Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Avenida Brasil: A Journey of Transformation

Throughout the semester, I’ve been watching Avenida Brasil, a Brazilian telenovela aired in 2012. I chose this telenovela because of its overwhelming success and reception both domestically and internationally. The story begins with a young girl named Rita who is caught up in family drama with her father and stepmother. Rita is a young girl in the first few episodes of the novela, but she is already perceptive of the manipulative ways of Carminha, her stepmother. Carminha, played by the actress Adriana Esteves, plays an excellent role as the evil stepmother. Carminha is manipulative in every way and as the viewer, you feel hate and disgust for this character. In the first few episodes, Carminha has no redeemable qualities, yet everything seems to go her way. I have not yet gotten into the heart of the telenovela when Rita comes back to work in the mansion of Tufao and Carminha, but I’m looking forward to seeing this transformation.

While Avenida Brasil is largely a story about revenge, a few key themes have become apparent thus far. Transformation of identity is one of the biggest themes that I’ve noticed so far in the telenovela that I suspect will continue to develop as the telenovela progresses. In the beginning of the telenovela, Rita is a young girl, but she is not naïve. She understands manipulation and wrongdoing, yet has no power to act upon it. She tries to warn her father of Carminha’s plan to kill him, but he ignores her plights and actually gets angry with her.  Despite her best efforts, Rita is not able to exert power or influence over her fate. Eventually, Carminha and her boyfriend send Rita to landfill where she is exploited for child labor and treated very poorly. Rita struggles with this reality, but somehow remains pure throughout this experience. She finds Batata, a boy who lives in the landfill, and the two fall in love and get married. It seemed quite strange that Rita and Batata got married when they could not have been more than 12 years old. Marriage is an institution that is binding and recognizes the consent between two adults to enter into a matrimony for better or worse. I understand that Rita and Batata needed an escape from their miserable lives living in a landfill, but the telenovela does not present their marriage as a strange occurrence in any way.  There were even adults present to consent the marriage. This could perhaps be a reflection of the cultural values of Brazil, or even the values of certain socioeconomic groups. Living in a landfill, Rita and Batata came from a very low socioeconomic group, so perhaps there was less scrutiny about this part of the telenovela.

Another striking theme in Avenida Brasil is the realism mixed with fantasy. To me, the marriage between Rita and Batata bordered on fantasy, yet the rest of the telenovela follows a very real plot with everyday occurrences.  Pulling on the reading from Realism and Politics in Brazilian Telenovelas, Brazilian telenovelas often blur the boundary between reality and fiction. This seems like an obvious characteristic of most telenovelas, but I see this to be especially true for Brazilian telenovelas, as well as other audiovisual forms like film. One of the most striking cases that we discussed during class was the murder of a popular actress just after filming a break up scene with her lover. I see this theme reflected in Avenida Brasil for its representation of the lives of working class people, as well as the more fictitious turns of the plot. Tufao, the famous soccer player who gets duped into marrying Carminha, comes from a very middle class family. The scenes with Tufao’s family are strikingly similar to the lives of everyday people with their constant arguments and talking over one another contrasted with the refined disposition of families represented in other telenovelas. As with any telenovela, we could probably guess how the telenovela will end. I know that Rita has a dramatic transformation of identity based on the plot of the telenovela, but I am still looking forward to see how that happens and what will happen after her secret is revealed.  

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