Mother, son, father, daughter
A deeply personal film and testament, Carol Benjamin’s I Owe You a Letter About Brazil tells of three generations of a family living through Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship (1964-85). It is a tale of oppression and salvation, yet also of maternal devotion within a strained mother/son relationship, and of a silence which persisted for 30 years.
César, the father of debutant filmmaker, was arrested during student protests in 1971 and sentenced to 13 years in jail. His mother Iramaya embarked on a campaign to have him released, together with Amnesty International in Sweden, eventually succeeding in this 5 years later. But César always refused to talk about this dreadful period in his life, much of which was spent in solitary confinement.
While Carol sets out to piece together fragments of César’s past via correspondences with Amnesty in Sweden, it is his testimony decades later to Brazil’s National Truth Commission which finally reveal the extent of his pain, partly justifying his reasons to remain silent for 30 years.
The other thing he steadfastly remained silent about was his mother and the role she played in his release from prison.
“I felt the need to investigate why. I don’t truly think I have an answer to explain the silence of my father regarding his mother’s role in his case,” Benjamin writes. “The search, however, aims at understanding how politics fractured that mother-child relationship, making Iramaya feel such a radical urge to protect and save César that she began to live his life; she started living for him, and not for herself. This is an underlying question to all parent-child relationships but intensified in Iramaya and Cesar’s case because they were subjected to the violence of the State.”
Benjamin adds how she realized that “Iramaya had become a beacon of motherhood while telling and retelling the stories of struggle – to her grandchildren, to newspapers and also writing a book of memories. She turned into the narrator of my father’s fate, sharing with everyone her decisive role in his life and speaking on his behalf. My father only started talking about that period after Iramaya’s passing.”
The film, also produced by Benjamin, plays in both IDFA First Appearance and Competition for Use of Archive.
I Owe You a Letter About Brazil has the potential to do well at the local box-office, argues Brazilian exec producer Maria Barreto, despite no distribution support yet forthcoming from Ancine (Brazilian National Film Agency). The story is well-knownin Brazil as Iramaya had assumed the mantle of ‘Mother Courage’ for the campaigning stance she took. César went on to become Secretary for Education in Rio despite remaining a ‘big miltant’, Barreto adds.
Director Benjamin comments on the Swedish dimension of her film. “There was a piece of my life in Sweden and I went in search of it,” she says. “In the film I try to link historical documents and newspaper articles with intimate writings and family records, creating a sort of trail for a period out of the past that hasn’t, to this day, been properly devised in Brazil.”