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Documentary Filmmaking in Contemporary BrazilCinematic Archives of the Present$

Gustavo Procopio Furtado

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780190867041

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190867041.001.0001

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Homes, Archives, and Archons

Homes, Archives, and Archons

Reworking the “Home Mode” in Contemporary Documentary

(p.143) 5 Homes, Archives, and Archons
Documentary Filmmaking in Contemporary Brazil

Gustavo Procopio Furtado

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The turn toward intimate terrains and private life is a major trend in contemporary documentary. Materials, styles, and themes germane to the photo album and the home movie increasingly migrate to the documentary screen and into the public sphere. As this chapter discusses, this move does not represent a retreat from the social and the historical in favor of atomistic or narcissistic self-involvement but rather a changing approach to the sociohistoric, which is rendered through the self-conscious and refracting lens of personal experience and located in the microcosm of interpersonal relationships. Engaging with the history and theory of familial image-making, this chapter explores the reworking of the home mode in Consuelo Lins’s Babás (2010), Gabriel Mascaro’s Doméstica (2012), and João Moreira Salles’s Santiago (2007)—three films that deal with relationships of power, labor, and servitude in private life and the home.

Keywords:   home mode, home movies, family, domestic servitude, authority, private and public

About a third of the way through João Moreira Salles’s Santiago (2006), a meticulously crafted film ostensibly focused on the eccentric retired butler of the Moreira Salles family, we see a forty-second clip of a home movie (Fig. 5.1). This home movie exemplifies what visual anthropologist Richard Chalfen has called the “home mode,” a term he coined for the forms of photographic and filmic images that are produced in familial contexts for the use of families and their intimates. This scene shows the family in a moment of familial bliss, the togetherness of parents and their children leisurely playing at the swimming pool. The bright color footage, taken sometime in the mid-1960s, stands in sharp contrast with the melancholy shades of silverish gray that dominate the remainder of this black and white film. Further underscoring this scene, although the film as a whole is cadenced by riveting music and the melodious voice of the first-person narrator, this clip is presented in stark silence. It is as if the otherwise articulate narrating voice was rendered speechless by this image of childhood. What purer memento of familial happiness could there be than the home movie and its indexical recording of a sunny day at the pool? Despite its brevity, this footage is at the heart of Salles’s film, which, I will argue, is a monumental home movie, a cinematic memorial that guards at its core the vestiges of family and home. The narrator’s silence is a form of solemnity, a conscious restraint of speech so as not to violate the familial image with interpretation or commentary, leaving the image to stand alone in its unvoiced eloquence, suspended as in a cinematic sanctuary.

Homes, Archives, and ArchonsReworking the “Home Mode” in Contemporary Documentary

Figure 5.1 Still from Santiago (2006), by João Moreira Salles

The migration of this image from the private collection to the documentary screen, however, alters its meaning, and the attention of viewers is likely to drift from the image’s central familial object to its margins and to elements that were not of importance at the moment of recording. At the top left corner of frame, note the hand resting on the rail, which belongs to a servant, one (p.144) of at least three laboring women whom we glimpse at the margins of this rather aristocratic family. These anonymous women surround and tend to the needs of this nuclear family in its moment of leisure. The hand on the railing, a marginal inscription of the social within the familial image, constitute for me the image’s “punctum”—Roland Barthes’s term for the accidentally recorded element that ends up being the source of the image’s thrust, of its capacity to “puncture” or “wound” the viewer.1 Given the narrator’s silence, we are left to wonder to what degree this marginal figure matters to Salles, as he incorporates this footage four decades after its making in a film that is mired in questions related to power and servitude—many of which are consciously recognized by the filmmaker and addressed by the narrator. I will postpone a deeper discussion of this film here, however, to propose a wider framework for thinking about an important trait in contemporary documentary filmmaking: the migration of images from private archives to the documentary screen and, conversely, the documentary genre’s migration to terrains that were once considered to be of exclusively private interest.

