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The Mark of Freedom

Sea of Roses (1978)

by Juliana Costa

           Ana Carolina’s cinema has the mark of freedom. Considering a chronological line, her feature films range from the documentary biography of Getúlio Vargas, epitome of a paternal authoritarianism, to the wild and insular chaos of the Endless Passions (Paixões Recorrentes, 2022). The three films that follow the death of her father, an expression with which the filmmaker herself refers to Getulio Vargas (1974), were called the "trilogy of the female condition" because they would deal with issues concerning women. This is true if we consider investment against all kinds of authoritarianism as a female theme, starting with the authoritarianism of cinematic narrative forms. I wish it was. 

          This anarchic sequence begins with Sea of Roses (Mar de Rosas, 1978), which implodes the family cell, follows with Heart and Guts (Das Tripas Coração, 1982), which ignites the school and ends with Dream Waltz (Sonho de Valsa, 1987), which dismantles the modern idea of romantic love. Or in a more psychoanalytic reading - and we need not be afraid to see through this key her work, since Ana Carolina herself claims the importance of psychoanalysis for her life and her cinema -, childhood, adolescence and adult life. 

          The fragmented saga of Sea of Roses begins well: Happiness (Norma Bengell) kills her husband (Hugo Carvana) stabbing in the bathroom, and flees by car with her daughter Betinha (Cristina Pereira). It is under the messy girl’s command that Sea of Roses falls apart and recovers until the last minute. Always lurking and, concomitantly, in the foreground, Betinha tries all the time to kill her mother, family and the movie. Throughout the history of cinema, but especially in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, in countries of authoritarian regimes, such as Brazil, the figure of the child, the woman and the madman have always been transgressing forces in narratives against order. Here, the child, disconcertingly interpreted by Cristina Pereira, - who at that time was in his 30s, incorporates these three insurgent figures at the same time. It’s her in the foreground, pissing on the road, that starts the film, before it becomes a police chase road movie. Betinha still tries to set fire to Happiness, bury the couple played by Ari Fontoura and Miriam Muniz, as modesty as bloodthirsty, and gives a banana to the spectator in the last scene. 

           It’s from within the familiar neurosis that the character tries to destroy the narrative. She wants to implode the nefarious cell from within, by means of its gears. It’s also by the language that Betinha, who was once considered as an alter ego of Ana Carolina, breaks everything. Like a talking cricket, he repeats meaningless phrases, sometimes off-screen, like a voice from the unconscious. In addition to the recurring metaphors, it’s in the speech that Sea of Roses explains his psychoanalytic lineage. The characters speak, speak, speak and say nothing. They speak until they exhaust the sign of oral expression as an instrument of communication. They speak meaningless phrases, speak prosaic phrases, speak to each other and to no one. "Let me speak just a little bit" is the first line of the character of Norma Bengell, followed by variations: "I want to speak", "You do not let me speak", among others. As in a Beckett play, the characters wait for the end of the world by talking, or at least trying.

           Sea of Roses is a film that launches itself against power and order. Against the power that uses mustache and glasses Ray Ban, personified by Orlando (Otávio Augusto) - which already in its first sequence, stars in a chase worthy of North American police cinema, those films that say to be made for boys, entitled to a "Yes, Mammy" of Betinha and all. Sea of Roses also launches his fragments against the cinematic order of linear coherence. An almost episodic film, it deals with micro-relations with a disconcerting alternation of power. We hardly know who, after all, is in charge here. When some narrative line wants to be established, the film shatters violently. A hit-and-run, a razor, a sand truck, some sound fragments, a popular saying: everything comes to take Sea of Roses off the rails (or throw him on the tracks).

         But anyone who imagines that this libertarian and psychoanalytic chaos is the result of some improvised or unconscious inspiration is wrong. Sea of Roses explains the rigour of Ana Carolina’s direction, which goes from a camera-in-hand plane-sequence in the middle of the street, interacting with passers-by, as in the Brazilian marginal cinema, to a sequence with a thoroughly decoupage, worthy of a chamber theater. It is from this final sequence the image that remains. Inside a small house, five characters try to play opposite, amid cheap furniture and buried trinkets. Ana Carolina plays with the limits of the painting and the depth of field to suffocate everyone in that petty bourgeois atmosphere, including us. Her precise camera movements are closer to classical objectivity than to modern hesitation. If Sea of Roses shatters and reconfigures itself all the time, it is through the hands of the filmmaker, who keeps the short reins of the characters, the plot and the photography. 

           Still, the fragmentation that Ana Carolina throws against order, is not by chance, has strategy and address: violent the film and also hits the protagonist Happiness. It’s in her body that narrative’s marks manifest and remain. The strangulation attempt that remains like a scarf on the neck, the dress burned by the fire at the gas station, and the abrasions of a hit and run accumulate in the character’s physiognomy, which still carries the characteristic melancholy look of Norma Bengell. But in no way is Happiness a victim of circumstances. She and her tormentors, Betinha and Orlando, together with the couple Niobi (Mirim Muniz) and Dirceu (Ary Fontoura), are spiders and flies in this neurotic web that we conventionally call family. And that’s why Betinha throws everyone on the train tracks before giving us all a banana.

 

 

October, 2022

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