Writer-director Gabriel Martins’ sophomore feature, Mars One (Marte Um), which world premiered on the opening night of Sundance 2022 and is part of the festival’s World Cinema Competition, focuses on a Black working-class family in Contagem, Brazil, the Martins, as the far-right extremist Bolsonaro prepares to take office.
One of the many pleasures of the film is the equal time that we get to spend observing each of the four members of the family. The youngest, Deivinho (Cícero Lucas), is a teenager with his head in the stars who dreams of becoming an astrophysicist so that he can take part in the planned 2030 mission to colonize Mars. Meanwhile his father Wellington (Carlos Francisco), who works as a janitor at a luxury apartment building, has ambitions for his son to become a professional football player. Wanting what he sees as the best or his son, he’s also aware that it’s a career that would elevate the family’s circumstances. His wife Tércia (Rejane Faria) lives vicariously through the glamorous lifestyle of the high-spirited gay social media star Tokinho (playing himself)—whom she works part time for—who can afford to take trips to Paris.
Having been the target of a tasteless prank for a television show, an incident she initially believed to be a real explosion, Tércia is having trouble sleeping and has become convinced that her presence is a curse on those around her. We meet Tércia and Wellington’s daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) as she’s about to graduate from law school. Out with friends one evening at a queer nightclub she falls for the charismatic Joana (Ana Hilário). More experienced and at ease with her sexuality, Joana is already out to her liberal parents, who are clearly wealthier than the Martins.
One of the film’s standout sequences sees Eunice and Joana take a tour of a penthouse apartment that’s for rent. Finally in private for the first time they make love in a blissfully erotic scene, stylishly yet sensitively shot by cinematographer Leonardo Feliciano, that centres the women’s pleasure in each other as Joana’s blue hair sensually trails over Eunice’s body as she lays back on a white tiled floor. They later lay comfortably next to one another in the dark blue light of the evening basking in the glow of their postcoital intimacy. It made me want to spend even more time with this queer couple in the burgeoning stage of their relationship, but once established, their connection is largely explored in how it relates to Eunice’s family life.
Back at home, there’s a touching evolution in the dynamics between Eunice and her younger brother. Sharing a room together with a considerable age gap between them there’s an expected sibling friction which begins to ease as they come to understand and accept one another more fully.
Aside from some day-to-day tensions, the Martins house is relatively harmonious, with a fairly stable and palpably loving relationship between Wellington and Tércia. There are indications of past struggles though. We learn that Wellington, who regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, has been sober for four years and when his temper occasionally flares one suspects things might have been worse when he was still drinking. Perhaps one of the reasons that Eunice is eager to leave home. A touching scene between mother and son takes us further back, with Tércia reminiscing about what Deivinho’s father was like when they first met as she looks through old photographs and what remains of his late father’s personal belongings.
Having immediately established the political state of the nation with a radio news report about the new President’s election, with celebratory fireworks audible above the Martins house, the filmmaker allows the audience to make their own connections and contrasts between this family and Bolsonaro’s agenda. The figure himself only appears fleetingly on a television screen that’s on in the background while Wellington is having lunch with a work colleague, Flavid (russo Apr), who believes that the men should unite in revolution in protest against their low wages. Generally content with his lot and committed to doing a good job at work, as the film progresses Wellington becomes increasingly concerned about the family’s finances and a foreboding sense of potential disaster looms.
Nuanced and well-observed, with what remains unsaid just as significant as the dialogue, at the heart of this rich and engaging family portrait are four outstanding acting performances, hugely expressive physically, they vibrate with the characters’ passions and fears. Some of my favourite moments in the film were just absorbing these when they are quietly in their own thoughts, while there’s such warmth between them when they come together as an ensemble. Martins treats his subjects, this working class family—that would sidelined, dismissed, or discriminated against by many of those currently in power—with a dignity that put me in mind of Ken Loach’s work, along with this film’s gentle humour and social commentary.
Daniel Simitan’s delicate and stirring score amplifies the film’s cosmic perspective, as it opens with Deivinho looking up at the starry night sky, and later the family will marvel at Mars together. Although Mars One begins to take a tragic narrative turn in the third act, ultimately this a beautifully hopeful film about the dreams, both modest and impossibly big, that nourish us and propel us forward.
By James Kleinmann
Mars One (Marte Um) world premiered at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival on January 20th with subsequent online screenings at Festival.Sundance.org.