Homage to Lucia Murat
“Cinema was the condition to my survival.”
2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the coup that submerged Brazil in a two decade long dictatorship. At a time when the debate surrounding the memory of this past period becomes more manifest, Femina performs a well-deserved homage to Lucia Murat, a filmmaker who has delivered to the audience an oeuvre marked by experiences of struggle, resistance and repression.
Lucia Murat was studying economics at the time when she engaged in her university’s student movement. Her first arrest was in 1986, at the age of 17, when she participated alongside one thousand students in the well-known UNE Congress in Ibiúna. At the end of the same year, shortly after the proclamation of the AI-5 act, she began to live into hiding. She continued her ties with the guerrilla movement MR-8 until mid-1971 until she was arrested once again and this time, brutally tortured.
Lucia Murat’s authorial cinema is more than a witness to her individual experience: it is a reflection on the collective experience of a generation and the consequences of repression and authoritarianism in a country historically structured by violence. Moreover, whether manifest or latent, she offers a privileged view so as to meditate on women’s issues. Her films, which have been awarded nationally and internationally not only have the virtue of addressing certain issues and themes but also for employing certain aesthetic choices.
Her first feature film, Que bom te ver viva (1989), merges fiction and documentary to address the issue of torture during Brazil’s dictatorship, more specifically in how its victims survived and how they face that period twenty years afterwards. The documental section includes touching testimonies from eight women who participated in political activism and once arrested by the repressive apparatus were subjected to all sorts of abuse and torture. In the fictional section an anonymous character played by actress Irene Ravache performs a series of monologues, which are interweaved with the testimonies. The events recounted in the testimonies are intensified by the monologues whilst the editing alternates between themes concerning political participation within the public sphere and quotidian issues commonly associated with the private life. On the one hand the film helps us to understand the gender specificities within the practice of torture carried out by masculine and patriarchal structures. On the other hand it brings a political light to themes considered to be personal, openly exposing subjective issues and debating themes pertaining to sexuality and questioning other forms of violence against women.
Doces Poderes (1997), her following film, treats the recent Brazilian democracy rather ironically by exposing the power relations in different spheres. The ambiguity of her characters leaves us wondering about ethics in a context where revolutionary projects are no longer debated or discussed; where only merchandise in its most developed form, money, decides the course of action. The film is a meditation on a generation who, in a time marked by the defeat of their utopias, seeks to maintain itself in the few institutional spaces it succeeds in finding.
In Brava Gente Brasileira (2000), a superposition displaces to a different historical period the representation of what could be metaphorically considered to be the original Brazilian violence: Pantanal 1778, a group of Portuguese soldiers rape several indigenous women who were bathing in a river. We can reflect here on the violation of the female body as a weapon of war, which for the formation of our country served as both a barbaric instrument for territorial invasion and for its upkeep. Quase dois Irmãos (2004) also addresses the encounter and reencounter between two worlds in a complex way by which forms of violence pervade relations of class, ethnicity and gender. Without the use of a didactic or chronological format, Lucia Murat transits between different decades in the life of two men, Miguel and Jorge, the first belonging to the white middle class whereas the latter is a resident of one of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. Their first encounter takes place during their childhood until they meet again in jail, when both men are imprisoned through the National Security Law. In their third moment of rapprochement the impossibility of both worlds existing alongside turns manifest: the rape of Miguel’s daughter, almost at the end of the film, symbolizes the failure of the fraternity sought in the title.
Life in the favela and the drug trade are also present in Maré, Nossa História de Amor (2007), a film where Lucia Murat once again innovates on her aesthetic choices and opts for the musical genre to serve her Shakespearian script. As for Uma Longa Viagem (2011), she speaks in the first person to recount her own story and that of her two brothers. Several themes come into play, such as armed struggle, prison, drugs, and madness. Once again we find the interplay between documentary and fiction and with the presence of actor Caio Blat interpreting one the brothers. In the following year the filmmaker honors her friend and political activist Vera Sílvia Magalhães in the feature film A Memória que me Contam (2012). The film displays an intense work in memory carried out by political activists who fought in an armed organization against the dictatorship. In a hospital waiting room the group awaits for news regarding Ana, also a former guerrilla fighter and who is once again hospitalized in a serious condition. In the dialogues of the men and women within this group we hear ruminations regarding their defeated projects and their feelings of guilt and betrayal. The denouncement of the horrors suffered at the hands of the repression is also present as well as the limitations of the revolutionary left, especially in its conservative tendency towards sexuality in general and homosexuality/lesbianism in particular.
Lucia Murat has also directed other short-films and documentaries. Her oeuvre, far from attempting to arbitrarily fill the gaps of history and experience, opts to manifest ambiguities, questions and concerns, thus providing room for a reflection on bodies, affection and society without ever hierarchizing them. Since her first feature film she asks the question: ‘How do we survive?”, underlining the difficulties in surviving prison, torture, the defeat of utopian emancipatory projects, and the guilt of having survived. Her cinema is nonetheless a way by which she elaborates such issues, which are individual and collective, personal and political.
PhD Sociology Student at UNICAMP and author of the book Mulheres em foco: construções cinematográficas brasileiras da participação política feminina (Cultura Acadêmica, 2010).