The borders between the public and the private have become porous and blurred in contemporary culture, as demonstrated by the “upsurge, and . . . increased relevance of practices of self-inscription, self-representation, and personal expression in the mass media, in the arts, and on the Internet alike.”2 Contemporary culture, writes Serge Tisseron, desires and demands “extimacy,” by which he means the widely felt need “to put some part of one’s intimate, private life out there,” to expose it to public view.3 From television programming to social networks on the Web and the culture of the “selfie,” the public exhibition of private life and the self abounds. In documentary film and video, this tendency started to occur as early as (p.145) the 1980s and has specific motivations. Patrícia Machado proposes that this cinema inscribes a “double movement in contemporary society: the privatization of public space and publicization of private space.”4 Michael Renov provides another interpretive model by casting documentary practice in the context of the crisis of ethnographic authority. The recognition that ethnographic discourses are implicated in colonialism led anthropologists to propose alternative strategies for their discipline.5 Stephen A. Tyler called for a form of ethnography in which evocation replaces the mastery of science and George E. Marcus suggested the essay form, understood as a fragmentary and exploratory genre, as a possible escape from realist conventions and scientific determinism. Experimental forms of ethnography sought out ways of including a diversity of voices without fully subsuming them to the framework of interpretation—allowing these voices, therefore, to retain their singularity, opacity, and epistemic independence. Filmmakers, argued Renov, offered one response to the crisis of ethnographic authority by performing “domestic ethnographies,” his term for works that engage “in the documentation of family members or, less literally, of people with whom the maker has maintained long-standing everyday relations and has thus achieved a level of casual intimacy.”6 Thus an intimate “other” is approached in a way that inevitably reveals and implicates the self. Although this is not the only factor determining the documentary’s retreat to personal and domestic life, it is surely an important one. Variations of the crisis of authority continue to reverberate in documentary practice and propels filmmakers toward innovations in the ways they produce meaning and exercise (or share) authority—as we have seen in the previous sections of this book.

Contemporary Brazilian films tend to resist authoritative generalizations and favor instead attention to the particular, the singular, and often the personal and private. As Cláudia Mesquita notes, there is an abundance of biographical films illustrated in the works of directors like João Moreira Salles, Carlos Nader, Marília Rocha, and Paula Gaitán to name a few.7 Eduardo Coutinho’s notable body of work between Santo forte (The Mighty Spirit, 1999) and his posthumous Últimas conversas (Last Conversations, 2015) help illustrate contemporary filmmakers’ preference for the particular over totalizing or generalizing views. Similarly, in Peões (Metalworkers, 2004) Coutinho approaches the imminent historic election of Lula da Silva to the presidency indirectly through conversations with the factory workers who participated in the labor strikes of 1979 and 1980—anonymous participants in the events that launched Lula to prominence. Held mostly in living rooms and kitchens, these conversations engage the historic through the filters of individual memory and private life.8 Archival documentary footage of past political rallies is seen in these private spaces on the television set, staging through this mise en scène cinema’s own retreat from the street to the home, from the public to the private. There is also a rise of first-person and essayistic films that, akin to what Marcus proposed (p.146) for ethnography, deploy subjective forms of expression that blur the borders between the private and the public, self and other, biography and history.9

The documentary genre’s turn to private life does not necessarily represent the disappearance of the social and the historical in favor of atomistic or narcissistic self-involvement. Rather, it reflects a changing approach to the socio-historic, which is increasingly addressed through the self-conscious and refracting lens of individual, personal, and private experience. This cinema invites us to reflect on the public relevance of the personal and familial as well as to examine the ways in which the socio-historic inscribes itself deep into private life. Such films often appropriate the contents and even the style of amateur forms of private documentation and image making, such as photo albums and home movies.10 The next section of this chapter presents a brief historical discussion about the home mode and “Kodak culture”—in other words, the conventions and genres of image-making through which families historically have constructed their own image. This elaboration is crucial for understanding the way in which contemporary documentaries include and rework the home mode—which I will discuss here in relation to films that simultaneously deal with questions of power and authority that inhere in intimate and domestic relationships. In the Brazilian context, the home mode includes an important marginal element, which is the presence of domestic servants in the intimate spaces of the family and on the edges of the familial image—such as the maid’s hand on the railing, glimpsed in Santiago. In addition to a re-evaluation of Salles’s film undertaken in dialogue with Chalfen’s concept of the home mode, this chapter examines two rather pointed interventions in the domestic image archive: Consuelo Lins’s short film Babás (Nannies, 2010) and Gabriel Mascaro’s Doméstica (Housemaids 2012). Reflecting upon and using amateur images produced in the home, these films invert the relationship between margins and center, foreground and background that commonly appear in the home mode. In so doing, they deploy the documentary as a means of exploring new perspectives on private life and on the familial archive with attention to what has been historically only barely seen.

