Plot: We meet young, homely office worker Macabea (Marcelia Cartaxo) as she dismally confronts an aged typewriter, smudging the copy with her greasy fingerprints. Her roommates and her office mate, the sexpot-secretary Gloria (Tamara Taxman), can barely stand her stench, and her boss can't use her work, but she barely registers their complaints.
Macabea is a loser, and her humility in the face of it is as exasperating as the fact itself. But that doesn't mean she doesn't have her moments of illumination and joy. They occur in moments that highlight the pathetic quality of her life: for instance, dancing alone on a stolen day off from work, in the room she shares with several working girls, listening to the radio.
Macabea haplessly struggles to emerge from her darkness. She solemnly memorizes informational nuggets from the news, treating them like mysterious treasures rescued from the dark of unknowing. The radio and the movies are Macabea's link with a world beyond her dank urban crawl. There, unbeknownst to the throngs on the street or her roomates or her boss, she's...a star.
When Macabea meets a lout (Jose Dumont) in the park, she clutches at the unmentionable possibility of love. But Olimpico, a stubborn hustler with his own dreams and expectations, and he can't find a way into Macabea's dim consciousness. His cruelty is only encouraged when Gloria begins poaching on the affair. Gloria knows what she's doing, and tries to make it up to Macabea by introducing her to a fortune-teller (Fernanda Montenegro, a leading soap-opera star in Brazil) who might bring Macabea luck. What happens next is both tragic and transcendant.
Style: Suzana Amaral drew the plot from a short story by arch Brazilian stylist Clarice Lispector. Faithful to the sense of the tale, Amaral dropped out an element critical to Lispector: the voice of the anxiously bourgeois author, probing a life alien and yet juxtaposed to hers. Amaral's intimate film style, however, carries the shock of confrontation, the simultaneous quality of invasion and empathy that the interventions of Lispector-the-author did in print.
Hour of the Star is a film of empathy, not sympathy. The film at one level is an excoriating study of how poverty and ignorance can make a person be and feel subhuman. (Cartaxo, a stage actress whose personal beauty is only revealed at the end of the film, does an exceptional acting job, turning herself into a pudding of a presence.)
But armed with that stark honesty, it also reveals the spark of human spirit that survives even the stripping away of barest dignity. And that's the way in which the film becomes a tragedy, and one that goes far past its location in the clogged proletarian anonymity of Sao Paulo.
Background on director/film: Amaral has a comfortably professional background, as a member of an artistic Sao Paulo family. She made this first feature in her 50s, because she spent the first part of her life bearing and raising nine children. Her child-rearing completed, her marriage over, she proceeded to film school first in Sao Paulo and then at New York University.
Production context: The film participates in several traditions. Masterfully manipulating the classic and international personal narrative mode, it also draws on the tradition of Brazilian cinema novo. This tradition itself was influenced by the Italian neorealists. Beginning in the late '50s, Brazilian filmmakers struggled to find an authentic film vocabulary for an authentic Brazilian experience: a way, in a culture labelled "underdeveloped" and under the heel of Hollywood, to be truly popular, both in the sense of appealing to an audience and striking a chord with fundamental themes in their culture. Filmmakers like Nelson Pereira dos Santos, Ruy Guerra and Glauber Rocha took different stylistic paths, but they all created a legacy on which Amaral and others today build. In Brazil a few women, not only Amaral but people like Tizuka Yamasaki (Dearly Beloved Country) and Ana Carolina (Sea of Roses) have enriched the central question, one of cultural autonomy in mass and international art, with perspectives on daily habits and women's lives.
Importance: Hour of the Star is one of the most successful of recent Latin American films to carry out the mandate to be popular in both senses. It was a well-respected art house film in Brazil, and was highly regarded at international festivals. It had a moderately successful commercial release in the U.S. It works most profoundly by its contrast between the subjective and objective views of Macabea, and by its establishing of links between the two. It is a poetic rendering of the alienation of industrial society for the poor.Other reading:
Last updated on September 17, 1996
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