‘I wanna know what love is’, declares the ringtone of the manicurist, while she’s painting the nails of her flamboyant male customer bright red. We all want to know what love is, and this carefully constructed collage of people and their stories tells us of the many appearances, expressions and consequences of love.
The film starts out with a mythical explanation of romantic love: that we are all one side of a coin, looking onto the flip side throughout our lives, eventually remaining with the one person who fits most perfectly.
But this ‘romantic’ notion is only a very specific manifestation of love, is the lesson we learn in a beautifully non-explicit way as we journey through the lives of a diverse group of Brasilians, of different class, religion, ethnicity, gender and age.
Eschewing comment, the movie introduces its characters: families, (gay) couples, dog owners, a falconer and his falcon, siblings. Slowly and almost effortlessly we get to know them and the way in which they are connected. Director Cláudia Varejão is a talented storyteller and a great manager of emotions. She feeds her audience small bites in which she reveals the characters in their daily routines, whether getting dressed for school or at a photo shoot, rehearsing music, eating lunch, working in a restaurant or visiting the gynaecologist for a pregnancy check.
Throughout the film we get to know and love these characters, just for who they are, because that is how the directors perceives them. We learn about the unbreakable bond between two sisters, who work, eat, watch football, laugh, enjoy life and visit a clairvoyant together (who warns them about the dangers of their symbiotic relationship), and who are clearly determined to never leave each other. We learn about the love of a mother for a young daughter on the brink of puberty – mother is equally proud and terrified of her disobedience, which she knows will cause her trouble in the future.
We see the dog owners, who treat their pets as a combination of spouses and children, and the falconer whose relationship with his bird consists of love, awe and fear. And there is archive footage of two little sisters, inseparable within their games, their sense of mischief and love for their mother.
All of the scenes are very cleverly and lovingly weaved together, finding each other within the montage through visual rhyme. A shot of the falconer’s back walking away while his bird almost tenderly touches his shoulder morphs into an image of the women’s backs as they support each other while following the casket of a beloved diseased. Likewise, music underlines and evokes emotions, but also connects the various stories beautifully, such as when the sounds of a young girl practising her piano seamlessly flows into the distinctly more serious rehearsal of a professional musician and his daughter.
And as you are watching the intimate stories unfold, you can’t help but wonder about love: how it is built from both joy and pain. Footage from a marriage not only catches the celebrations, but also the anxious look in the eyes of the bride who is carried on the shoulders of the happy crowd, away from her safe childhood into an unknown future. The two little sisters from the home movies acknowledge how their strong bond has grown even stronger since the death of their mother; what a price to pay for love!
And the old woman, whose fragility evokes feelings of compassion, teaches us throughout the course of a single scene, without tears, about the unbearable pain of losing a child. A child, the most direct and tangible consequence of love, which again comes at a cost, as we witness when the pregnant woman gives birth to her son.
All of it is love: it is beautiful, it is painful, it is enviable and it is what we live for and through. And it is what this film is undeniably made of. Varejão succeeds in documenting this basic and yet incredibly complex phenomenon, which I love her for.
Director: Claudia Varejão
Countries: Portugal, Switzerland, France