Movie Review: Brazil’s Oscar contender, the domestic melodrama “Mars One”

Intimate in scale, narrow in focus, “Mars One” is a melodrama of the “kitchen sink drama” school. A Brazilian submission for the Best International Feature prize at the Oscars, it takes us into the lives of a family of four, brings them into conflict with one another giving each character her or his moment of crisis.

It’s quite simple in structure, simply sublime in execution.

Mother Tercia (Rejane Faria) is traditional, teaching domestic skills to her college coed daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião), letting her younger son Deivinho slide (Cicero Lucas) slide because father Wellington (Carlos Francisco) has dreams of soccer stardom for the kid.

One child in college, the other in braces and glasses, they still manage to get by on her salary as an in-home maid and cook for a same sex dwarf couple and his long service as a building maintenance/handyman at a posh high rise.

Bolsonaro has just been elected, but any partying over that takes a back seat to the fireworks that go off every time their Cruizero soccer club scores and wins. Still, a subtext of the film is the economic inequality of the country and its notoriously lax standards, laws and basic protections for anyone who isn’t rich.

Wellington probably doesn’t need his new assistant to point out “This salary is a joke,” or his wife to remind him how exploited he is at the hands of his rich tenants. He’s got a job. He’s in AA — four years sober. And they’re managing.

Then Tercia finds herself “pranked” in an unimaginably cruel stunt in which a TV crew fakes a bombing in the diner where she’s she’s eating. She is traumatized, suffers PTSD headaches, and being superstitious, starts seeing everything around her going wrong.

Eunice has met somebody. But as her never lover is a woman named Joanne (Ana Hilario), she’s got some explaining to do to her parents. Maybe “moving in together” (in Portuguese with English subtitles) will solve that problem. And you thought “U-Haul Lesbians” was strictly a northern hemisphere thing.

And middle schooler Deivnho, tight as he is with his big sister, won’t be any help here, even though he says exactly what Eunice needs to hear when she tells him about her girlfriend and asks him if he thinks “its wrong.”

“Why would I think that?”

Deivinho isn’t all about soccer and Ronaldinho. He’s into a cosmos that has nothing to do with Pele. He adores Neil DeGrasse-Tyson and longs to join the Mars One planned colonization of the red planet in 2030.

Writer-director Gabriel Martins (the horror film “O Nó do Diabo” was his) is unfussy in setting all this up, and in keeping the story simple and straightforward lets us focus on the performances. There’s an engaging naturalism here, even as “Mars One” drifts into melodrama in the ways each character’s world is upended and their crisis is introduced.

Mom brings Eunice’s “moving out” plans to a head with a blunt demand to meet the “roommate.”

“You aren’t uncared for,” she complains, explaining the obvious to her child. “You have a father, a mother and a brother.” And they’re entitled to meet this person you’re about to cohabitate with.

The “obstacles” to everyone’s happiness and the predicaments they find themselves in are somewhat contrived and even extreme, the very definition of melodrama. But Martins has conjured up a slice-of-life working class story that is sympathetic to its characters and representative of its times, a movie so wrapped-up in domesticity that we don’t need to see the kitchen sink to know it’s there, and that this molecular level of reality is entirely the point.

Rating: unrated, sex, nudity, profanity

Cast: Cícero Lucas, Camilla Damião, Rejane Faria, Ana Hilario and Carlos Francisco

Credits: Scripted and directed by Gabriel Martins. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:55

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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