Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | January 25th, 2022
Mars One (Gabriel Martins, 2022) 3½ out of 4 stars.
Nighttime fireworks announce a new leader, distant cries of “Bolsonaro” placing the opening scene squarely in 2018, as Brazil’s right-wing would-be dictator wins election to the presidency. And though the family at the center of Mars One, the directorial debut of Gabriel Martins, may never discuss politics, that beginning contextualizes their personal struggles. Beyond the working-class concerns of mother Tercia and father Wellington, the one a housekeeper and the other a building superintendent, there are also the challenges of raising college-aged daughter Eunice (aka Nina) and younger son Deivid (aka Deivinho). The parents may love their children, but they don’t quite understand them. Against the backdrop of a nation riven by inequality, everyone tries their best to get by.
The title comes from Deivinho’s love of science and his dream to be part of a proposed Dutch mission to Mars, his idol the American astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson. Wellington has dreams, too, and they involve Deivinho becoming a soccer star. Unfortunately, while his son may be a good player, his heart is set elsewhere. And speaking of heart, Nina gives hers to Joana, but then can’t quite come out to mom and dad. Perhaps it’s time to move out, even if that makes everyone sad.
Meanwhile, Tercia can’t line up enough jobs and the family’s finances suffer. Things get worse after a candid-camera prank in the city center leaves her with considerable PTSD, Tercia subsequently convinced that she attracts nothing but bad luck. True or not, misfortune does seem to suddenly follow them, enough to make her want to leave. As their problems escalate, the narrative begins to resemble a kind of misery porn. But then Martins finds a way to tie everything together in a satisfying conclusion that feels neither contrived nor excessively bleak. Life goes on, and most people make do with what they have. Love makes all the difference.
The cast—Carlos Francisco as Wellington, Rejane Faria as Tercia, Camilla Damião as Nina, and Cícero Lucas as Deivinho—are all excellent, elevating the already fine screenplay and centering it in gritty, realistic performances. Little details take on great significance, from Wellington’s sobriety to a new colleague he trains to a gay client of Tercia’s and more. Everyone is both as they are and more than they seem, capable of great generosity even while prone to the banalities of human behavior. Deivinho may long to travel into space, but Mars One keeps us firmly grounded in the beautiful ordinariness of life on Earth. Blast off! We’re home.