Lunch with Meninas Formicida
How did you get into the idea of ant killing? And why did you decide to set it in Brazil?
This idea was already in my mind about seven years ago, when I read a story about the precarious situation of teenagers who worked on eucalyptus reserves, working daily with dangerous poisons to kill ants. They were called “meninas formicida”. It touched me deeply and since then I had wanted to film something… But only in recent years in my country (Brazil) there have been many cases of sexual violence against adolescents, which generates large numbers of illegal abortions. This act of abortion is considered a crime in our society and the young girls are seen as guilty in front of authorities, as if they had provoked such violence… In this struggle against a rather prejudiced and religious society that I live in, I feel a strong desire to get a strong message across through my films. The set is in Brazil, more specifically in the countryside where I was born and I live until today. My previous short films The Girl Who Danced with the Devil (Cannes 2016 – Special Mention Award) and Command Action (Cannes 2015 – Semaine de la Critique) are a reflection on this society in which I live, discussing social problems about a new generation of Brazilians.
Why were you interested in the period of puberty?
Not just puberty, but the new Brazilian youth. For me it is about which country we desire for the future and how we need to fight deeply for changes; in search of parents with less prejudice, less religious fanaticism, less misery, less corruption and less violence. Brazil is seen by others as joyous, but inside, in its routine, we are witnessing more and more injustice and violence. Mainly in the interior, where it manifests much more reactionary. So my films are about this society, which I call a “Caipira Cinema” style to describe characters in rustic lives, hiding feelings inside, as if they were like stones trying to endure the maximum of pressures from society.
Where are the men in Meninas Formicida?
In real life, in these eucalyptus reserves, wood companies hire girls (illegally), because they believe that the teen girls have greater “patience” than boys in looking for ant nests and having small fingers to put the poison inside it. They do this, because these ants attack the eucalyptus wood… On the other hand, I tried to work on how the men are seen in this film, especially the suspected rapist of the protagonist (whose face we never get to see, even when doing a close shot, we cannot identify the attacker’s face or even face against him). It is an analogy to a masculine society of old values. We only understand how he sees women, from the photo of Nicki Minaj on his jacket.
To what extent were you also interested in the issue of poverty?
Before poverty, I think of misery, lacking not only money but education, family, security, culture and hope. My questioning goes around characters who have reached their limit and need to radically break with the universe in which they live… In the case of Meninas Formicida, the character needs to accept her position as a victim, having to put up with an early maternity, or become a “murderess” to the eyes of this society. There are no easy choices and she needs to take radical action to destroy this vicious cycle. She doesn’t want to just be heard, she wants to act and change something in reality.
Did you create Meninas Formicida as a whole or is it a part of a bigger story?
If you mean part of a larger debate about the role of women in Brazilian society, I would say yes, of course! But in the sense of having a continuation or some longer project, no… I always imagined Meninas Formicida as a short film.
Are you interested in teenage relationships and do you have further projects on this theme?
When thinking about young people, I think of the future of my country. I have other ideas about teenage characters, but I’m currently developing the project of my first feature film entitled Memory House, with French coproduction too – a screenplay that I developed from the Cinéfondation residency in Paris during the first half of 2017. I plan to film this year in Brazil, and I will go to the other extreme and talk about an old character, a 70-year-old black man. It is about the lack of a future – a man who cannot see a future and prefers to return to an animal ancestry…
What sort of freedom would you say the short format allows?
The short film for me is the symbol of freedom! You can experiment and propose something new, self-discover, a way to show the world the way you talk about various topics. It is the possibility to look for the best artistic ways to say a lot in a short time, without being stuck in a certain market.
If you’ve already been to Clermont-Ferrand, could you share with us an anecdote or story from the festival? If not, what are your expectations for this year?
This would be my first time in Clermont! But unfortunately, I still don’t have the support for the long trip from Brazil. I am waiting to hear from the Brazilian government, but at the moment, I am not sure if I can attend the festival. It would be a great dream to be there!
Meninas Formicida had its world premiere at the 74th Venice Film Festival – in competition. It’s a Brazilian/French film with support by CNC and ARTE. The French producer is the company “Les Valseurs”. It was the first time I’d made a film with a real budget, because of the French support! My previous films was made with less than 100 euros each…