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Lais Bodanzky, Maria Ribeiro on ‘Just Like Our Parents’

Bodanzky, Ribeiro talk about the Brazilian Panorama player, the story of one woman’s rediscovery of her true self.

Sold by Wild Bunch and produced by Brazil’s Gullane, the company behind “The Second Mother,” one of Berlin’s biggest arthouse sales hits two years ago, Berlin 2017 Panorama player “Just Like Our Parents” forms part of a new cinema of social conscience in Brazil which examines the forces forging a modern Brazil.

But if Daniela Thomas’ “Vazante” turns on miscegenation, and Marcelo Gomes’ “Joaquim” on the consequences of anger against social and economic privilege and corruption, the fourth feature from Lais Bodanzky, one of Brazil’s most reputed women directors, takes on chauvinism. As Homero, the doddery new age artist father of protagonist Rosa puts it, justifying his serial philandering, “sexual encounter is the divine grace of God. This is hereditary. It’s in our DNA, it’s our heritage.”

“Just Like Our Parents” chronicles a woman’s attempt to battle such attitudes and their consequences, the evisceration of her own identity in favor of her mother, husband and children’s. It’s the terrain on which she chooses to battle which make the film particularly interesting.

Written by Bodanzky and partner Luiz Bolognese, director of Annecy top prize winner “Rio 2096: A Story of Love and Fury,” “Just Like Our Parents” begins with Rosa at a family lunch in her mother’s lush summery patio. There, her mother drops a bombshell – that Homero is not her father. Her world turned upside-down, Rosa begins a journey towards self realization. “Just Like Our Parents” is the story of one woman’s rediscovery of her true self. It does not build to any large victory, no change of law in Brazil’s parliament pr dramatic watershed.

But the devil is in the day-to-day details, such as when her often absent husband Dado, who has gone off to save the Yanomami tribe and only washes up in public, manages to make dinner and put their two daughters to bed on his own or agrees to talk about their relationships. These are modest victories for a woman but surely part of how women’s battle for equality has to be won. Variety caught up with Bodanzky and lead actress Maria Ribeiro when they had one foot in the plane to leave Berlin.

Though you are one of Brazil’s best-known women directors, this is your first film which deals directly with the state of womanhood in Brazil. Why now?

Bodanzky: “Just Like Our Parents” is about a woman, Rosa, who only does things that people want her to do.  This is the first time in history that we can talk truthfully about this issue without a feeling of guilt. I started reading research and interviews on the internet and thought there was the potential for a movie not about the woman’s movement but what women feel nowadays.

The film is set in a pointedly middle-class Brazil. That said, it world premiered at Berlin just a couple of months after the women’s march on Washington, which suggests a wider relevance to your film. 

Bodanzky: Women have started to demand a new place in the world. A lot of women movements have launched and are moving in the same direction, a political direction. “Just Like Our Parents” is not about the macro political picture, however, but rather that real change can start with small change, in the day-to-day life in your home, with your family and kids.

You’ve remarked that “Just Like Our Parents” turns in part on a mother-daughter relationship, which you don’t see so much in films, compared to father-daughter stories.

Bodanzky: We know a lot from Freud about daughter-father relationships. We rarely talk about daughter-mother relationships. There’s an element of competition. An Italian psychologist who lives in Brazil has compared the relationship to the fairy tale “Snow White” where a mother looks in the mirror on the wall and, appalled at not now being the most beautiful of them, sets out to kill her daughter.

Rosa’s character and portrayal seems based on  dualities. One is a determination to face up to people, mixed at one and the same time by a sense of fragility. When Rosa sees her mother for the first time after she drops the bombshell, Rosa reproaches her on her behavior but at the same time is close to tears…

Ribeiro: At Berlin, someone told me my character was very strong and I said that she’s not at all, poor thing. In scenes with my mother where I am behaving in a completely aggressive way, I was thinking: “Oh my God, I wanted her to love me and hug me and I’ve missed that since I was a girl.’ It becomes more complex, like peeling an onion. I try to work like that because I think that’s true-to-life.

“Just Like Our Parents” offers a juicy lead role for an actress. Brazilian actresses sometimes complain that there aren’t that many good roles for women in Brazilian cinema. Is that true? If so, why.

Ribeiro: We don’t have so many good characters for women in the world but that’s especially true in Brazil. The main characters in films are so often men We don’t respect women, sometimes women don’t respect women. Machismo, prejudice, we have to recognize that they’re still here and have been for years and years, They’re in our movies and literature, though it’s now starting to change, right now.

Reviewers have picked up on the sunny luminous quality of Pedro J. Marquez’s cinematography. Is this part of the film’s naturalism, or aimed at lightening a serious – some would say bleak – subject?

Bodanzky: You can have tragedy in your life, but life still goes on. I directed the film, the actors, the art, the photography to be similar in terms of the day-to-day.

In “Just Like Our Parents,” you direct an actress who is also a director. How did that work out?

Bodanzky: Maria had a lot of ideas. But I liked that. It forced me to defend my ideas and realize that sometimes I was wrong. That’s why I chose her.

Maria Ribeiro, you’re also a writer and film director. What are you doing now? Do you have projects?

Ribeiro: My first book was called “38 ½,” because it was my age at the time of writing and a play on Fellini of course, who is one of my favorite directors. The next will be “40 Letters and the Email I Never Sent.” I’m making my third documentary, editing right now, about my father who died three years ago. It’s a film about love. I love people and that’s why I do cinema and write books and wake up every day: To know other people.

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