The Home Mode as Familial Genre and Archive

Home movies were once considered by filmmakers and cinephiles to be the valueless dross of private life, materials of no interest to anyone beyond those by and for whom they were created. This is no longer the case. Scholars and cultural producers now prize amateur images produced in the private sphere, as these images are now understood to shed light on the histories of film, culture, and society as a whole.11 Efforts to salvage, preserve, and digitalize amateur image archives are currently underway, making such films more easily available to scholars, artists, and filmmakers.12 In the audiovisual, this turn was (p.147) pioneered by the work of Hungarian video artist Péter Forgács, who founded the Private Photo & Film Archives Foundation in Budapest in 1983. Forgács films, made from repurposed private footage, approach major historic events (such as the Holocaust) from the perspective of ordinary family life, developing an audiovisual version of history from below.13 The reevaluation of private images in media and film studies owes a great deal to the work of Richard Chalfen, who coined the term “home mode” to designate forms of “visual communication” that are centered on familial settings and that deploy not only the photographic camera but also the movie cameras that became increasingly available after World War II.14 In Snapshot Versions of Life, which examines images compiled by middle-class families in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s, Chalfen delineates the main characteristics of the home mode, paying special attention to its forms of production and consumption, its recurring visual themes and styles, and its social functions. Although Chalfen does not use the concept of genre, his work suggests that amateur image production is characterized, like any genre, by long-lasting conventions of production and reception. The home mode’s emblematic settings recur with a similar predictability and significance to the settings of other film genres, such as those of the roadside café, the boarding house, and the bar in the rather anti-domestic genre of film noir—settings that, as Vivian Sobchack puts it, are not just passive backgrounds but are crucial to the phenomenological and cultural logic of the genre’s preoccupations.15 Chalfen’s descriptions of the conventions of the home mode also bring to light regulating principles that inform the creation of private, family-centered image collections—private archives that are typically intended to be a celebratory memorialization of family life.

The use of amateur recording technology in private life is bound by recognizable social norms regarding what should and should not be recorded. These norms are so widely shared that it is as if amateur camera operators had received explicit instructions. To some extent, this pedagogy actually took place. In 1921, Kodak produced a movie that would advertise its new 16mm motion picture film. The movie, Picnic Party, showed a boy’s first birthday celebration.16 In her cultural history of amateur filmmaking, Patricia Zimmermann documents the ways in which Kodak’s marketing strategies and user manuals labored to bind amateur cameras to the ideology of the patriarchal nuclear family. To be sure, this alone does not suffice to explain all of the conventions and ideology associated with amateur photography and film, which are informed by cultural norms and practices that precede and exist independently of the emergence of Kodak culture. In the postwar context, however, the wider distribution of filmmaking technology as a consumer good coincided and became entangled with “the elevation of the nuclear family as the ideological center of all meaningful activity,” Zimmermann argues.17 This was not an inevitable outcome, as the counter-examples of experimental filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, Maya Deren, and Stan Brakhage, all self-declared amateurs, (p.148) attest. These artists proposed alternative uses of the technology, which served not for the documentation of bourgeois family life but as the opportunity to create an experimental and independent audiovisual culture outside of the hegemonic forms of commercial cinema.

Family photo albums and home movies are surprisingly consistent in their imaging of weddings, births, children’s first steps, birthdays, graduations, holidays, new material acquisitions, family reunions, and other positive familial landmarks. To borrow Pierre Bourdieu’s observation about amateur photography, familial image archives serve “the express function of immortalizing the major events and high points of family life.”18 Conversely, they contain scarcely any record of the tensions and conflicts that punctuate and sometimes tear families apart, or of the boredom and drudgery of the labor that sustains domestic life. It is also notable that for much of the twentieth century history of home photography and film, the father was the default family archivist, as many critics note.19 Much in the way official archives are determined by the interests of the state, photo albums and home movies provide documentary support for the father’s version of the family’s “official history,” as Roger Odin points out.20 Thus, the power of these archives derives not only from what they foreground and preserve but also from what they marginalize or hide.

It is of course not entirely surprising, or even problematic, that families and individuals would wish to be imaged in a positive light. Speaking with characteristic insight about the experience of being photographed, Barthes writes: “[O]nce I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of ‘posing,’ I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself in advance into an image.”21 Like Barthes, family members who are aware that they are being photographed or filmed seem to know that their inscription is being peeled off the present and that it can long outlast that moment in time. The point of family image-making is not to record or reveal the truth but rather to memorialize the wishful ideals of the family project. Recalling her own family’s use of the recorded image, Michelle Citron calls home movies necessary fictions, a resource that allowed her and her relatives to recharge their faith in the family as a collective project: “Home movies were our memory, anchoring us in time and perpetuating the fictions we needed to believe about ourselves.”22 This crafting of an ideal image, combined with the genre norms that regulate family image-making, turns family albums and home movies into utopian constructs, symbolic renderings of actual life purged of conflict and labor.

