Ana Carolina’s name arrived at the scene with the force of an antithesis, at a time when women’s presence in cinema was minimal and chauvinism reigned in Brazilian society.
The short film Indústria (1969) revealed, from the get-go, her audacity in warping documentary standards of the time by inserting stylized scenes, challenging official representations of progress with images and words that contradicted them. The explicit political discourse announced a daring artist, at a time when social criticism was treated as subversion.
The audacity to show such a personal reading of a public personality makes documentary Getúlio Vargas (1974) a surprising film, which removed the mythic figure from its pedestal, shaking the structures of a hierarchy that isolated and aggrandized people in power.
The pause until Sea of Roses (1977), the director’s first fiction feature, meant more than a period of maturation. The gradual weakening of the military regime during the presidency of Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979) favoured the emergence of films whose rebellious potency no longer needed to be disguised through allegories.
If Sea of Roses is undoubtedly a feminist film, it is so in the broadest sense of the term, a display of insubordination in the face of all forms of oppression, not just male domination. As an expression of this, Ana Carolina implodes notions of order and coherence, prioritizes the absurd and throws her characters into a spiral in which nothing can be controlled. Excessive dialogue also symbolized, at that moment, an explosive response to the long period of censorship and repression imposed by the military dictatorship.
The word “surrealism” has been predominantly used in attempts to analyse Sea of Roses, and inspiration in the movement’s ideas would be reaffirmed in her following feature, Heart and Guts (1982). In it, the feminine universe appears filtered by the oneiric visions of a man, inhabited by ghosts and desires. The theme of power and control isn’t too far from view, but the filmmaker deepens her gaze towards an explicit sexual dimension, contrasting male and female fantasies, opposing castration and jouissance, making the man hostage.
This feminist triptych ends with Dream Waltz (1987), in which rupture or rebellion ceases to be the focus. Tereza, the mature woman played fearlessly by Xuxa Lopes, no longer fights for her freedom. Her main struggle now is: what to do with freedom?
Demanding and harsh, these three films escape the stereotype that used to be associated with a rather imprecise notion of “women’s cinema”, marked by delicate narratives, dramas of abandonment and subtle performances.
After a long break in the 1990s, Ana Carolina’s exuberant irony resurfaced in Amélia (2000), a name that symbolizes femininity in the imagination of the Brazilian alpha male. Without ceasing to be a portrait of a woman, the film is also an acid reinterpretation of class relations and revisits a line of thought that the filmmaker seemed to have abandoned when she moved from documentaries to fiction.
The past, visited in Amélia and all subsequent fiction films, — Gregório de Mattos (2003), A Primeira Missa (2014) and the latest Endless Passions (2022) — is not just a painting, a careful reconstitution. These are films with an ambition to represent different versions of Brazil, but also to interpret the country, to lay bare the imaginary used to establish its identity, to serve as a cauldron of contradictions.
For the ambition displayed throughout her career and for having built a challenging body of work, the 46th Mostra concedes to Ana Carolina the Humanity Award.