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IFFR 2024 Tiger Competition

Julia De Simone • Director of Formosa Beach

“This film really came from the heart”


- The past is the present – and vice versa – in the second part of the Brazilian director’s trilogy

Julia De Simone • Director of Formosa Beach

In Formosa Beach [+see also:
film review
interview: Julia De Simone
film profile
, the second part of her trilogy, screening in the Tiger Competition at IFFR, Julia De Simone takes another look at Rio de Janeiro’s port region, where new developments can’t completely shut out the ghosts of the past – including that of Muanza (Lucília Raimundo), trafficked to Brazil in the 19th century, who suddenly wakes up in the present day.

Cineuropa: You are floating in between time in this story, but you don’t make it too obvious. A character from the past meets someone wearing a contemporary T-shirt, for example. It’s all very fluid.
Julia De Simone:
That was probably the single biggest difficulty. Our idea was to write a script inspired by this cyclical idea of time, and its twists and turns. When I look at this place in Rio, I see so many layers of time; they coexist at the same time. The past influences the present and probably also the future. They are changing each other all the time.

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You have talked about this port before in your work. Do you remember why it captured your attention? These are interesting places, always in movement. People come and go.
I have been shooting there for the last ten years. I started in 2012, I think, when it was undergoing this big transformation. The premise back then was to make Rio “international” and be ready for all these massive events – to generally open up. But of course, once we started to look closer, we noticed something completely different. Its past wasn’t gone.

First, I made a short called The Harbour, which also showed at IFFR. And then I just kept on shooting. My research helped me understand that the reason behind all of this construction was an attempt to erase some part of its history. This port was an important place for the slave trade: that’s where many people from Africa would come through. We started to wonder how we could tell a story that’s not a part of the official books.

Why was it being erased, do you think? Because it makes people uncomfortable?
We are not ready to deal with the legacy of slavery – with its memory or even with the many ways it still affects how we are now. It’s easier to stick to the idea of “progress” and try to construct something that points to the future. We do that instead of taking a moment to understand who we are and what we are made of.

It’s a difficult legacy, but you don’t victimise your protagonists. They are strong, and they even form alliances.
The violent part of this history we already know. What we don’t know are stories about resistance, affection and support. But we are here today because people were able to resist and because they were able to build relationships. I didn’t want to tell another story of pain, but rather prove that, together, we can build something different. The story of these women, of their sisterhood, shows us that. They have been resisting all this time, and at one point, they are able to just let it go. They can start again, get to know each other once more and experience everything in a completely different way. It’s about new chances.

Are they based on real people, or do they combine several storylines that you discovered?
We came up with it ourselves, but of course, it was inspired by all of the things we know now and the research we did. We combine fictional elements with those that are relatively well documented; we talked to the people from that area. It’s not an entirely true story, but there is something real about it. Also, we were more interested in something we could express or feel. It’s beyond what we can rationally understand.

You keep many scenes restricted to small rooms, but later, their world expands.
It was a hidden struggle. It wasn’t evident – as I mentioned, it wasn’t a part of the official history. It was happening at home. We are not used to thinking about colonial times this way, but very often, that’s what it was: a sisterhood developing within four walls. I needed it to feel intimate.

Indeed – you like to show your actors in close-up. You seem to be looking for signs of their humanity.
This film really came from the heart, and I think you can find it in the little details and little gestures. It makes you understand what they feel. When someone braids your hair, it’s really nothing special, but in this case, it’s a reference to their culture and legacy. This is how they escape their situation. This was their tactic, the only available one. That’s how they were able to feel loved and alive, and experience some affection. It’s incredible when you think about all the ways people find to survive.

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