Casa Grande or the Ballad of Poor JeanLondon Film Festival 2014
Friday 10th October, 12pm – Vue West End, Screen 5
Sunday 12th October, 3.30pm – Curzon Mayfair
Tuesday 14th October, 6.15pm – Ritzy Cinema
Director Fellipe Barbosa’s feature debut is an insightful observation of Brazilian teen life at its core, and a sharp examination of society and class at its edges. Casa Grande or the Ballad of Poor Jean may be a mouthful of a title, but it’s one that should be dancing on the lips of those at the London Film Festival in October where it premieres.
Barbosa eases his audience into Rio de Janeiro’s world of wealth from the off, allowing us to rub shoulders with a Brazilian bourgeois family before introducing teen son Jean. He is a 17-year-old who’s trapped within the splendid dullness of the bourgeois lifestyle, quite literally falling asleep on his way into school. When the family begin to experience financial troubles and Jean’s personal driver is fired, he is forced to ride the bus and intermingle with Rio’s working class. Casa Grande slowly emerges a subtle tale of self-discovery for Jean, with his family’s affluent world slowly crumbling down around him.
Jean appears to find contentment away from the social elite, preferring to hang out with his family’s maid Rita, and falling in love with a black girl from near the favela. Barbosa creates a superbly subtle tension that bubbles under the picture’s surface, as his parents fight desperately to maintain the lifestyle that Jean himself seems so eager to escape from. Characters emerge from opposite social sides, and despite the director using an amalgamation of soap stars and non-professionals it’s impossible to separate them, with strong performances coming from all corners of the screen.
Barbosa’s steady hand is thoroughly misleading: Casa Grande feels confident and revelatory from beginning to end, and it lacks much of the rawness of the first-time direction. You’d never believe this was a man making his first feature. His use of frequent fixed shots is an ingeniously fitting choice for a coming-of-age drama as the unblinking camera wonderfully exposes the uncertainty of teen life. We see Jean thinking about what to say next, we see those snippets of silence between moments of dialogue, those building up to a first kiss, and we see the uneasiness that comes as a result of simply being inside teenage skin. There’s a certain beauty to it all, which is such a refreshing approach for subject matter that is often conveyed through cringe-worthy humour.
Casa Grande is intelligent, intuitive and utterly worth seeing. Barbosa is one to watch.
Casa Grande or the Ballad of Poor Jean is released in the UK on 10th October 2014.
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Watch the trailer for Casa Grande or the Ballad of Poor Jean here: