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MOTELx 2023: The Naked Class Conflict in 'Propriedade'

It's always challenging to tackle class struggle in cinema. The rich versus the poor is a subject that interests every society in the world. However, it's a theme that's often approached in a simplistic, condescending manner. No one wants to present a film that demonizes the poor and glorifies the rich, so most approaches to the topic tend to be superficial and overly didactic in an effort to avoid grey areas and misinterpretations. This goes against what I believe: that cinema, like any form of art, should be challenging.

There are still good examples, of course – Parasite (2019) comes to mind, with its poor family displaying socially questionable behavior, though it's easy to understand their motivations and what led them to their boiling point. Propriedade is another good example, although it leaves many of the catalyzing elements more implied than portrayed on the screen. Taking a very simple and obvious principle – that anyone is capable of doing bad things when put in a trying situation – Daniel Bandeira weaves a tale that forces us to reflect on the world we live in and the barriers that exist between the two sides of the class struggle. The path we are heading toward will be ugly, and it will be ugly for everyone, regardless of who has the greatest share of responsibility for the current situation. Communication will be the only way to resolve those problems.

In the story, a couple is in recovery from a traumatic event. A family head, Roberto, does everything he can to make his wife, Teresa, feel more comfortable after a kidnapping ordeal. He protects her, spoils her, fortifies their new luxurious personal vehicle, and decides to take her to their vast property in a remote region of Brazil. However, upon arrival, they find themselves facing a rebellion from farmworkers who discover that their livelihoods are at risk. They end up holding the injured Roberto hostage, leaving Teresa isolated in her new armored car.

I greatly admire directors and writers who are not afraid to challenge their audience. Daniel Bandeira is not a fascist. He despises Jair Bolsonaro and his ilk. Above all else, however, he is an observer of society and knows that the direction it is taking is dangerously close to a point of no return wherein we will all lose. Bandeira counts on the viewer to draw conclusions from what they see, and he does so in a cold and realistic manner without any fear of offending (just like the typical Brazilian cinema of the early 2000s).

He also happens to do it in an exciting way, with frenetic, suffocating action at every turn. After all, we live in urgency! Without realizing it, our legs are trembling, our hearts are beating fast, and we fear the worst outcome. Nothing seems to indicate that things will end happily in this situation, just as nothing gold seems to stay in real life. Each passing day polarizes us further, and with each passing day, it seems like we are living in parallel worlds that will one day have to collide. The message is very much in line with what we've recently seen in works like Michel Franco's Nuevo Orden (2020), a similarly divisive film that doesn't seek to take sides or teach anyone how to think.

In the context of Propriedade, where there is little change in the setting and the focus is exclusively on actions, the acting takes on special significance. Although all the actors deliver commendable performances, Malu Galli is commanding in every scene. Panic is evident on her face, even when she tries to remain composed. We almost hear her asking herself, "Why me, again?" and we don't even know if it's karma catching up with her or if she's just one of the collateral damages that this war inflicts.

The truth is that it doesn't matter at that moment, in that place, in that situation. She wants to escape, and the basic emotions of a human being – fear or anger – are inherent, regardless of our past experiences. On the other hand, by showing us the behavior of the rebels as a group, the writer/director makes two things clear: the power of the masses is much more powerful than any member of the more privileged group would like to admit, and that that mentality is quite dangerous. It can blind to the point of primitive violence. There is a balance that needs to be struck in measuring actions so that we can move toward a world without predators, rather than just a temporary reversal of roles, that, as George Orwell forewarned, will only benefit the few.

All of this is punctuated with camerawork that is very close to our protagonists, aiming to demonstrate the claustrophobia of the moments lived, but also to place us right in the center of the action. The unsettling score leaves us even more apprehensive, further discouraging any hope of a peaceful resolution. It's the score we hear in our daily lives, whenever we turn on the television and watch the news from the world we live in. We must all, not just "them" or "us," realize that our score can still change. Only then we can think about changing everyone’s – yes, everyone's – destiny.



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