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‘Mars One’ Review: A Tender and Tightly Wrought Film Foregrounds Working-Class Brazil

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If you told me that the director Gabriel Martins thought exclusively in images, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Mars One, his gracefully composed observation of a working-class Brazilian family, is littered with arresting shots. Take the one of Tércia, the matriarch played by Rejane Faria, cleaning a window: Her curly mop of bleached blonde hair remains static as her right hand slides across the glass, her back muscles flexing in response to the laborious task. Or the scene of her daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) consummating her love with her girlfriend on the floor of an empty penthouse apartment. Her dark skin gleams against the sharp, white-tiled floor as the baby-blue colored braids of her lover slither across her skin. These scenes are occasions — charged flashes of the director’s loving preoccupation with his story. And who wouldn’t be obsessed with such a humane, well-calibrated tale?

Mars One (Marte Um)

The Bottom Line

A standout family portrait.

Release date: Thursday, Jan. 5 (Netflix)
Cast: Cícero Lucas, Carlos Francisco, Camilla Damião, Rejane Faria, Russo Apr
Director-screenwriter: Gabriel Martins

1 hour 55 minutes

Mars One, which premiered at Sundance in 2022 and now thanks to ARRAY is streaming on Netflix, begins with the election of Jair Bolsonaro. The political event struck a somber tone for many Brazilians as the leader’s ascent stoked fears of authoritarianism. In the opening scenes, supporters cheer in the distance while Deivid (Cícero Lucas), Tércia’s young son, loses a tooth and stares at the starry night sky. Mars One is marked by the juxtapositions that make up daily life: big political moments and small personal wins; loud triumphs and quiet failures; momentous days and devastating ones. The film explores what possibilities lie within these contrasts; it is a beautiful exercise in hope and optimism.

“What,” Martins asks in press notes sent to critics, “can a Black family in the Brazil of today be?” Bolsonaro’s presidency — defined by exclusion, racism and homophobia — threatened the progress. (He hired a denier of racism to the government body tasked with preserving Brazil’s Black culture and appointed an anti-abortion evangelical pastor as Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights, for example.) Martins tackles this overwhelming question with subtlety and sensitivity, constructing a narrative that respects the intelligence of its characters and viewers. His focus is on articulating the desires and dreams that make up our tiny existences.

The family in Mars One — Tércia, her husband Wellington (Carlos Francisco), their children — are at the center of this experiment. Each has problems unmoored from the tumult of election cycles. Tércia navigates the stress of being caught in an unsettling reality television prank, one that leaves her feeling cursed and distrustful of the world. Eunice, itching for independence, must come to terms with how a new relationship and desire to move out will land with her family. Wellington, a recovering alcoholic who works as a pool cleaner in a luxury condo, harbors hopes of David becoming a soccer player. Deivid, on the other hand, is enamored with the Mars colonization project and dreams of going to space.

The portraits of the family members are distinctively sketched, and Martins nicely weaves the goings-on of the individuals into the fabric of their communal trials. Conversations over dinner or a game of cards give us a chance to observe Wellington’s bifurcated personality — how the compliant man at work transforms into an overbearing patriarch. His obsession with Deivid making a national soccer league distract him from noticing Tércia’s silences at the table — an unusual quiet borne of her growing anxiety and paranoia.

These scenes also help us understand the intrafamily dynamics, the delicate allegiance formed between Deivid and Eunice, who spend hours confessing to each other instead of sleeping. Brilliant performances are key to the success of Martins’ film; There is an ease to the on-screen dynamics, which makes it easy to invest in the warmth at the core of this fictional family.

Mars One doesn’t draw any dramatic conclusions about Brazil’s political present and future, but politics still play a role in the lives of the protagonists. Early scenes of Eunice at school capture a lecture about carceral states, touching on the violent one in the US At work, Wellington’s disaffected coworker Flavio (Russo Apr) urges the older man to see how their employer, the manager of the luxury condo, doesn’t Don’t respect them. Their conversations highlight the growing distance between the wealthy and the working class. In another scene, Wellington and Tércia huddle over bills at their dining room table to strategize how to save money. It’s a moment too rarely seen on screen, underscoring Martins’ other directorial strength: the ability to engage with urgent economic issues as an integral part of the narrative rather than through awkward asides.

Martins’ film models how to tell working-class stories (of which we, in the US, are in desperate need). For American audiences, it offers an alternative to the glut of class-conscious films that seem exclusively interested in skewering the wealthy. Mars One revels in the lives of its characters, taking a leisurely and scenic route to understanding their dreams and realities.



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