Casa Grande (2014)

Set against the backdrop of Rio de Janeiro, this thought provoking film grapples with the complex web of social class distinctions, family dynamics, and personal growth

9/10/20233 min read

Thales Cavalcanti and Clarissa Pinheiro in 'Casa Grande'
Thales Cavalcanti and Clarissa Pinheiro in 'Casa Grande'

Portuguese, 114 minutes, 2014

Director: Fellipe Barbosa

Cast: Marcello Novaes, Suzana Pires, Thales Cavalcanti, Bruna Amaya, Clarissa Pinheiro

Awards: Winner, FIPRESCI Prize, Audience Award & French Critics’ Discovery Awards, Toulouse Latin America Film Festival, 2014; Nominee Grand Prize, International Competition, Jeonju Film Festival, 2014; Nominee CineVision Award, Best Film by An Emerging Director, Munich Film Festival, 2014; Winner, Abbracine Prize, Sao Paulo International Film Festival, 2014

Set in Rio De Janerio, Casa Grande’s story revolves around Jean (Thales Cavalcanti) who is brought up in an affluent upper class neighborhood having big houses with swimming pool, housekeeping maids, drivers, etc. but unknown to him the family is inching towards bankruptcy. It all starts when Jean’s father, Hugo’s (Marcello Novaes) hedge fund makes losses and this is discovered by his mother, Sonia (Suzana Pires). In order to bring some financial discipline, their driver Severino is the first to let go who Jean likes a lot. But Jean is told that he has taken a vacation and Jean starts going to school by bus. Then a friends’ night out ends with Jean owing money to his schoolmate who happens to be Hugo’s friend’s son.

On the other hand, Jean is growing up and so are his male hormones. He sneaks at nights to servant quarters, where Rita, one of their housemaid lives. Though they never sleep together, her touch comforts Jean and give him a kind of sexual outlet. While travelling in the bus, Jean befriends Luiza, another girl from another school but who takes the same bus as Jean does. They develop friendship and start meeting often. At one such meeting, in Jean’s house a discussion ensues about quota system – a system where underprivileged are given some concessions-between various guests. Luiza supports Quota system whereas Hugo doesn’t. Jean is caught between crossfire and he is angry with his father. He leaves with Luiza and they check into a motel. But unable to pay since he doesn’t have money, he escapes and enters his own house at night by jumping the fence and through garage door. Hugo, thinking that some robber has triggered the alarm goes in search and finds Jean drinking bear by pool. He is angry and so is Jean. They confront each other over why Severino, their driver was fired because he saw him while returning from school. Next day, Jean has entrance exam and Hugo drops him off at exam center and waits for him till he finishes his exams. However, Hugo leaves exams midway and without telling his father goes in search of Severino, his ex-driver. He goes there and cries on his shoulder. Meanwhile, Jean’s family is searching for him. He is at Severino’s place and meets Rita there, who was asked to leave by Sonia because her nude photos were found in her servant’s room. Rita and Jean dance and he ends up sleeping with her at her place.

What makes "Casa Grande" stand out is its unflinching portrayal of Jean's personal journey. As he navigates the complex terrain of adolescence, Jean encounters challenges that force him to question the world around him and his own privilege. The Jean-Luiza relationship is a poignant commentary on racial and class divides, showcasing the disparities that persist in contemporary Brazil. The performances are outstanding, with Thales Cavalcanti delivering a compelling portrayal of Jean's internal struggles and personal growth and the supporting cast provides depth and authenticity to their characters, making them relatable and believable.

About the director, Fellipe Barbosa

Born in September, 1980 in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Fellipe after passing out from school, enrolled in Institute of Economics at the prestigious Federal University. However, he soon quit economics in favour of cinema by studying it at Columbia University, New York. He completed his studies and earned ‘Master of Arts’ and soon started assisting directors. He worked as an assistant director for film ‘Dreams of Fish’ which was selected at Cannes Film Festival, 2006.

He made his first short film, ‘La Muerte es Pequena’ in 2005 and followed it with two more in 2006 and 2007 respectively. He then made two documentaries, ‘Canosaone’ (2008) and Laura (2011). ‘Casa Grande’ is his debut feature film, made in 2014 which was supported by Sundance Institute feature film program. ‘Casa grande’ appears to be taken off from his own life as his was also a privileged childhood and his father also went bankrupt in 2003 due to some bad investments and hyperinflation in Brazil like the family shown in the film.

Fellipe continued to make films and in 2017 made ‘Gabriel and the Mountain’ and ‘Domingo’ in 2018.