The hour of the star – thirty-nine years later

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By LEANDRO ANTOGNOLI CALEFFI*

Considerations about the film Suzana Amaral, showing in cinemas

1.

On the verge of turning forty years old, the feature film star hour (1985), directed by Suzana Amaral, returns to cinema screens this month in a restored copy by Sessão Vitrine Petrobras, a project that seeks to give greater visibility to recent Brazilian productions and rescue already consolidated works from national cinematography.

Considered a true classic of our seventh art, the film won, in the year of its release, ten awards at the Brasília Festival, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Actress. In 1986, it was voted Best Film at the Havana Festival, in addition to Marcélia Cartaxo being awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlin International Film Festival.

In addition to the well-deserved awards, it can be said that one of the film's greatest merits was presenting Clarice Lispector's fictional universe to a wider audience, not necessarily literate and in tune with the writer's literary sophistication. The choice for the film's greater receptivity among the average cinema viewer, however, presents a certain aesthetic weakness, since the feature film is unable to encompass the complexity of the text on which it is based.

If one of the main lines of force of the novel corresponds to the formalization of the impasses experienced by the bourgeois writer Rodrigo SM in the face of the representation of the class other, the same is not observed in the work of Suzana Amaral, whose mise-en-scène brings up only the story of Macabéa, which ends up delimiting the issues covered by the book. Still, the film is interesting, as it takes a closer look at the situation of northeastern migrants in a historical context in which the tensions already announced in the narrative of the same name began to be aggravated by the arrival of neoliberalism in the country at the end of the 1980s. Along this path, we must ask ourselves to what extent and through what procedures the feature film probes such contradictions, updating the discussion initiated by Clarice's work since the end of the 70s.

2.

At the beginning of the film, the credits are presented to the sound of Rádio Relógio, a Rio station known for broadcasting absurd curiosities based on the catchphrase “Did you know?”. A kind of ironic soundtrack, the information conveyed in the opening contrasts greatly with the miserable condition of the protagonist, to which the viewer will be exposed throughout the work. The statement that, since the 1.300s BC, women have been using cosmetics to maintain the beauty of their faces is opposed to the situation of Macabéa (Marcélia Cartaxo), whose desire was to eat spoonfuls of a facial cream seen in an advertisement.

In turn, the statement that the Colibri (type of hummingbird) consumes the equivalent of two hundred percent of its weight in food per day is in contrast to the precarious diet of the northeastern migrant, limited to the intake of products with low nutritional content, like Coca-Cola and hot dogs.

In the sequence, the camera focuses on a cat, which is on the floor devouring a dead mouse, and, seconds later, reaches the character, metaphorically suggesting that, like the animal, the typist was nothing more than a crawling and filthy being. It is no surprise that, in the first scene in which she appears in the feature film, she appears wiping her nose on her own clothes and dirtying the sheets of paper she works with: a reason later used as justification for her dismissal.

The young woman's dehumanized condition, which makes her equated from the beginning with an animal, is exposed more blatantly in the conversation between the two bosses in the subsequent scene, when Pereira (Denoy de Oliveira) asks Raimundo (Umberto Magnani) about the reason that led him to hire her: “Where did you get that, man?” The pronoun used illustrates the objectification of the girl, typical of an economic system in which the poorest are by-products to be discarded in due course.

Confronted by his superior, the subordinate explains: “If he were so brilliant, he wouldn't accept the salary we pay”, which ends up revealing the precariousness of the work that Macabéa needs to undergo in the name of her meager survival in the big city. When informed about her departure from the company, the protagonist declares: “I'm sorry for the hassle”, a phrase repeated by her in several scenes of the film, which attests to her subservient position in the midst of a highly stratified and hostile social body.

Still in this segment, it is worth mentioning the occasion in which she looks at herself in a dirty and blurred mirror: the absence of a defined reflection corresponds to her desubjectification. It is not a mere coincidence, therefore, that she feels her own face with an air of incomprehension, searching in vain for a clarity that does not reveal itself. The same can be seen at another point in the film, when the character, already staying at the boarding house, combs her hair using the window glass as a mirror, which is also fogged up. Narcissus in reverse, Macabéa appears as a disfigured being, whose lack of image meets his social nullity.

In another scene, the young woman appears wandering the streets of the metropolis: the disoriented nature of her walk is an indicator of her displacement in this scenario. Moments later, the protagonist arrives at a residence, the gate of which reads: “Vacancy for girls”. It is a precarious house shared with three other women, who, like her, cannot afford better housing conditions.

