FILMATIQUE: Where I Grow Old observes two women who have settled in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, yet yearn for their home in Portugal. What was you inspiration for these characters— what motivated you to explore this experience?
MARÍLIA ROCHA: A few years ago I met some displaced Portuguese women in Belo Horizonte, where I live. I was intrigued by these girls— cut adrift, with no set course for their lives, looking for something that not even they quite knew. Francisca Manuel, one of the characters in the film, was one of those girls. I trailed her movements around the city and filmed her final days here, before her return to Lisbon.
That experience was my initial inspiration for the script. Some time later we did the casting in Portugal to find the actress for Teresa, the second character. We filmed dozens of girls who were looking for some way to get out of the country, who harbored fantasies about Brazil. One was Elizabete Francisca, the girl who landed the role.
Where I Grow Old owes a lot to both of them, to the conversations we had and the experiences they shared. It was these encounters and these girls' stories that compelled me to make the film.
FLMTQ: Francisca and Teresa's reunion evokes memories of Lisbon, a place where they both lived— and in some regard a source of estrangement and anxiety with each other and, for Francisca in particular, a vacuum in time and space until now. How do you think that place relates to our identities, and how did you seek to structure this geography— both physical, emotional, and temporal— into the film?
MR: Teresa and Francisca's search is not exactly for a specific geography, but for a sense of renewal. They want to renew themselves and shake off the armor of work, family, and everyday familiarity. And yet, at the same time, they are looking for a place that is welcoming, somewhere they can feel at home.
This contradiction can be resolved only provisionally, if at all, so those who experience it always end up asking themselves whether they should stay or leave. It's as if the only anchor they have are fleeting joys— incidental, ephemeral glances at utopia. The film explores that utopia. As it never entirely forms, its narrative is composed around this 'almost.'
For me, more than any building or architectural complex, it's this imminence and sense of welcoming that really express the city of Belo Horizonte, where the film was shot.
FLMTQ: Due to Portugal's financial crisis, Lisbon has transformed into a place where little hope or expectations reside, despite the girls' fond memories of their early days. Perhaps in returning to the home she yearns for, Francisca would encounter an equally strange land. Can you comment on realities of this particular generation, the young men and women who have left Portugal and remain uncertain of their futures?
MR: Portugal's recession was at its worst when we shot the film. Coming from a country with a history of recurring crises, I could recognize many similarities with that context. But one in particular stood out to me— the existential crisis that seemed to engulf that generation. It wasn't just the result of economic woes; what I saw was a disillusioned generation that was still anxious about abandoning its country.
At that juncture, the flow of emigration was inverted as thousands of young Portuguese people flowed into Brazil. I don't have the figures to support this, but I suspect that most of them did not find a permanent solution in their new home. As a poem by the Greek Konstantinos Kavafis goes: "You will not find new lands, much less new seas. The city will follow you. You shall walk the same streets, the same neighborhoods, the stories of the houses where your hair will go grey. To this city will you always arrive." In other words, fleeing is a lot more complicated than we might think.
FLMTQ: Teresa narrates, via voice-over, lines borrowed from a letter written by Brazilian poet Paulo Mendes Campos. Why did you choose to reference these lines, and why do you think art in particular has the capacity to serve as a solace?
MR: Art can relieve us of ourselves. It can nestle us, whether through identification, the sensation of re-encountering ourselves, or through the experience of alterity. A good book changes the way we feel, and changes the way we see. It can present things we were looking for and couldn't find anywhere else.
The letter Teresa reads was written when Paulo Mendes Campos left Belo Horizonte and moved to Rio de Janeiro, with the intention of settling there, of disconnecting. He exchanged an everyday life in which "lovable and detestable things" were scarce for another, similar way of life, in Rio, where these things were more numerous. And there he experienced the intensity of contrasts, and of loneliness, that is characteristic of exile.
That's what he was writing about in that letter to Otto Lara Resende, a friend he'd left behind in Belo Horizonte. Back in the same city, this correspondence echoes throughout Teresa's own displacement. Literature often has the power to make something impossible happen, which is to transform the unsayable— things we only know how to feel— into words.
FLMTQ: Francisca's character is equally aligned with a borrowed source, a song by Caetano Veloso. The words of the song help us understand the restlessness that Francisca is passing through. Why did you seek to evoke Francisca's experience this way?
MR: In fact, Francisca goes looking for a Caetano record and ends up finding a song by Jards Macalé, called "Soluços." It's an epiphanic song that has this mix of sorrow, love and mockery. It's a genuine scorned-lover song, but with a real dose of humor. The encounter between these two characters has a unique capacity to flit from fight to joke and back again.
FLMTQ: Teresa's decision to settle in "the kingdom of uncertainties" results in the film's open ending. Can you discuss your decision to close the film in this manner, and the importance of ambiguity in your approach to filmmaking?
MR: In the letter Teresa reads, we hear that "it becomes hard to explain things when liberty installs in us its kingdom of uncertainties." The film seeks to express precisely the difficult and sometimes contradictory feelings of someone who is leaping into the unknown, but whose heart is divided between possibilities and apprehensions— between a longing for the comfort of knowing, and a desire for the new. The ending was a way of tapping into that. The ambiguity of the feelings we carry in our hearts.
FLMTQ: Are you working on any new projects and, if so, can you tell us a bit about them?
MR: I'm working on a documentary series on the relationship between literature and the space in which it was created. The first season is shot in Rio de Janeiro, the city that once had Brazil's highest concentration of Brazilian writers and poets, and whose works evoke particular places. Today, those places are absolutely banal and bear no apparent resemblance to those depicted in their works, and certainly no trace of the poets. I'm looking for a possible intersection between the past and the present, literature and life. It's a sort of archeology of the urban landscape.