Since 2003’s City of God, Brazilian cinema has slowly developed to become a major part of Latin American film. Whether it is showcasing the world-famous ‘favelas’ of Rio da Janiero or the rich culture of the country, common themes such as poverty and troubled households are consistently featured and the debut feature from director-writer Fellipe Barbosa is no exception.
Casa Grande portrays the troubles of teenager Jean (Thales Cavalcanti), who lives in a wealthy neighbourhood of Rio da Janiero. While he struggles with pent-up sexual frustration and exam stress, his overbearing father is on the verge of bankruptcy, which has a knock-on effect on the entire household.
First of all, the family itself is typically dysfunctional, making them look like the Brazilian equivalent of the Griffins from Family Guy. There is the father who screws things up, a mother who is trying to hold everything together, a horny son and an overlooked daughter. This stark comparison paints them as fairly generic characters, making the household’s staff – driver Severino (Gentil Cordeiro), housekeeper Rita and maid Noemia – as well as Jean’s charming love interest Luiza (Bruna Amaya), more dynamic yet underused characters.
As a lead character, Cavalcanti plays Jean with a slight awkwardness. In his debut performance, he holds his own against established actors such as Marcello Novaes, who plays his troubled father, and his interactions with Cordeiro capture more tenderness and emotion in five minutes than an awkward family dinner.
However, Casa Grande benefits from giving a different perspective to life in Brazil, namely one that is not already affected by poverty. The film’s cinematography and direction make a more lasting impression than its script, as Barbosa effectively provides little visual hints in the family’s altering lifestyle, which are more effective than watching a group of bailiffs at work, while capturing stunning views of Rio da Janiero.
Overall, Casa Grande runs the risk of being labelled a ‘serious teen film’, but its alternative perspective of an affluent Brazilian family provides Barbosa with a promising debut.
Director: Fellipe Barbosa
Writers: Fellipe Barbosa, Karen Sztajnberg
Stars: Thales Cavalcanti, Marcello Novaes, Suzana Pires
Runtime: 115 min