In Hoje, Vera moves into a beautiful new apartment—the first she has ever owned. Early in her move, her long-lost husband, a former political dissident, turns up. Shock turns to guilt as it is revealed that the apartment was purchased with compensation money from the government after his disappearance during Brazil’s military dictatorship.
First, this wonderful film is about that fractious relationship between past and present; for Vera, who herself is a former political dissenter, the past is ever-present. In buying her new apartment and in acknowledging her husband’s death, Vera tries to make peace with the past; with her husband’s re-appearance, however, it becomes evident that past and present must co-exist, even at the expense of her identity (in her previous life she was known as Ana Maria). On a larger scale, the government, in belatedly compensating the relatives of the desaparecidos, keep the dark past very much alive.
Holding the past and present together is guilt and/or regret over choices made. There is a chilling scene where Vera and Luis re-enact a trial by their peers. Using the chairs in her empty dining room they re-enact the accused, the accuser, the inquisitor, the confessor. Caught between political activism and intense physical and mental torture, they are caught between two undesirable choices. Vera has chosen to leave the dissident group and Luis stayed, but neither can say that they made the right choice.
Truth and reality also sit together, uncomfortably, in Hoje. In Luis’s search for the truth and in Vera’s grasping for a new reality, they literally circle each other, alternately predator and prey, lover and jilted lover. It seems that Luis is trying to figure out the extent of Vera’s loyalty, while Vera tries to retain hold of the reality she wants: a new life free of the past. Vera especially confronts the reality/truth of political dissidence, physical torture, and narratives which may or may not be true—or real. Vera is an apt name for her new life; as she moves on, the truth comes out in ugly and painful smatterings.
The art design, by Vera Hamburger, wonderfully underscores the grim and claustrophobic scenario where past/present and truth/reality collide. Set entirely within the confines of a high-rise apartment, Vera’s unfinished past is evident in her moving day: boxes unpacked or in the process of being unpacked, a leaky faucet, false doors, blinds that close out the light, furniture in the wrong rooms, mirrors which catch shadows and unexplained guests, an old stove that won’t quite fit in the kitchen. In moments of profound narrative—a reading of a love poem or the new law regarding the compensation—a video montage of text serves as a background, literally inscribing painful narratives onto the characters’ bodies. A melancholy and suspenseful score by Livio Tragtenberg follows Vera around as she negotiates this transition between her old and new life. All the elements of the film—the writing, the production, and the stellar acting—come together seamlessly, leaving the moral gravity of the situation to come across clearly.
A small but important point: Vera’s plight invoked Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Surrounded by men who sexualize her (the movers) and who question her loyalty (her husband), all she wants is an escape—an apartment of her own where she can write and think and re-connect with her family. Her act of resistance is also an act of feminism. This is perhaps a consequence of being so close to being a desaparecido—having your own space is a political and emotional freedom in itself.
Hoje (Today), dir. Tata Amaral, 2011. 90 min. Tangerina Entertainment, et al. In Portuguese.
Recipient of several 2011 Brasilia Festival Awards, including Best Film, Art Direction, and cinematography.
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