Movies in Quarantine: Like our parents

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Daniel Pavan*

Commentary on the film by Laís Bodanzky.

I remember when I went to the cinema to watch the movie for the first time. It was at the end of 2017. Temer had just completed his first year in office after Dilma's painful impeachment process. His reforms began to be made. The feeling was that the crisis the country was experiencing was at its highest point. It was in this crisis situation that the film was released.

Like our parents tells Rose's story.

In the film there is no impeachment, there is no political struggle, there is no neoliberal reform. There's Rose's story. And Rosa is a woman at odds with her desire. She is belittled by her mother, who judges her for her choices, and lives in the shadow of her husband, a caricatured character of the middle-class environmentalist anthropologist, Dado. Rosa takes care of the daughters, takes care of the house; Rosa works writing advertising to advertise on the internet.

At a family lunch, after enduring all the flattery that his mother showers on Dado, the “great hero of the Amazon”; after having your complaints and orders ignored; after being turned against her mother's criticism and trying to impose herself... Rosa is informed by her that the one she had as a father for years was not, in fact, the one. Rosa is, in fact, the daughter of an affair that took place in Cuba with another man. Naturally, this revelation comes as a shock to him. And she's the one who's going to make the whole tense edifice that Rosa had built around her desire come crashing down. The conflicts of her overwork, at home, at the office, with her daughters, with her husband… All of that goes through, from that moment on, an urgent work of re-signification, of re-elaboration. It is this work of rebuilding life, of rapprochement with desire and with history itself that is dealt with in Like our parents.

And that is a very powerful political gesture, perhaps even more so than sheer open defiance in the form of cinema. A political gesture that was necessary in 2017 and is even more so in 2020. In the midst of political crisis, economic crisis, environmental crisis and now in the middle of a pandemic, Rosa gives herself the right to a personal crisis. During the so called “dark times”, Rosa gives herself the right to resolve the dilemmas of her own desire.

The film makes a point of making this very clear, mainly through the contrast with her husband Dado, who is committed to saving the Amazon, who knows the indigenous tribes deeply and pays very little attention to his own family. If there were, at some point, a space for politics to tout court entered her life, this would happen during Rosa's visit to her biological father, a minister in Brasilia. But, as she herself says, "I'm not at all into politics."

This encounter with her father, in turn, marks another important moment in Rosa's adventure. That's because, until she met him, she could still believe in the idea that this contact would bring some higher experience of meaning, would finally offer some meaning. In her division between her two parents: one Minister of the Civil House and the other an almost gagá artist from the neighborhood, Rosa saved the possibility of a great experience of meaning in a reunion with a supposedly truer past.

But this experience couldn't be more frustrating. Upon meeting her biological father, Rosa realizes that she has absolutely nothing to do with that man. She doesn't have much left after this encounter, other than to go home and face her ghosts.

Talking with her mother about the visit to the Minister in Brasilia, she is encouraged by her mother to transgress. It is what is expected of a left-wing character thus constructed: the defense of transgression. Rosa, then, allows herself a bit of rebellion on a getaway with the father of one of her daughter's schoolmates: they ride their bicycles through São Paulo; go to the beach together. He looks perfect. He understands, he listens, he read the play Rosa had drafted. He's not all intellectual, like Dado, but he knows how to use his opposable thumb to open a jar of mayonnaise, and that satisfies her. They have sex. She comes.

After that, the film begins to exude a – false – air of relief, which is far from meaning that everything is resolved. However, things can now begin to resolve themselves, to be resolved. Rosa has the chance to assume a relationship with her mother in which she no longer needs to be the combative daughter “with the whip in her hand”. Rosa is freed from her rebellion, she can prepare a good farewell to her mother, now taking her place. Rosa is no longer a rebellious daughter, her mother may finally die. And she dies.

No longer needing rebellion, Rosa can write a play that begins with the end of another, by another author, who previously Rosa had praised so much, this one of exaltation of the purest transgression and rebellion. So the natural question is asked: what happens after you abandon everything? How is the family? How is the story itself? This gesture, of profound mental health, reveals Rosa's greatest strength: going beyond escape. Now she can tell her husband what she feels, say that she fell in love with someone else, but that she doesn't want to know him anymore. She wants to assume her story, she already assumed her desire.

Own your story. Assume your wish. Assume the life you had, not the one you could have had. Reconcile. For there is no need to run away from the fact that we are always a little like our parents. A film that, in the midst of political turmoil, authorizes a personal adventure. It is, in this, more powerful than many manifestos, from exaltations to rebelliousness. Facing the dilemmas of one's own desire, the conflicts of one's own family, one's gender, one's own frustrations. Giving yourself the right to a life, to life itself, as it is. This is because, in society, individual forms of suffering and subjectivation are intimately related to the general order. What is constituted as a social, abstract and general experience appears in the reality of each individual. Without one there is no other, and every crossing takes place on both levels, and one lives in the particular.

There is not, in Like our parents, the easy exits: the exaltation of a savior past, full of meaning and explanations; the easy rebellion, the abandonment of everything, the youthful escape; the fanatical worship of a political view of the world, which explains everything and finds blame; the delirious escape into the imagination… None of that. In Like our parents there is the confrontation with oneself, with one's own desire, with one's own history. There is the powerful charge of general emancipation that is produced from this. How it should be. Then you can save the world. Only after.

*Daniel Pavan is a student of social sciences at USP.

Like our parents
Brazil, 2017
Directed by: Lais Bodanzky
Screenplay: Laís Bodanzky and Luiz Bolognesi
Cast: Maria Ribeiro, Paulo Vilhena, Clarisse Abujamra, Jorge Mautner, Sophia Valverde

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