by Kate Lyra
Amidst the flurry of controversy surrounding its selection, “Little Secret” (“Pequeno Segredo”) screened for the press in Rio de Janeiro.
“Some people are afraid of the ocean,” says Heloisa, (Julia Lemmertz in a perfect pitch performance). “But I feel safer on the water than on dry land.”
Marcos Bernstein’s masterful narrative, directed by David Schurmann, sets the ocean as symbol and metaphor, weaving it through the interlocking stories of three families — and three mothers — forever joined by a secret and a child.
It is the ocean that both separates and connects places as exotic and unlikely as the Amazon and New Zealand, an ocean that protects and sustains us like amniotic fluid.
“Kiwi” (as New Zealanders are endearingly known) Robert Lockett (Errol Shand) has crossed the ocean to find work as a petrochemical engineer in Manaus, capital city of the State of Amazonas in northern Brazil, and also to escape his mother. Played with all the verve of her earlier depictions of Molly Bloom, Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan shines in the role of Robert’s mother, the conniving, controlling Barbara, unable to face each day without a stiff drink, or without lamenting that her son, like her youth, has abandoned her.
Fionnula Flanagan as the conniving, controlling Barbara, the mother of Robert
After Robert meets and marries young Amazon native, Jeanne (Maria Flor) they sail to Robert´s home. In New Zealand, the Locketts meet Vilfredo “Captain” Schurmann (Marcello Antony), and his wife, Heloisa, becoming close friends. Barbara becomes a grandmother for the first time when Jeanne gives birth to her daughter, little Kat (Mariana Goulart).
Jeanne knows that she, her husband and her small child form a family which shares a devastating secret. Bernstein uses the interplay of water/ ocean/amniotic fluid in a beautiful sequence to lead up to this realization. Jeanne leans back in the bathtub, submerging her shoulders, her neck, her face; she closes her eyes and holds her breath. Images reminiscent of the ultrasound reading of an unborn infant. Drawing closer, two figures move, reach toward each other. Jeanne and Heloisa, suspended, hands stretched out to each other, almost touching. Jeanne suddenly sits up, panting and gasping to catch her breath, like a newborn baby suddenly exposed to the air outside its mother´s womb; or like a mother having a panic attack.
Barbara has been abandoned by her husband, who has finally died of a malignant tumor. When her widowed son Robert returns, his health is deteriorating and Barbara knows that at some point, he, too, will abandon her forever.
Six of the eight-week shoot took place in the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. In the first scene, at the Mozambique Beach, Heloisa and Kat watch the sunset together. In a voice-over, Heloisa comments on the sense she has that time is measured by the remaining number of sunsets they will still be able to share.
Sharing is the leitmotif of this poignant story, in the context of families — those we choose, those we flee from and those that we inherit. Barbara, who has grudgingly resented sharing her son with the world, and would try to keep her granddaughter all to herself, learns through Kat and with Heloisa that life and love flow like water, shared by those it touches, yet slips through our fingers no matter how hard we try to grasp it.
Julia Lemmertz, says Heloisa Schurmann, served as her inspiration to assume the character she plays on screen. “Heloisa is still alive. This allowed me to observe and come closer to the feelings she had for this child who transformed her, bringing love, light, wisdom and a sense of joy in the simple act of being alive. Kat was a very happy child and the Schurmanns gave her a wonderful life.”
Putting it into perspective: Brazil´s Achievements
The first cases of AIDS in Brazil were identified in 1982. Surrounding the illness was an aura of doom, shame and fear. Today, with the internet, years of medical research and decades of campaigning, AIDS is no longer the enormous taboo it was in Brazil (and around the world) when the Lockett family was stricken.
Over the years, Brazil has won international acclaim by dramatically reducing AIDS-related mortality, including mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Its creative strategies to do so included the controversial production of generic AIDS drugs, aimed at forcing price reductions by multinational pharmaceutical companies, as well as shaping global drug policy to support to civil society engagement at home and around the world.
The OSCARS & Foreign Language Submissions
Every year, when the Academy announces its official list of foreign language selections, local and international controversy often appears. Some countries do make their selection as part of an internal political agenda. Magnolia President Eamonn Bowle (“I Am Love”) has gone on record as saying that the foreign language film process has become too politicized in some countries, such as Italy.
In 2010, controversy accompanied the choice of “Lula — Brazil’s Son” (Lula, o Filho do Brasil”), an independently produced, but glowing portrayal of Brazil’s first working-class president, selected by a panel of filmmakers and government officials as Brazil´s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2011 Academy Awards.
This year, the selection of “Little Secret” as Brazil´s Academy Award Nomination Submission for Best Foreign Language Film, was clouded by controversy. Written and directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho (“O Som ao Redor” (“Neighboring Sound” — 2012) and starring Brazilian beauty and veteran actress Sonia Braga in one of her most mesmerizing performances, “Aquarius” bowed in Cannes this year preceded by red-carpet protests by the cast over the impeachment proceeding against then-president Dilma Rouseff.
The virulent in-fighting, accusations and political aura surrounding the selection of “Little Secret” over “Aquarius” distracts from what is perhaps the true importance of both films. Beginning in 1992, under the government of Fernando Collor, the Rouanet Law and the first Audiovisual Law were enacted. Local financial incentives to support the industry and the current thriving domestic box office point to their success. This year, Brazil can boast not one, but two films whose over-all quality is on par with the very best cinema world wide.
Although past nominees such as “Central Station”, actress Fernanda Montenegro and “City of God” achieved worldwide acclaim, no Brazilian film, actor or director have never won an Academy Award.
“Little Secret” — Cast and Crew
Cast: Fionnula Flanagan, Maria Flor, Julia Lemmertz, Erroll Shand, Marcello Antony, Mariana Goulart, Michael Wade, Ryan James
Directed by : David Schurmann
Screenplay by Marcos Bernstein
Cinematography by Inti Briones
Art Direction by Brigitte Broch
Executive Producers João Roni Garcia, David Schurmann and Vilfredo Schurmann
Film Editing by Gustavo Giani
Produced by: Diamond Films, Schurmann Fimes, Ocean Filmes
Coproduced by Mistika
Distributor Diamond Films