Berlin Hidden Gem: 'Greta' Offers Universal Tale of Solitude

GRETA-Publicity Still-H 2019
Courtesy of Berlinale

The current political climate in Brazil could complicate matters for the directorial debut featuring gay and trans characters.

Brazilian film Greta, premiering Tuesday in the Berlin film festival's Panorama section, offers a character study of an aging gay male nurse grappling with oppressive loneliness, a fugitive lover, a dying transgender best friend and an obsession with Greta Garbo.

It’s not exactly the kind of material likely to be celebrated by Brazil’s newly installed president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has publicly berated the LGBTQ community and said he’d rather his own son die than be gay.

“Things have really changed for the worse in Brazil,” admits Greta director Armando Praca. “The views of the current president and some of his people go totally against what I believe as a human being. We have consistently heard racist and homophobic statements that threaten the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, indigenous peoples and other minorities and more vulnerable populations.”

According to Greta producer Nara Aragao, the "uncertain moment" facing the country — and the film sector specifically — under the new administration has so far not directly affected this film. Although it had difficulties finding financing as an art house project from a first-time feature director (the budget is around 450,000 euros), Greta has solid distributor backing in Brazil’s Pandora Filmes and Berlin-based international sales agent M-Appeal, not to mention the premiere slot in Panorama. It also stars the well-known actor Marco Nanini, a veteran of Brazilian TV, stage and film.

There was never talk of stalling the project or eliminating any of its more explicit scenes, Aragao says. In fact, while the film’s local release date has not yet been set and could potentially still be complicated by the current climate, Praca says he considers it an “ethical obligation” to release the film precisely in these times, to give “visibility to this community, their issues, their desires and their lives.”

Yet Praca also insists his film tells a universal story that is not limited to or even conceived solely for the LGBTQ community. It’s based on a play from 1973, smack in the middle of Brazil’s 20-year military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. The original play was a raunchy comedy that mocked its characters, “the only way to speak of this reality at the time.” Praca reenvisioned it as a melodrama, approaching the characters in a much more humanistic, less judgmental way.

“The central subject of the film is the solitude, not the sexuality, of the characters, and unfortunately no one is immune to that,” he says. Tight, almost claustrophobic framing and purplish-blue color tones used throughout Greta underscore the themes of loneliness and unfulfilled dreams. And, perhaps supporting Praca’s point about universality, he cast a trans woman as a cisgender character and vice versa, roles they felt comfortable in and which balanced representation with artistic freedom.

Praca is now readying his second feature film, Fortaleza Hotel, slated to begin shooting in Brazil in May. It is about Pilar, a hotel worker desperate to save her daughter from a gang of traffickers, who befriends a Korean guest waiting to transport the body of her dead husband back to Seoul.