If the picture I have painted suggests too hegemonic a model this is only because my intention is to establish an outline of the conventions of the home mode in what we might call its classical form. It is worth noting that both Chalfen’s and Zimmermann’s work indeed provide a slightly exaggerated and homogenous version of home movies and photography. In Zimmermann’s work, the tight association between amateur image-making and the ideology (p.149) of the family reflects the hegemony of that ideology in the central period of her study, the postwar years—especially among the middle-class, white Americans who were the major consumers of this new technology. It goes without saying that changes in cultural values and family life have affected and transformed the home mode since then. For Chalfen, his homogenizing oversimplification of the home mode reflects his lack of attention to the specificity of different media and their transformation across time. Without falling into technological determinism, James Moran argues that the evolution of photography from 16mm and 8mm film to the easier-to-use Super 8 to home video and eventually digital video brought substantive changes to the temporality and content of the home mode. Consider, for instance, the way that celluloid technology is bound by its limited length and the high cost of footage that then needs to be developed before it can be viewed. These limitations kept most home moviemakers focused on Kodak moments, the special instants in life that were the concern of family photography—even though film permits the capturing of time and duration, not just the instant. Cheaper, reusable (in the sense that one can film over the same videotape), immediately viewable, and with extended recording time, video brought with it a range of possibilities not available with the previous technology.23 Thus, home videos, unlike home movies (an important terminological distinction that Moran is right to stress), tend to be open to everyday rhythms and uneventful moments in contrast to the logic of the snapshot. Furthermore, while the archon of home movie technology in the postwar years may have been the father, in the era of video other perspectives take control of the amateur camera—especially those of younger members of the family and of people unbeholden to the ideology of the patriarchal nuclear family. With video, Moran argues, the home mode moves from “reel families to the families we choose.”24 Now understood as a more diverse field of cultural practice than Chalfen’s initial model allows, the home mode remains a compelling organizing concept for thinking about amateur image-making in the private domestic context; even when the nuclear family is questioned or replaced by “the families we choose” or revealed in an unflattering light, home mode images often remain a “festival of oedipal relations,” as Odin notes.25

Family photography and movie making are intensely invested in indexicality. If in these genres subjects look at the camera even more often and with more intensity than in the documentary,26 it is because these genres are interested not only in ideal, selective scenes but also in the positivity and embodied presence of those who stand before the camera. The camera points indexically to presences: Here is the child, the visiting uncle, the grandmother. The home mode is therefore interested in the “positive” in a double sense, in the construction of an ideal image of the family as well as in an indexical recording of presence. Once recognized, such an investment can entice us to look for what is not in the image. “In presenting the image of an ideal selective (p.150) past, home movies announce what is absent,” proposes Citron. In this vein, she describes asking her father for the family’s home movies and proceeding to read the images against their original intention to search for a more profound image of her family “that cannot be hidden from the camera despite my father’s focus.”27 Similarly, viewing the clip of João Salles’s home movie with which I began, one can also imagine another film hidden inside the first that would focus on the marginal figures of the anonymous maids.

This is the desire motivating the short film Babás (Nannies, 2010), by scholar and filmmaker Consuelo Lins. In this remarkable work, Lins searches for the presence of domestic servants in her own family’s home movies and photo albums, as well as in amateur images preserved in public archives. It is crucial to recall here that domestic servitude is a common occupation of poor women in Brazil, especially women of color. This sociohistoric detail is absent from the contexts studied by scholars such as Chalfen, Zimmerman, Moran, and Citron, all of whom work in the United States. The live-in housemaid, Lins’ film acknowledges, is a liminal and problematic figure. She is an intimate other whose role and presence has always confounded the boundaries between public and private regardless of the contemporary blurring of these spheres. In the relationship between families and housemaids, socioeconomically determined, racially inflected exploitative labor relations can become entwined with bonds of affection and intimacy. This confusion is particularly poignant in the case of nannies, an occupation that, as Lins’s film is careful to point out, refers back to the wet nurses of the pre-abolition era and to the “mãe preta” or “black mammy”—women of color who figure prominently in the affective memory of many white children from affluent Brazilian families from colonial times to the present. Lins’s film reflects on the marginality of the nanny in the familial image. The opening image of the film is a photograph of a black woman and a white child taken in 1860. Lins zooms in and out of the photograph, reframing the image and lingering on the facial expressions of the woman and the child in an attempt to glean not what is represented and indexed by the image but its secrets. This is an archival attention that looks for intended as well as unintended details and endeavors to construct the image’s origin and meaning from the limited elements available for analysis. There is an ease and intimacy conveyed by the way the child leans against his nanny’s body, with an open, soft expression of affection. In contrast, the woman’s face is stern, severe (Fig. 5.2). Perhaps the woman in the image had at one point been the boy’s wet nurse, Lins muses in voiceover. She may have had to abandon her own children to care for this boy, who might be pleasantly unaware of the sacrifices suffered on his behalf. The mere existence of the photographic portrait implies the importance of this woman in this child’s life, meriting her central place in a photograph at a time when photography was not a casual undertaking. Thinking of this and other similar images of black women with white children that she finds during her research and includes in her film, Lins (p.151) suggests that such images may also illustrate the desire of the Brazilian elites to portray rather brutal relationships of power in a soft light, placing subjection under the sign of affection and therefore masking multiple forms of violence, including that the black women playing docile, maternal roles may be kept apart from their own children.28