Upon signing the rent promissory note without analyzing it beforehand, the hostel owner is surprised by the innocence of the northeastern woman, who ends up apologizing, as her existence seems to bother everyone. In this environment, Macabéa also appears to be out of place: unlike her roommates, she prefers to undress under the sheets, after all her physical appearance is a source of shame. Furthermore, the unsanitary nature of the place is notable, as the lack of a space for personal hygiene and food means that the girl, in the middle of the night and in the dark, has to eat at the same time as she urinates.

Minutes later, Macabéa appears accompanied by Glória (Tamara Taxman), her co-worker, who acts in the film as a kind of antipode to the retreatant: the first has already had five abortions and lost her virginity at fifteen; the second does not understand the meaning of this word and is still a virgin. Astonished by the girl's inexperience, considered by her to be inferior, the more experienced woman recommends that she consume more meat, in order to “create breasts and ass”. To this the other replied: “I eat it because it’s cheap, but what I really like is guava paste with cheese”.

The difference between the experiences of the two characters corresponds to class asymmetry: Glória is the daughter of a butcher and was raised with privileges; Alagoas, in turn, are responsible for satisfying what is least expensive. Still in relation to Glória, the scene in which she invents an excuse to abandon work, saying that she would have to accompany her mother to a doctor's appointment, deserves attention. Following in the footsteps of the one considered smartest, Macabéa does the same and gets a day off: the only way to have time for herself and escape her exhausting routine. Alone in the pension, an unusual situation, given the need to share it at a more affordable price, the protagonist experiences a brief moment of fantasy. To the sound of “The Blue Danube”, a waltz by Johann Strauss, the young woman wears the bed linen like a wedding dress, imagining a romantic and promising destination for herself. However, marriage and happiness are only possible for him as a daydream, since harsh reality denies him the right to enjoyment.

3.

Ironically related to the previous scene, in order to attest to how much the possibility of marriage was nothing more than a pipe dream, the following segment presents the viewer with the protagonist's first meeting with her pseudo-boyfriend, an individual who would never ask her to marry him. This is the Olympian of Jesus Moreira Chaves (José Dumont), a dispossessed guy, but with the trappings of a boss. Although he is also an outcast, his stance in the film contrasts with that of the woman from Alagoas, as he wants to rise socially at any cost.

It is no surprise that, in his first appearance in the film, the Northeastern native is posing for a portrait, an indication of his exacerbated vanity, the disproportion of which makes him believe that one day he would become a deputy, even without knowing the function of this office. As a male goat, Olímpico is hostile towards women, always treating Macabéa violently. It is also worth noting the fact that the meetings between the two lovers are characterized by incommunicability or by absurd sayings which, if to a certain extent provoke sardonic laughter due to their absurdity, also allude to the extreme lack of instruction of these figures.

One of Macabéa’s most emblematic lines occurs in one of these “conversations”, when she confesses to Olímpico that she doesn’t feel like “very much of a person”. The fact that she does not consider herself a human being or has not yet gotten used to it, is revealing of the dehumanization of the character, who appears in the context as something about to be discarded. In a certain scene, Olímpico declares to Macabéa: “You look like someone who ate something and didn’t like it. I can't stand a sad face. Try to change your expression at least once in your life.”

As if such violence were not enough, he physically attacks her, knocking her to the ground after the girl pathetically stammers “a furtive tear”, opera by Gaetano Donizetti. It is clear, therefore, the brutality to which the retreatant is subjected alongside her boyfriend, always being the target of blows and harassment. Hence perhaps the fact that Macabéa took aspirin all the time, in order to no longer hurt herself, since her life was limited to successive humiliations. In the next scene, Olímpico’s oppression continues: “Are you pretending to be an idiot or are you really an idiot?”

In the end, the boy tells Macabéa that he met another girl, that he is “in love”, in fact financially interested, and that their relationship is over, but not before humiliating her for the last time: “Macabéa, you are a hair on my head. my soup. She doesn’t feel like eating.”

In another scene, now in the office, Macabéa appears taciturn, which makes Glória ask if the northeastern woman was happy. Unable to experience such a feeling, given the degradation of her experience, the girl questions: “What is happy for?” As for her plans for the future, the protagonist once again responds to her colleague’s questioning with a question: “Future?”

Given the Alagoas woman's lack of perspective, Glória suggests that she consult a fortune teller. There, Madama Carlota (Fernanda Montenegro) treats her effusively, going so far as to recommend that the Northeastern woman have relationships with women, since she would be too delicate to face the brutality of men. In this sense, Macabéa suffers yet another harassment, this time of a sexual nature. At the moment when the seer promises him a better life, she interjects another scene in which a man appears on a horse.

