Review: Just Like Our Parents – Como Nossos Pais (2017)


Just Like Our Parents – Como Nossos Pais (2017)

Directed by: Lais Bodanzky | 105 minutes | drama | Actors: Clarisse Abujamra, Jorge Mautner, Annalara Prates, Maria Ribeiro, Felipe Rocha, Sophia Valverde, Paulo Vilhena

The 37-year-old Rosa, mother of two young daughters and copywriter for a company that sells bathroom supplies, is constantly preoccupied with the needs of her family: her demanding children, her often absent husband and her distant mother. She hardly has a chance to think about herself; She put aside her ambitions as a playwright a long time ago. Sudden events in her life force her to discover who she really is – alongside mother, daughter and wife of.

In the opening scenes, Rosa and her family visit her free-spirited mother Clarice (both roles very strongly played by Maria Ribeiro and Clarisse Abujamra respectively) for Sunday lunch, where Rosa’s brother and wife are also. The meal (which soon becomes distasteful Festen-esque) ends abruptly with a shocking announcement from Clarice: Rosa is in reality not the daughter of Homero, an aging flier and artist, and the man she always thought of as her father. This revelation puts her entire identity in jeopardy. Rosa suddenly understands better why the relationship with her mother has always been difficult. “I always thought it was because I was a girl,” she confides to her brother in tears.

There she immediately hits the nail on the head; the search that follows the revelation that she is really the daughter of a high-ranking Brazilian politician, who met her mother in Cuba almost forty years ago, mainly confronts Rosa with her identity as a woman. Because why would her mother treat her differently because of her sex? And isn’t she guilty of this herself, by blaming her mother for what she can forgive both her fathers (both Homero and her biological father): that they chose for themselves regardless of the consequences? The men in the film shine mainly because of their absence: Dado, Rosa’s partner, does ‘noble’ work as an anthropologist in the Amazon region, making Rosa the main breadwinner in addition to being the main educator and housekeeper. As a result, she had to sacrifice her own writing ambitions. A repeat of moves – her mother was already supporting Homero.

Director Laís Bodanzky stated that he wanted to portray her own generation: people in their late thirties in a split between the role of child of their parents and parent of their children, occasionally acting as parents of their parents or child of their children. Bodanzky knows how to convey the universal feelings that accompany this. Who does not recognize the difficult navigating between their own needs and the relationships with parents, children and partners? What is special is that in the midst of the universal themes ‘Just Like Our Parents’ is so unmistakably Brazilian, because it also poses nationally relevant questions – what if protection of indigenous populations is ‘at the expense’ of the emancipation of an individual middle-class woman? How does the woman use and experience her femininity without being a sex object? How does the absent father relate to all this?

It is striking that Rosa has no help or doméstica to help around the house and with the children, a widespread use in Brazil among the upper classes, but now also criticized phenomenon. The lack of a domestic worker shows how improved class relations in the rapidly modernizing Brazil are re-empowering middle-class women with all household and parenting responsibilities. When Rosa confronts her Dado about this, he does not give home and thus chases her into the arms of another.

Equally recognizable are the generational conflicts that the film is full of. When her stepsister – Homero’s younger daughter from a later relationship, temporarily moves in with Rosa, Rosa is caught between two generations; (retired) hippies on one side and hipsters on the other – both of which make her feel painfully how petty bourgeois her life has become.

The red line through the film is Henrik Ibsen’s play A Doll’s House from 1880, about Nora, who at the end of the story leaves her husband with the words “I must first educate myself, and you cannot do that for me. I also have an equally sacred duty, my duty to myself.” As a playwright herself, Rosa feels like a contemporary Nora, trapped in an apartment in São Paulo.

Sometimes these kinds of references are a bit too close; and occasionally the clichéd behavior of the characters disturbs. It seems that no one can move outside of their roles. Especially at the point where the many storylines culminate in Rosa gasping for air, who breaks out to catch her breath, the clichés pile up. Fortunately, as the end approaches, there is room for nuance again. Probably because Rosa has also realized that in the end we will all be ‘like our parents’.

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