Homes, Archives, and ArchonsReworking the “Home Mode” in Contemporary Documentary

Figure 5.2 Still from Babás (2010), by Consuelo Lins

Lins’s film collects inscriptions of the marginal appearance of the domestic servant in family photographs and home movies. In so doing, the film produces an alternate archive made up only of these rare inscriptions within the familial image. This archive is put on display in the final shot of the film.29 Starting with a close-up of the 1860 photograph of the black nanny and white child, the point of view slowly recedes to show a collection of hundreds of photographic images of nannies and the children they care for. Engaging with the home mode but going against the grain of its organizing logic, Babás makes the nannies’ inscriptions its central object and produces an alternate visual archive of images, displayed on a vast wall. By inverting the familial image’s foreground and background as well as its margins and center, Lins’ invites us to imagine alternate archives of private life that would put on display a matter of public concern—relationships of power that are often enveloped in bonds of affection and sustained within the privacy of the home. As I will argue in the final section of this chapter, Gabriel Mascaro’s Doméstica extends Lins’ gesture of shifting what is foregrounded in amateur image-making in the domestic context. Doméstica is a participatory filmmaking experiment that lives up to Lins’s innovation and produces a confluence between home mode image-making and documentary cinema. Attention to the home mode and its importance to the documentary, however, can shed new light even on films that are less overtly interested in the margins of the familial image—as illustrated by Salles’s Santiago. Here the home movie insert may be but a small portion of the (p.152) film and the maid’s hand resting on the rail a minute accidental inscription, a thin lose thread deep in the film’s interior. By pulling this thread, however, we can turn Salles’s film inside out and make it legible as a home movie of sorts, an audiovisual monument that, despite being in public display, is a sanctuary to familial memory.

A Monumental Home Movie: Santiago

João Salles’s Santiago, a film considered by some critics to be among the best recent Latin American documentaries, is named after its protagonist, Santiago Badariotti Merlo, the retired Argentine butler who served the Moreira Salles family from 1956 to 1986. João Salles’ father, Walter Moreira Salles, was a wealthy businessman and the founder of Brazil’s largest banking institution as well as a political figure, serving as an ambassador to the United States under Getúlio Vargas in the 1950s and later as the finance minister under João Goulart. The Moreira Salles were a very public family, and their mansion in the Gávea neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro reflected this through its modernist architecture and reception halls. Santiago recalls hosting such dignitaries as the Rockefellers, Juscelino Kubitchek, João Goulart, and the president of Mexico. Today, the mansion’s public side has become dominant. It houses the Instituto Moreira Salles, a cultural center that hosts public events, film screenings, and art exhibits, and archives collections of literary, musical, and visual materials. Endowed by the wealth of the Moreira Salles patriarch, the institute also enables many cultural producers to continue their work (among them the late filmmaker Eduardo Coutinho). But in 1992, at the time João Salles shot the footage for Santiago, the Moreira Salles mansion was empty. Salles’s parents had divorced and moved away, he and his three brothers were in or approaching middle age, and the family’s butler had retired and was living alone in a small apartment in Leblon. The film that Salles finished more than a decade after the initial shooting in 1992 ostensibly centers on the colorful butler. But the film’s most important center of gravity is not the butler but the memory of the familial home, which is mediated in the film by the butler. “My memory of Santiago is confused with the house,” we learn from the voiceover (which, incidentally, is not João Salles’s own voice but the deep and melodious voice of his oldest brother, Fernando). “Santiago,” the voiceover continues, “was always there, from the day I was born to the day I moved out in 1982.”

Santiago is nostalgic in the etymological sense of the word, which is constructed from the Greek nostos or “return home” and algia or “longing.”30 The sequence in which the narrator states that his memories of Santiago are confused with his memories of his childhood home shows several shots of the Moreira Salles mansion. Shot in black-and-white and accompanied by lyrical, sentimental music, the film as a whole has a melancholy, nostalgic feel, which (p.153) is intensely evident in this sequence, with long takes of the empty house—including a shot of an aged, crooked sign on a stone wall that reads “Crianças brincando no jardim” (“Children playing in the garden”). The house is shown here as a monument rather than as a home. It is nearly empty and its being uninhabited accentuates the monumentality of its modernist design.31 We see images of the house’s imposing façade, the few pieces of ornate furniture, the immense foyer, the organically shaped swimming pool in the style of Roberto Burle Marx’s tropical modernism. The house revealed in these images is more suggestive of an imposing official building than it is of a home—a place where children might have played, scattered toys, drawn on the walls with crayon.

