In the last days of summer 2007, a teenager called Joana tries to understand why her great-aunt has died at 70 years old without ever having a date. The questions around the gender stereotypes, the coming of age and the self- awareness are the bricks that build the journey of the main character in Cristiane Oliveira’s second film, The First Death of Joana. The Brazilian director already visited Cinema Jove with her first movie, Nalu on the border, in its 2017 edition. As in that film, the plot is placed in the region where Oliveira was born and raised, Rio Grande do Sul, “where the conservative masculine domination is deeply rooted in the local culture”, warns the filmmaker. In her opinion, and in a context in which the traditional values of the country are back, it’s relevant to educate young people on sexuality and gender as expressions of our identity. “The same way Joana submerges in her imagination to obtain her own answers, I make movies. Not to give answers, but to continue asking questions”.
Several female characters guide the protagonist’s journey in The First Death of Joana, each of them has her own complexities. Howe were the characters built?
Joana’s story came from a wish to talk about courage, the courage to be who you really are in the face of all the everyday violence one experiences when going through this process. The aunt’s character was inspired by a woman who was very close to me and who never had a romantic relationship and died a virgin at 70 years old. Her story really moved me. The other characters also came from my personal experiences, as well as from Silvia Lourenço’s the co-writer- personal experiences. We thought about the factors that permeate the construction of our affections, such as social expectations of gender, prejudices regarding sexual orientation, racism and classism. Besides that, the family is a structure in which the concepts of autonomy frequently clash with the concepts of care and what is seen as protection can actually be a form of violence. In primary school I learned what behaviors were considered right “for boys” and “for girls”. I was already aware that certain kinds of humiliation at school were reserved exclusively for girls. I remember the day someone said that I was supposed to like boys, not girls. As fears were created by the urgency to set the rules as to what was right for each gender, I started to feel that gender should not be a sentence for oppression and that sexuality should be seen as natural development of one’s affections. All of those personal feelings and experiences guided the creation of the characters.
The film takes place in 2007, but it addresses topics that are considered quite sensitive by the conservative movements that gained strength in Brazil recently. Why did you choose to situate the film in 2007, and how does it dialogue with the situation of Brazilian youth nowadays?
Between the years of 2005 and 2007, when I used to spend summers on beaches close to Porto Alegre, I saw the landscape of the lagoon region change. There are more than 20 lagoons that compose a unique system in the world because of its extension, there are almost 700 km of fresh water. This landscape gained giant white wind turbines that form the biggest wind power station of the South hemisphere and there I saw the ideal scenario to build Joana’s story, since she is a teenager who was also going through changes. In that time we felt that Brazil was going through positive changes regarding identity issues, especially those related to gender, race and sexual diversity. That context stimulated us to develop the project. Unfortunately, in 2081, when we obtained the resources to shoot, the scenario was of political regression, especially for young people, since there are several bills that try to forbid teaching about genre, sexuality and religious diversity in schools. However, it is in the scholar phase that curiosity and violence regarding those topics start, therefore, it is necessary that young people receive qualified information about them. Brazilian justice was contrary to some of these bills, but new conservative bills keep arising and teachers are persecuted in schools.
The film has moments that dialogue with the fantastic genre. How does this genre relate to the narrative and to the themes the film addresses?
Adults tend to avoid certain themes when dealing with children and teens, as if they are not already able to learn. When curiosity arises, it means they are ready. Everyone has the right to receive proper information. Joana is not satisfied with the answers the adults give to her questions, that is why she creates a particular universe that helps her to elaborate her own answers.
The world “death”, that is part of the title, seems to gain various meanings throughout the film. Your previous one, “Nalu on the Border”, also presents a death that is out-standing for the destiny of the protagonists in its narrative. What is the meaning of this word in your second feature film?
The death of a great-aunt is the fuse for Joana’s search for answers about the past, which leads her to discover more about herself. The death in the film is related to passage, transformation and how sometimes we need to die somehow to be reborn in our fights, so we can exist. Besides that, there is a quote by the poet Mário Quintana that inspired the title: “to love is to move the soul to another home”, he says. Therefore, there is a symbolic aspect regarding that moment in life in which one loses control over their body, when the body is occupied by the memory of someone we fall in love with and this presence starts to interfere in the way we present ourselves to the world.