Marília Rocha’s cinema balances intimacy and visual rapture with essayistic complexity. In Aboio (2005), her first feature, Rocha unearths traditions, poetry and songs of Brazilian cattle herders. The grainy black-and- white film conjures up a mythic, nostalgic atmosphere, while the color images signal an abrupt break with the past, in an age of rapid modernization.
Rocha’s second film, Acácio (2008), is a subtle meditation on the nature of images as records of the “other.” Rocha retraces the steps of a Portuguese settler who spent nearly 30 years in Angola, producing a vast ethnographic collection before moving to Brazil. In these transitions lie multiple tensions of race, power and identification, common to nonfiction form ever since Flaherty’s Nanook, or early ethnography.
Rocha’s third feature, A Falta Que Me Faz (2009) focuses on a group of twenty-year- old women in the mining region of Diamantina. It would be easy to say that these women pass from innocence to maturity within months, as Rocha captures the changing seasons, and two of them become pregnant.
In fact, innocence and painful maturity coincide; the surrounding world is tainted by violence and buried anguish. Under the delicate veneer of playfulness, motherhood is an abstraction and marriage symbolizes a loss of freedom—in startling contrast to the idealized visions of romantic love that permeate local folklore and popular culture.
A cidade onde envelheço (2016), which premiered in Rotterdam, is Rocha’s first fiction feature, inspired by young Portuguese immigrants in her native city, Belo Horizonte. Teresa (Elizabete Francisca) arrives from Portugal to stay with her friend, Francisca (Francisca Manuel). The two negotiate relationships and work in the wake of global economic crisis. Rocha uses the phrase—“How hard it becomes to explain things, when freedom instills in us its kingdom of uncertainties”—by Brazilian poet Paulo Mendes Campos, as a key to explore the complexity of identity governed by circumstance.