Salles follows these images of the house-as-monument with the forty-second–long home movie, composed of nine shots that show the Moreira Salles children and their parents swimming in the pool. Here, the pool no longer looks like monumental architecture but like an ordinary swimming pool. Shot in color, it shows the bluish-green tone of the water instead of the shades of gray and silver of the black-and-white shots. The framing of the home movie is centered on the human figures rather than on the uninhabited architecture seen elsewhere in Santiago. Making it even more homelike, towels and paddleboards are shown on the edge of the pool, which is also surrounded by a temporary fence, probably meant to keep the family’s toddler from reaching the pool unattended. These shots also show several housemaids who step in from off-screen space to tend to the children. Twice, these entries lead to abrupt cuts and to shots of the family without the servants. At one point the hand of a maid is seen resting on the fence—a record that can function as an accidental allegory for the discreet presence that defines the role of domestic servants in the intimate space of the family, employees who balance the conflicting imperatives of proximity (they are needed to provide prompt service) and distance (imposed by the social hierarchy). Though brief, the importance of the segment is underscored in a variety of ways. It is preceded and followed by a black screen that lasts about two seconds and creates a sort of bracket-effect separating this clip from the remainder of the film. The confessional eloquent voice that narrates the rest of the film goes quiet as does the music by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner, “Tu ne mentiras pas” (“You Shall not Lie”)—a suggestive title in its demand of truth, while the film deals mainly with loss, absence, and omission, as we will see.32 Preisner’s piece extends from the previous sequence of black-and-white shots of the house into the home movie footage only briefly, partially bridging the seam between the two segments. After that, the pool scene unfolds in absolute silence—just the way it was shot with Super 8 film.

The other two segments of repurposed footage in the film, one taken from Vincente Minnelli’s musical The Band Wagon and the other from Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story, both from 1953, are accompanied by elaborate explanations of the reasons for their inclusion and their meaning for the filmmaker.33 In contrast, (p.154) the possible meanings of the home movie clip are left open to the viewer’s interpretation. Beyond the fact that it is an image of the home, and that it gives a visual, positive form to what is otherwise the film’s elusive object of nostalgic desire, the meanings of this clip are by no means self-evident. Why did Salles choose this particular clip and not another from his family’s trove? One presumes that this family produced an array of home-mode images of themselves. Or was shooting home movies not a regular practice in their household? Is this film an exception? More importantly, who wields the camera? Could it be the oldest son, Fernando, Salles’s half-brother, who narrates the film in the director’ place? (Fernando is fifteen years older than the filmmaker, the child of Walter Moreira Salles and his first wife. I will discuss his narration of the film later.) Or could the person behind the camera, the archivist of this domestic scene, be the butler, Santiago? Depending on who is filming, one could infer different politics of looking—particularly in relation to the way the servants are included and excluded. The narrator’s silence on this clip places limits on our interpretation while also inviting us to speculate. Because the film revolves around nostalgia for a lost sense of home, I argue that this brief footage is at the heart of the film. It is the only indexical trace of Salles’s family and childhood, which are otherwise visually represented only through absence as with the aged “children at play” sign and the shots of the swimming pool rendered as part of an uninhabited monument.

In the beginning of the film, loss and absence are formally inscribed. Santiago opens with three shots of three framed photographs of the empty Moreira Salles home. The first shot shows the regal entryway, the second shows a bedroom, empty except for an unmade bed, and the third shows a chair on a veranda strewn with dry leaves. The black-and-white film only enhances the nostalgic mood of these emblems of human emptiness and abandonment. In each shot, the camera slowly zooms toward the framed photograph, as if imbued with the desire to approach the house. But the shots achieve only an incomplete and frustrated homecoming, embodying at the level of form the impossibility of reaching home. The camera approaches not the house but photographs of the house, which defer the object, as it is present only as images within the image and thus doubly withheld from reach. By choosing photographs as its object of interest, the film evinces what Ana López aptly calls its “poetics of the trace,” incorporating photographic indexicality, the lasting trace of the past—what Barthes calls the “this has been” of the photographic tense. But in these opening shots Salles goes further into the sense of loss than the indexical image can convey. The object of nostalgia is not exactly the house, imaged in these photographs, but the idea or memory of “home,” which these photographs notably do not show at all. What we see is an uninhabited house, an architectural object; “home” is no longer there even in the photographic image. This absence is accentuated by the fact that these photographs are matted and framed, contained, therefore, within borders that (p.155) represent another separating obstacle to the desire embodied in the camera and its zooming-in gesture.

The home mode comes to mind in Santiago not only because of the inclusion of a home-movie clip but also because of the way home-mode images are otherwise decidedly avoided. The absence of home in the photographs of the house is a case in point. These photographs are not home-mode images, which would index presence within private space. Rather, they index the absence of home, or the belated record of “home” when all that is left is the monument/“house.” The film’s oblique relationship to the home mode, then, rests on the fact that it works not as a memorialization of the home and the family, but as the registering of their loss and absence (terms that cannot be conflated, as I will show).

