“Mars One,” available January 5 on Netflix, is an absorbing drama that depicts the dignity of a lower middle-class Black Brazilian family. Wellington (Carlos Francisco) is the patriarch, who works at a luxury apartment building who engenders respect with the manager and his coworkers. His wife, Tércia (Rejane Faria), however, is having a terrible time; after she survives an explosion, she feels she is bringing bad luck on everyone around her. The queer storyline has their daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) beginning a romance with Joana (Ana Hilario) and preparing to move in with her new girlfriend. Rounding out the family is the youngest, Deivinho (Cícero Lucas) who plays soccer — Wellington wants him to go pro — but he would rather study astrophysics.
Writer/director Gabriel Martins spoke with PGN about making his modest and absorbing drama, which won the Best Narrative Feature Film prize at Philadelphia’s Black Star Film Festival last year.
Bolsonaro’s election is the start of the film, and his presidency was very negative towards Black, queer, and poor Brazilians. What can you say about how his Presidency, which has ended, informed the film?
We shot the film 2 to 3 weeks after the election. There was a very disappointed feeling in all our crew and cast. Having that as the current event made sense because I think it’s a film about overcoming adversities, time changes, and new cycles. I didn’t plan to launch this film in 2022 [at Sundance]. Everything that Bolsonaro meant at the time [when we made the film] was stronger, and characters in the family are in a worse position than they were 4 years ago. Bolsonaro’s presidency affected how things can take a huge, unexpected turn, and how that can be very bad. In Brazil, before Bolsonaro, we had political turmoil, but it was never so radical. The film is about that resilience that was necessary through that process.
The characters all find something that motivates them. How did you develop the characters and their desires?
I wanted to create an atmosphere that whoever was watching the film would have to go, bit by bit, inside the story. It’s not spoon-feeding. You go inside the house and into the daily routine of each character. You see how they are working, or studying, and how they are together inside their house, so when things start to happen, you are invested in these characters. I wanted the film to provide this experience of being together with the family. My long editing process was finding that balance within the characters and making a film where no one is wrong or right; you just need to understand where the other person is coming from. It’s a film about listening and learning how to listen to each other. It is also an invitation to the audience. I rely on long closeups to focus on the reaction of another person. You wear the other person’s shoes for a while. The motivations are distributed in a way that complement each other. This is a family of dreamers, and they encounter obstacles. They try to achieve happiness, but the happiness of one can encounter the obstacle of another. When I wrote the title, I was thinking about something that might or might not be achievable. The title is a motivation — why we wake up every day, why we get out of bed, and go to work. “Mars One” encapsulates a lot of things — it can be very specific or broad, like just being happy.
The film depicts the relationship between Eunice and Joana in a very sensitive way. We feel their relationship develop and their coming out scene is sweet and discrete. What decisions did you make regarding the depiction of their relationship?
I wanted to write this character [Eunice] who moves away from home, which generates a spark between her family who may not be supportive. I also wanted to tell a story about someone who has a world and an identity that is different from mine. It was very natural to me to have [sexuality] as a characteristic, but I wanted the story to be about more than that. The conflict with Eunice is not only coming out, but her cutting ties and starting a new family. She wants her old family to be part of it, but her leaving generates a lot of silences. I am interested in that. It’s deeper than portraying her coming out as a tragedy, which is something I am not interested in. It is not the experience my friends have told me about. What we don’t see in films is the silences that hurt. I never thought about her being straight. Her identity is just part of her life.
Yet, we feel the sadness in those family scenes.
Yes, it is very specific to Minas Gerais. Families sweep things under the rug and the rug becomes a mountain. We are a city surrounded by mountains, so this heavy silence is something that is part of my culture having been brought up in a city like that.
The character Tércia feels she is to blame for all the problems around her. Are you superstitious?
I am completely superstitious! I love thinking about religion, fate, luck, chance. It’s a heavy part of Brazilian culture as well. Tércia’s storyline is my favorite. I love this idea of mystery; it’s very cinematic. I love the idea that everything can suddenly change and there are no coincidences — or there are coincidences.
I love the scene of Eunice and Joana making love and Joana’s blue braids on Eunice’s body. I liked the scene of Deivinho’s accident, which is seen looking up from the ground. How did you conceive of the visuals in the film?
We have a horizontal perspective, which is the story, and things that move the story forward. But we also have a vertical perspective — everything that happens inside the scene, like the braids or Deivinho’s shoes. These elements don’t move the story forward, but you can stop the film for a while and make it look like a painting or something that encapsulates a lot of things in a small moment. It might be cheesy to say it’s poetic, but it makes sense. The images are telling you everything. Joana’s blue braids bring the ideas of a blue light that surrounds them. You can tell the story, but also stop and think about how an image makes you feel. That’s what I am thinking about when I conceive an image — the feeling.