In late 2002 and early 2003, the unthinkable happened in Brazil: After three failed attempts, the former metal worker Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was finally elected president upon the promise of addressing Brazil’s vast social and economic inequality. The effects of this shock to the established Brazilian power structure are still very much with us and still dominate Brazil’s political landscape. To us, New Year’s Day 2003, when Lula was sworn in as president is very much a watershed moment for our recent and still unfolding history, and it seemed an interesting experiment to capture this in a film. Domingo portrays the fear and uncertainty that overwhelmed the Brazilian aristocracy in the wake of Lula’s election. It’s a film about the economic and moral decadence of the old oligarchy, unsure of its place in a new, transforming country. Working closely with Lucas Paraizo, who wrote the script, it became clear to us early on that in order to make sense of something that at the time was experienced as a mystifying, unsettling rush of events by the people we portray, we had to impose formal restrictions on our story. One of our inspirations for this approach was Ettore Scola’s Una giornata particolare and its ingenious, oblique way of relating vast societal changes through everyday events in a single day. Another influence was Lucrezia Martel’s La Cienaga, another story of a privileged family unable to cope with the passing of their accustomed way of life.
Domingo unfolds gradually in one single day and location – the family country house – with each character’s small action becoming the piece of a larger puzzle. Once combined, the pieces reveal a complex mosaic that reveals the fears and prejudices of a bourgeoisie that wasn’t able to adapt to the country’s incisive changes. Like in a Chekhov play, they seem to be stuck in time, at most half-aware of what is happening around them. Within this almost Aristotelian unity of form, we devised a three-act structure to serve as a guide to constructing the full tableaux. Everything is set in motion by Laura, the family matriarch, who wants to celebrate her granddaughter’s 15th birthday in the house in which she grew up. A series of small events – the tennis teacher’s arrival, the rain that forces the characters inside the house, the power shutdown – conspire to bring things to a boil in an almost claustrophobic atmosphere to an inevitable and yet surprising climax. – But not even the dramatic events of the day can stop all elements from converging towards the debutante party. One challenge in the writing of the script was that we had to make viewers understand what motivates our characters even though that often isn’t very clear to themselves. We settled on an approach in which we show rather than tell: they are exposed by what they do, by what they say and by what is said about them. This creates a triangle of possible interpretations that contradicts itself constantly, generating intrigue and expectation as to the character’s next step. In that sense, there is no logical implication to favor one single character’s point of view “Domingo” is as a true ensemble piece, in which each character is the protagonist of a story that interweaves with the others’.
We were interested in the characters’ movement in space, and how the mise-en-scène establishes the power relations among them. In this house, power is negotiated physically, as doors are opened for some and locked for others. In Bunuel’s “Exterminating Angel”, there is a sense of claustrophobia in the depiction of the bourgeoisie that we have always connected to deeply and that influenced us when we thought about these scenes. Outside the family house, the camera is wide and static, revealing the farcical staging in long uninterrupted takes. We watch the theater of this family with some distance and objectivity, as they try hard to keep their appearances. Inside the house, the camera is fluid and subjective, following the characters up close – taking sides with either the oppressed or the oppressor. Every scene is a sequence shot, as if we are plunged into a character’s subjectivity.
Another element that was crucial to us in Domingo is the sound. One of its main functions is to connect the house’s different spaces. The characters lock themselves in rooms, in order to share secrets, unaware of who is on the other side of the door, about to catch them in some forbidden act. But the sound connection is always incomplete; it’s never as clear for the character that he is outside the action as it is for the audience. From this difference of knowledge emerges dramatic irony, a key element in a film that deals with the secrets that permeate this family gathering. Many of these secrets have a long history and will never be fully revealed. Perhaps the greatest one lies in the relationship between Laura and José – the matriarch and the housekeeper. What happened between the two will never be said; on the contrary, Laura wants to have him fired in order not to deal with the truth. To us, these silences and omissions are as important to what is said and done on screen.