Ironically, this is the same individual who will run over her moments later. Added to this, the con artist claims to see a shining star in the crystal ball, a symbol of the protagonist's enlightened destiny: nothing is more inconsistent with Macabéa's tragic ending, as she ends up alone and dead on the curb. After the consultation, the character walks confidently down the street, believing that her life would finally improve. She goes to a store and buys a blue lace dress to the sound of “The Blue Danube”: sublime atmosphere completely opposite to the tragicity of the following sequence.

In it, Macabéa appears walking at the same time as a car accelerates. The scenes alternate quickly, emulating the speed at which the vehicle will reach you. The soundtrack, in turn, is antithetical: it denotes calm, when showing the protagonist, and tension, when presenting the car. This contrast is also observed in the actions of the “characters”: the northeastern woman walks slowly; the car runs quickly.

The film does not actually show the accident, the viewer only sees the character flying like an automaton. Interposed with this is the image of a horse turning three hundred and sixty degrees to the sound of screeching tires, as if the animal's freedom and inner power succumbed to mechanization, along with Macabéa's reification. After the accident, the camera zooms in on parts of the protagonist's body and her clothing: hands, legs, bag and shoes.

This fragmentation seems to correspond to the tearing of the character, whose integration is cut short by the arrival of new times: the scene in which the Mercedes-Benz star is captured in close-up at the same time that the young woman is hit by the car speaks volumes same. Unlike the narrative, in which the northeastern woman dies in the gutter surrounded by passersby; In the feature film, the young woman ends up alone. On the other hand, in the final moments of the film, the viewer sees Macabéa running to meet the foreign man who ran over her, as if the Alagoan woman's final wish had been fulfilled, even if on a plane outside of reality.

The film ends with the frozen image of the protagonist smiling, a somewhat positive way of ending the regrettable trajectory of someone who was nothing more than an “expendable screw” (LISPECTOR, 1977, p. 36) located “in a city completely made against her” (LISPECTOR, 1977, p.19). Hence perhaps the final credits of the film are presented to the sound of “The Blue Danube”, and no longer from Rádio Relógio as in the beginning, reminding the public that, despite everything, the girl belongs “to a resistant, stubborn dwarf race that will one day perhaps claim the right to scream” (LISPECTOR, 1977, p. 96 ).

4.

Coming to public in the mid-1980s, the film The Hour of the Star reinserts issues present in the book in another historical moment. This period, known as “the lost decade”, was marked, as we know, by high levels of debt and the resurgence of economic inequality. In turn, the “political opening”, cynically described by the military at the time as a “slow, gradual and safe transition”, did not actually change the authoritarian basis of the State, which continued to show its faces.

By putting into play the unfortunate story of Macabéa and the degradation inherent to it, the feature film ends up revitalizing the discussion initiated by Clarice's work, highlighting the perversity of the Brazilian modernizing process, whose implementation has always depended on the violence and marginalization inflicted against the most vulnerable. This scenario, it is worth mentioning, would be worsened, a few years later, with the arrival of neoliberalism in the country and its subsequent consolidation in the 90s.

Abdicating the story of narrator-writer Rodrigo SM, in order to shed greater light on Macabéa's misdeeds, Suzana Amaral's film version offers the viewer a consistent reinterpretation of Clarice Lispector's work, as it manages to capture the contradictions of modernization national, belying the promise that development and progress would correspond to the integration of everyone into the social body.

Through the brilliant performances of Marcélia Cartaxo, Fernanda Montenegro and José Dumont, it can be said that star hour reinvigorates the discussion initiated by the 1977 narrative, betting on an optimistic outcome in the face of a reality that does not respond to it, at the same time that it does not dispense with the ironic aim inherent to the text on which it is based.

In effect, the fact that the film returns to cinema screens thirty-nine years later reminds us of the relevance of the question foreshadowed by Clarice's narrative, the answer to which we still lack as a country: “Like the northeast, there are thousands of girls spread across slums, bed vacancies in a room, behind counters working to exhaustion. They don't even notice that they are easily replaceable and that they either existed or would not exist. Few complain and as far as I know, none complain because they don't know who. Who does that exist?” (LISPECTOR, 1977, p. 18).

*Leandro Antognoli Caleffi is studying for a master's degree in Brazilian literature at the University of São Paulo (USP).

Reference


star hour
Brazil, 1985, 96 minutes
Directed by: Suzana Amaral
Screenplay: Alfredo Oroz and Suzana Amaral
Cast: Marcélia Cartaxo, José Dumont, Denoy de Oliveira, Tamara Taxman, Fernanda Montenegro

REFERENCES


LISPECTOR, Clarice. star hour. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio, 1977. [https://amzn.to/4bHztzK]


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