Berlinale Blog A Sunny Day with “El botón de nácar” and “Ausência”

“Ausência” by Chico Teixeira
“Ausência” by Chico Teixeira | © Matheus Fagundes, Vinicius Zinn

The Berlinale is finally able to welcome a guest very rarely seen during the Berlin winter: the sun – which is putting a smile on the faces of cinemagoers at Potsdamer Platz as they stroll from one film to the next.

My day at the festival began with the Brazilian feature film Que horas ela volta? (The Second Mother) directed by Anna Muylaert. It stars Regina Casé as Val, a housemaid who lives in the house of her mistress and brings up her son while her own daughter grows up far away from her in the northeast of Brazil. This daughter, who has not seen her mother for ten years, decides to travel to São Paulo to sit the university entrance exam. As a result, she upsets the everyday routines of the household and of her mother Val by calling the social norms into question. Based on a well-constructed screenplay, the film explores topical domestic and social problems in Brazil.

Water as the starting point

After this family drama I switched theatres to watch a Chilean documentary film with a pronounced social and political focus. In El botón de nácar (The Pearl Button), Patricio Guzmán draws parallels between the massacre of the indigenous peoples of Patagonia during the colonialization of America and those killed by Chile’s military dictatorship. The director, who uses water as the starting point for his story, has created a film which takes place on different levels: the necessity of water for life on the earth and on other planets; the way water serves as an intermediary between ourselves and the stars; the way the indigenous peoples approached the sea, and the sea which was used as a graveyard by the militia. The film expresses harsh criticism of the forced process of civilization with its absence of any humane view of others.

“Ausência” – with São Paulo as its backdrop

My evening at the Berlinale ended with a beautiful film by the Brazilian director Chico Matoso, Ausência (Absence). Set in the centre of São Paulo, it tells the story of Serginho, a working class youngster whose father has done a bunk and whose mother is a depressive alcoholic. The boy works with his uncle at a vegetable market and takes care of his mother and his younger brother while himself searching for affection in his relationships with his friends and with his teacher Ney. “I wanted to make a film about children who live the lonely life of an adult, children who care for others rather than being cared for themselves”, explains the director. Although this film serves as a very convincing social portrait, it is above all a film in which the characters come to the fore and which is bolstered by the successful creation of Serginho, played by the debutant actor Matheus Fagundes.