“Did you know the sun we’re seeing now is the sun of the past?” In writer-director Gabriel Martin’s sensitive, sincere family drama Marte Um (Mars One), teenage Deivinho (Cícero Lucas) makes this nerdy observation to two friends who are more interested in playing chicken than indulging Devinho’s closeted obsession with astrophysics. It’s one of many fervent thoughts that stands as a representation of Deivinho’s setting: Brazil on the night of Jair Bolsnaro’s presidential win and subsequent installation. The audience already knows that things are about to get materially worse for a working class family like Deivinho’s, and even though the film is grounded in 2018’s relatively recent reality, watching their bad luck unfold sometimes feels like a prophetic dream.
Joining Deivinho as the film’s center are his near-college-graduate sister Eunice (Camilla Damião), janitor father Wellington (Carlos Francisco), and part-time housekeeper mother Tércia (Rejane Faria). The foursome are the main solar system of the film, and Martin does an impressive job of fully developing each character so that their conflicts, closeness, and resolutions all feel integral and earned.
A promising youth soccer player, Deivinho hides his true love of space and his yearning to board the 2030 mission to colonize Mars from his family, unsure of how to approach his soccer star-worshipping father with his change in career plans. Eunice, herself hiding her budding lesbian identity and her new girlfriend Joana (Ana Hilãrio), longs for a space of her own—one in which she won’t end up catering to the men in her life. Tércia, whom Eunice regards as too soft on her husband and son, struggles to overcome insomnia and a string of traumatizing coincidences that convince her she’s attracting her own bad luck. Wellington, the most wilfully ignorant of the central players, is a four-years sober alcoholic who refuses to recognize his own exploitation at the hands of his wealthy bosses, instead holding out for his son’s eventual ascension to soccer stardom as a means to uplift the whole family.
It’s a pleasure to spend time with each character individually, both on the basis of their writing and performance. Thanks to Martin’s patient shot length, immersive instinct, and expressionist lighting, viewers get to experience the often reserved, always naturalistic reactions of each family member as if from a fully formed person that we’ve known for far longer than the film’s generous 115-minute runtime. The viewer is allowed into the everyday trials that the rest of the family aren’t able to experience, lending a benevolence and graciousness to each character’s flawed attempts to love each other while still standing their ground. Even if we don’t agree with each character’s choices, Martins presents the chance to really listen to and understand what they’re saying with or without speaking a word.
Eunice and Deivinho’s relationship is among one of the most moving aspects of a film no means short of truthful emotional connection. Their shared coming out scene is casual but sentimental, buoyed by a recognizable anxiety that those they love most won’t be able to handle the person they’re becoming. Thankfully, the scene is a sigh of relief so early in the film that it assures the strength of their connection, and the fierce determination Eunice especially possesses when it comes to protecting her little brother’s future.
Lucas and Damãio’s chemistry is winning, charming and, most importantly, utterly believable, as is Francisco and Faria’s. As traditional and stifling as Wellington’s bulldozing attitude can be, Tércia challenges him, pushing for the wellbeing of their children first and foremost. The couple feels lived-in and loving even in their ugly moments, which most often emerge when they’re struggling to wrangle the impossible: living without a financial safety net. Even when things take a turn for the worse, as they often do, and people are selfish, as they often are, the fate of the family never feels melodramatically sealed. This isn’t poverty porn; rather, it’s honest and even quite optimistic about the capability to find a way to find a way forward.
A sweet, unexpectedly layered example of this comes in the formation of Joana and Eunice’s relationship. It’s not a relationship that has any guarantee of lasting; their cultural and class divides are evident from the moment they consider moving in together, and even more glaring when Eunice meets Joana’s parents. However, Joana provides a sense of support and autonomy that Eunice needs in order to be honest with her parents, and the ways in which Wellington and Tércia scrutinize themselves in order to commit to loving their daughter are humbling. Joana and Eunice’s relationship may not be the singular focus of the film, but it’s a meaningful, moving and often refreshingly playful addition to the family’s dynamic.
It’s treacherously hopeful to premiere Marte Um in a year that Bolsnaro is up for reelection. By turns spiritual and grounded, one might hope that the film teaches empathy to those who need it most, but in all honesty it’s less about breaching a hardened heart, and more about offering reassurances to those who have to keep going. Insightful, kind and exceptionally well-acted, Marte Um reminds its characters that they’ll find what they need if they just keep looking.
Director: Gabriel Martins
Writer: Gabriel Martins
Stars: Rejane Faria, Carlos Francisco, Camilla Damião, Cícero Lucas
Release Date: January 20, 2022 (Sundance)
Shayna Maci Warner (@bernieteeters) is a Brooklyn-based film programmer, preservationist and GLAAD-awarded critical queer. Their words on queer feelings and films appear in Autostraddle, The Film Stage and Film Cred, among others, and they write a horny newsletter about the girls and gays that make movies worth watching. You can summon her by yodeling “Desert Hearts was robbed!” into the sunset.