Selected for Sundance’s 2022 World Dramatic Competition and winner of Ventana Sur’s $10,000 Paradiso WIP Award, “Mars One” returns Brazil’s Gabriel Martins to to the sense of 2019’s “In the Heart of the World”– of a society yearning for something better, to which it adds a yawning generational gulf.
Tércia, for example, dreams of her daughter becoming a dutiful housewife like herself. So her world is rocked when Eunice moves out of the family home to live with her girlfriend.
Father Wellington, a recovering alcoholic, plans his son’s future career as a national soccer star. But Deivid dreams of become an astrophysicist and part of Mars One, the first manned mission to the Red Planet in 2030.
As the months pass, the Martins, a lower-middle class Black family in Contagem, will have to find a way of coping with all the problems of the present while still dreaming of a better future, the synopsis runs.
“Mars One” is produced by Filmes de Plástico’s Thiago Macêdo Correia, who’s had four films selected for Cannes, three in Directors’ Fortnight and “The Dead and the Others,” winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard in 2018.
Shot with a sense of warmth towards its characters and their setting, “Mars One” begins as the extremist Jair Bolsonoro being voted in as Brazil’s 22nd president. This sense of a world whose parameters are changing, abandoning old role models and certainties, runs throughout this ambitious film. Variety talked to Martins in the run-up to Sundance.
From its title, “Mars One” might seem a sci-fi film. But the first manned mission to Mars which so fascinates Deividinho emerges as more of a metaphor: Life as journey through a new universe to regain a sense of family and community in a world far distant where one has begun. Could you comment?
I love that you had this reading of the title and its meaning. I think I had a similar approach but also thinking of this future project of colonization as something that could serve as a dream that is not important only because of the final result but for the dream itself – an act of wonder. Also, the idea of Mars One as being the first human expedition brings me a sense of exploring the unknown that also serves to me as a desire of Deivid to be part of the future, not the present or the past. I think that a conflict between generations is a theme of the film and the title could highlight this sense of time.
One of the most interesting characters in the film is, I think, Tércia, who loses her joy of living after becoming the victim of a prank. But there’s also a sense of a larger mid-life crisis, I think, as she asks, having dutifully followed what ’s been expected of her, what has become of her dreams of youth. Again, could you comment?
So glad you felt this way about the character. I think the issue is that Tércia felt, in the incident, that she was going to die. And in this “small” space between life, death and a joke, something emerged that she does not know how to talk about. This will haunt her because she starts seeing death in life. But that is just the truth: there is death in life, everyday. There’s the election of a bad president but there is resilience of those who dare to fight. There is joy but also hate. And there are accidents. And I think in this unsolvable paradox, she will face how the mystery of life can be precious.
What were your guidelines when directing the film?
I was aiming to be honest with the scenes, seeing what the actors would bring and trying to be fair to them. I tried to have patience to show the spaces and what they could mean in certain frames. I frequently thought also about some kind of identity that all the images and sounds could bring and what this would say about Brazilian culture today. This is a very dynamic paced film and I was not ashamed also of bringing this flow – having some cracks in a classic structure so we could also feel that beyond telling a story there are energies floating around that the camera can capture.
One keynote of this year’s Ventana Sur Primer Corte and Copia Final highlighted by co-curator Eva Morsh-Kihn, was films’ production values. “Mars One” begins with a swelling orchestral score and is fully scored throughout. It’s 113 minutes. Do you sense a drive to raise the across-the-board quality of Brazilian films, given the competition for distribution at home and abroad?
I think overall and for some time Brazilian cinema is in high quality technically speaking and narratively speaking. So I can’t say that was a reason for me to have those artistic choices. I felt that this film should have a score like that because of the emotion I wanted to bring. If “silence” was the right choice, I would do that. I feel that if I thought about market competition while making this film I would probably end up not having honest decisions and the film would definitely suffer from that.
One major challenge for movie making is obviously distribution. Have you now advanced on how you plan that?
We have already a distribution planned in Brazil with Embaúba and have won a local fund to launch the film in theaters probably in the second semester. It will still have its challenges, of course, but we are not in a bad position. Internationally we have Magnolia Pictures International as a sales agent partner already working to do the best with the film.
You’ve talked about how you don’t want to be button-holed as a maker of social realist films portraying life in Contagem. What are you planning next?
I have many projects being developed from a sci fi feature film to another social realist drama and other projects that include genres like comedy, action and horror. None of them I can actually talk about since they are being developed. But everything that comes next will present more genres that I’ve always wished to explore.