The reader would be correct to interject that the film is not only about the filmmaker’s nostalgic mourning for home but about the butler, Santiago. The filmmaker’s decision to approach the retiree in 1992 certainly reflects the fact that Santiago makes a memorable documentary subject. Eccentric, colorful, knowledgeable to the point of erudition, and endowed with a gift for gesture and storytelling, Santiago is charismatic. But the conflation of Santiago with the memory of home already existed before 1992, when Salles shot the images of the empty house. This confusion expands with the passage of time (and with the passing of Santiago and of Salles’s parents in the years between the shooting of the 1992 footage and the completion of the film). The growing longing for his childhood home, the narrator tells us after the clip from The Band Wagon, is precisely what led him to return to the 1992 footage and the unfinished film. Without denying the fact that Santiago is important in his own right and that his character is central to the film, I argue that he is primarily a mediator between the filmmaker and his memory of a familial, domestic past. Santiago’s final service to “Joãozinho” (as the butler calls the filmmaker) and to the Moreira Salles family, is to act as a stand-in for home and family for the nostalgic Moreira Salles heir.

The fact that Santiago is himself an amateur archivist of aristocratic family histories makes him ideal as Salles’s mediator between the present and the past. An amateur scholar, the butler dedicated decades of his non-working hours to writing, by his own definition, a universal history of the aristocracy starting with the Sumerian Dynasty of Ur and ending in the present. “Aristocracy” here is a broad term, as Santiago’s writings include mentions not only of royal dynasties and Florentine Renaissance families but also of Dakota chiefs, professional boxers, and movie stars. Santiago read and wrote in five languages and compiled thirty thousand pages of writing largely made up of copied fragments from assorted texts interspersed with personal notes and opinions. When he deemed the history of a particular dynasty complete (which in some cases took nearly five decades of work), he would organize the text in chronological order and fasten it with a ribbon. Through his writings, Santiago (p.156) suggests in the film, he shelters the “universal aristocracy” from oblivion, as if his historical subjects endure and dwell in the pages he compiles. On the weekends, he says, he unbundles the pages to allow these historical figures to breathe and bathe in sunlight. He walks them around his apartment and talks to them. The old pendulum clock above the shelf keeps them alive, he adds. The butler’s nostalgic archival project resonates with Salles’ own longing for his aristocratic family home. Approaching the butler was a way of approaching the memory of home, family, and childhood—a way of approaching the cluster of intimate domestic memories that remain, nevertheless, always at a remove in the film, just as the idea of home is absent from the photographs of the house in the opening shots. Santiago is about the return not to things in themselves but to their memory and to the images of their passing.

As Dominick LaCapra notes, speaking about the contexts of historical traumas, the notions of “loss” and “absence” are often conflated. The reasons for questioning this conflation “include intellectual clarity and cogency,” as well as “ethical and political dimensions,” warns LaCapra.34 Here, the distinction between loss and absence is also essential as it helps illuminate the way Salles’s film combines a poetics of the trace that deals with loss with related but distinct procedures of intentional omissions, resulting in a film that deliberately hides much from view. Absence and loss are similar in that they are both refusals of presence. However, loss refers to irreversible absences, such as those that result from death or from the passage of time. Absence can be a result of loss (which necessarily makes something absent). But an absence can also be contingent and open to revision, as in when something is misplaced or hidden, rendered absent despite its actual existence. Salles’s film’s oblique relationship to the home mode and the home movie results from the way it keeps private life and family images hidden from view—with the exception of the brief, silent home movie that combines a single moment of familial exposure with a complete lack of sound and speech. Otherwise, it is remarkable how little of the Moreira Salles’s private life is revealed despite other indications that the film revolves around a mournful longing for family and home.

Running “against the flow of the confessional,” as Brazilian critic Ilana Feldman puts it,35 Santiago manages to be intimate without revealing almost anything that is actually private for the filmmaker and his family. Yet the film goes to great lengths to strike a confessional, self-revelatory tone. Part of this confessional aspect is located in Salles’s self-critique. Examining his original footage thirteen years later, he confesses that throughout those five days of shooting in 1992, Santiago had remained his butler and he had remained the entitled son of the master of the house. By showing multiple takes of the same gestures and phrases, repetitions punctuated by Salles’s voice directing Santiago to stand precisely here or there, to lower or raise his head just so, or to close his eyes and look contrite when he repeats a certain phrase, Salles exposes his insensitive exercise of authority. Santiago fulfills his demands, and it would (p.157) have been entirely possible to edit the film in order to mask these repetitions and interactions. In the way in which they are presented, however, we are able not only to witness Salles’s exercise of power but also to sense Santiago’s frustration and tiredness, which are barely hidden behind his dutiful acquiescence. Through this exposure Santiago becomes a film that explores “the very nature of authority in nonfiction cinema, disclosing the means by which a documentary defines its perspective and inviting the spectator to assess the role of the filmmaker in this process.”36 Salles is self-critical in advance of critical reception and appears to expose himself, to make himself vulnerable and unguarded before viewers who witness the disconcerting entitlement of the filmmaker’s younger self.

