Brazil projects its own special ethos out into the world, different from other Latin American countries, different from its Portuguese cultural roots. Black and white and every shade in between, it is perhaps the most racially mingled of nations. Rich in resources and vast in territory, it has spawned privileged upper and middle classes and vast masses of both urban and rural poor. And its music is unmistakably its own, often with a sad, minor key melody line over joyous, throbbing dance beats.
Central Station(1998), a Brazilian film that earned a wide audience as well as an Academy award nomination, dealt with an urban woman whose journey with a small boy takes her into the Brazilian interior in search of a re-connection to her own humanity. Me, You, Them is about a woman whose issue is not connection–she’s as grounded and powerful as an Earth Mother–but how to make a good life out of the limited resources available to her, both economic and human. It may not garner quite the public acceptance that Central Station did, but it is a better realized film.
In a preface (with the soulful sound of Gilberto Gil over the main titles), Darlene de Lima leaves her aged mother in anticipation of marrying the man who has fathered the baby she is carrying. Abandoned, she hitches a ride to the big city.
Three years later she returns with her young son, seeking her mother’s blessing. She arrives just in time for her mother’s funeral. Her neighbor, Osias Linhares, has just built a new house (of wood frame and mud). "I like you," he tells her, "You’re not ugly. Marry me." With few, if any, options, Darlene accepts.
She finds the security of a roof over her head, but Osias turns out to be incredibly slothful, lying in his hammock all day while she works in the sugarcane fields for a pittance, and then comes home to cook and keep house. Osias treats her like a servant and is also notably lacking in both affection and passion.
A second son is born, suspiciously dark in color, considering his white father. When Darlene turns her older son over to his father, a colonel who will provide him an education, her sadness is profound. It is not Osias who comforts her, but his cousin Zezinho, who, like Osias, is neither young, nor particularly attractive, but is full of warmth. To his surprise, Darlene turns to him in need and a loving relationship develops. Zezinho joins the household, endearing himself to Osiris with his great cooking and skill as a barber. The unusual domestic arrangement eventually is rounded out with yet another partner, a man closer to Darlene in age and passion.
Me, You, Them (unfortunate choice of title–at least in translation) is a sophisticated tale told with deceptive simplicity. Disciplined, focused, and remarkably accomplished in the visual language of film, it is sparing in its use of dialogue. Against the harshly beautiful landscape of the hot, dry Brazilian Northeast, the uniformly superb performances flesh out these characters, each of whom emerges as a distinct personality. Regina Case, a leading lady of television and the Brazilian stage, will be catapulted into international stardom by her warm, subtle performance as Darlene. Her three costars amply display the skills of long careers in the theater. Together, under the direction of Andrucha Waddington, they relate a fable (based on a true story) about birth, death, and family; about hard work occasionally relieved with a bit of dancing; and most of all, how, with some clever negotiating and a bit of accommodation on all sides, people can find a little love and happiness in a hardscrabble world.