January 7, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Gabriel Martins
Portuguese with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018, in an unnamed city in Brazil, the dramatic film “Mars One” features an all-Brazilian cast of characters (Latinos and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A working-class family of four people navigate their individual problems and goals, which sometimes conflict with what other members of the family want.
Culture Audience: “Mars One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted and intimate family dramas.
“Mars One” thoughtfully presents a realistic dramatic portrait of a Brazilian family of four people going through transitions on how they view themselves and what they really want out of their lives. It’s the type of movie that won’t satisfy viewers who are expecting a lot of melodramatics or wild plot developments. Instead, “Mars One” (which takes place in an unnamed city in Brazil) offers a peek into the lives of working-class Brazilians; their hopes and dreams for a better future; and how they deal with their present-day realities.
Written and directed by Gabriel Martins, “Mars One” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and was selected as Brazil’s official entry for Best International Feature Film for the 2023 Academy Awards. “Mars One” didn’t make the Academy’s shortlist for that category, but the movie is more than a worthy selection to represent Brazil. The movie takes place during a time of political transition in Brazil as being an almost parallel backdrop to the personal changes going in within the Brazilian family at the center of the story.
“Mars One” begins in October 2018, shortly after the election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing politician who presented himself in his presidential campaign as a “political outsider.” (Bolsonaro is often called the “Donald Trump of Brazil.”) While Brazil is divided over this controversial election, a family of four will have their bonds tested by their own personal divisions.
Wellington (played by Carlos Francisco), the family’s proud patriarch, is a recovering alcoholic who works as a maintenance staffer for an upscale apartment building. His wife Tércia (played by Rejane Faria) is a vibrant and outgoing matriarch who works as a housecleaner. Wellington and Tércia have two children: Eunice (played by Camilla Damião), nicknamed Nina, is an emotionally sensitive college student, who’s in her late teens or early 20s. Deivinho (played by Cícero Lucas), who is about 13 or 14 years old, is studious and somewhat introverted.
Several of the movie’s scenes show the family members going about their everyday lives. Wellington is a respected senior member of his employer’s staff at his job, where he sometimes brags to his co-workers about what a great soccer player Deivinho is, and Wellington shows videos on his phone to prove it. Tércia follows a routine of taking the bus to work, where she has camaraderie with a lively co-worker named Tokinho (played by real-life social media star Tokinho), who likes to watch TV with her when they’re taking a break in a house that they’re cleaning. Eunice attends college classes and likes to dance at nightclubs in her free time. Deivinho hangs out with his friends and plays on a local soccer team, with Wellington usually cheering him on in the crowd and advising Deivinho like an enthusiastic coach.
But a few pivotal things happen that change the personal dynamics of these family members. Wellington is tasked with training a new employee named Flávio (played by Russo Apr), who will have an impact later on in the story. While eating at a diner in the city center, Tércia is traumatized after a prank is pulled on the customers by a hidden-camera TV show, which pretended that a suicidal man had ignited a stick of dynamite in the diner. Her family members don’t take this incident seriously when she tells them about it, but Tércia finds that this fake bombing incident is having negative physical and psychological effects on her.
At a nightclub, Eunice meets a confident woman close to her age named Joana (played by Ana Hilãrio), and they have an instant romantic attraction. Eunice and Joana begin dating and eventually make plans to move in together, which will be the first time that Eunice will not be living with her parents. However, Eunice (who doesn’t put a label on her sexuality) is afraid to tell her parents that Eunice is not heterosexual and that Joana is more than a friend to Eunice. Deivinho (who is a big fan of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson) is fascinated with a Mars exploration trip called Mars One. Deivinho dreams of being part of this exploration as an astrophysicist, instead of becoming the famous soccer player that Wellington wants Deivinho to become.
“Mars One” shows how these four family members handle their individual issues, sometimes with secrecy and shame, sometimes with defiance and determination. The underlying tensions and fears in these interpersonal dynamics have to do with feeling uncertainty over this existential question: “If your family can’t love and accept you for you are, what are the chances that other people will love and accept you for who you are? And is any of this acceptance just as important as self-acceptance?”
This well-acted movie (all of the performances look emotionally authentic) also artfully shows how people who feel stuck in a rut and want better futures for themselves can get caught up everyday burdens that sometimes blind them to small blessings that they have in the present-day lives. “Mars One” doesn’t depict any personal evolutions in contrived or calculated ways but how they happen in real life: naturally, often unexpectedly, and sometimes uncomfortably. It’s a well-made story that shows how self-acceptance or acceptance of others isn’t always automatic but can often be a bumpy but illuminating journey.
Array Releasing released “Mars One” in select U.S. cinemas and on Netflix on January 5, 2023. The movie was released in Brazil on August 25, 2022.