an upscale Catholic prep school, São Bento's (St. Benedict's), in the city.

Yet, despite growing-up with privilege, 17 is an awkward age: Neither Tom Cruise's Joel in Risky, Cavalcanti's Jean in Casa were necessarily "top students," and academics aside, both were trying to figure-out how to "make it" with the opposite sex: Privilege _isn't_ an automatic "in" as Joel's family's housekeeper Rita (played IMHO magnificently throughout by Clarissa Pinheiro [IMDb] [AC.br]*) keeps reminding him: "You have to become a man," she tells him.

But what _is_ "becoming a man"?  That's in good part, what the rest of the film is about, and it becomes increasingly clear that it does _not_ involve necessarily "owning a BIG HOUSE" (a Casa Grande, which, of course, is the name of the film).  Indeed, it becomes evident that owning / maintaining said "Big House" has become a rather precarious business for Jean's once super-wealthy parents (played by Marcello Novaes [IMDb] [AC.br]* and Suzana Pires [IMDb] [AC.br]* respectively) who because of "fluctuations in the markets" have become increasingly less so.  So how / where does one "find ground" / "find one's footing"?  Jean does find an answer (and arguably a better, more sustainable one than Tom Cruise's Joel) and one which has parallels with another, now Argentinian film, La Paz [2013], which touches again on many of the same "coming of age" / "making sense of it all" themes.

A quite excellent / thought-provoking and even challenging film.

* Reasonably good (sense) translations of non-English webpages can be found by viewing them through Google's Chrome browser.

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