The self-revelatory tone also extends to the way Salles puts on display Santiago’s construction, revealing “the secrets of the film”—meaning the recorded materials that would have been excluded from the final cut and forever hidden from view. This includes repeated takes of Santiago following Salles’s insistent instructions as well as many moments before and after the intended shot when something is accidentally recorded. Thus, the film presents itself somewhat in an archival state rather than as a finished, seamless work. Released in Brazil with the subtitle “Uma reflexão sobre o material bruto” (literally translated “a reflection about the rough material”), the film repeatedly points out its construction from materials amenable to many other possible arrangements. The film’s initial failure is crucial here. Although an efficient and accomplished filmmaker, Salles was unable at first to turn the images he took of Santiago in 1992 into a film. His ideas worked on paper but not at the editing table, he tells us, and he abandoned the project. An estrangement installs itself in the film—a cleavage separating the film from itself as well as separating the filmmaker from himself. The film revolves around the crux of the unfinished 1992 version, generating complex temporal structures much like the imperfect subjunctive or the conditional articulated as the future from the past. As we view the framed photographs in the opening shots, the voiceover states: “Thirteen years ago, when I took these images, I thought that the film would begin like this.” Temporal distance functions to suggest that the film could have been otherwise, that it harbors alternate possibilities, even though it begins precisely the way Salles had thought it would begin thirteen years before.

Santiago produces an archival effect, by which I mean the suggestion and sensation that one is seeing the film’s secrets and that its arrangement is provisional, coexisting somehow with alternate or latent versions of itself. We can see this as a question of the “contingent” versus the “necessary” vis-à-vis the editing of the film. Eduardo Escorel, the coeditor of Santiago, and arguably Brazil’s most accomplished film editor,37 thinks of the editing process as the discovery of the single possible film, the best film that is hidden in the apparent abundance of possibilities contained in the rough footage. According to (p.158) this model, editing is the unearthing of what is already there. The film reveals itself and its arrangement of images is not merely provisional or possible but inherent and necessary. Most films give viewers precisely this impression, as if what we see could not be otherwise. Salles disagrees with Escorel’s model and notes that if he returned to the same footage at some later date he believes he would make a different film.38 These seemingly conflicting models find a perfect synthesis in Santiago, a film masterfully edited precisely to provide an impression of tentativeness and self-doubt.

Using archival footage means dealing with the effects of both “intentional” and “temporal disparities,” notes Jamie Baron in a recent book.39 Critic Jean-Claude Bernardet holds a similar view, adding that when images “migrate” from one film to another they retain a degree of unassimilated alterity, a residue of their previous life.40 This effect obtains in Salles’ film even though he is dealing with his own footage. Salles approaches his 1992 footage both keenly aware of the passage of time (temporal disparity) and filled with uncertainty about his intentions at that time (intentional disparity). Although he is handling his own images, here the filmmaker becomes a suspicious reader of the material, as if he were looking at images taken by someone else. When leaves fall onto the surface of the pool in a 1992 shot, he asks, “Was it really windy that day?” Behind even the most candid image can lurk the possibility of contrivance and staging.

All of this adds to the film’s confessional feel and to its self-expository, self-doubting tone. It is as if the filmmaker were not completely in control and the viewers themselves could stand in the archon’s place to view hidden secrets and to extract other possibilities from the film’s archive. Yet the film’s acts of self-exposure are masks and Salles’s self-inscriptions are actually self-effacing. The only occasion we see him in the 1992 footage he has his back turned to the screen. Also, it is not his voice that speaks in voiceover but the voice of his older brother. In the English version of the film, the voiceover is by Brazilian actor Fernando Alves Pinto—a voice that is unfortunately much less cadenced and seductive than the original, though a little more similar in tone to Salles’s actual voice. These features would be less relevant if they were not symptomatic of the film’s careful construction and particularly its control of acts of self-revelation. The self here is often other. And self-revelation is itself a sort of veiling. The film labors to expose and critique Salles’s exercise of control in the 1992 footage; by approaching his own footage this way he gives the impression of confessional exposure, as if he is seeking some impossible atonement by surrendering control. This effect of self-exposure, showing a version of his past self as a controlling archon, masks the multiple unconfessed ways in which Salles performs his archontic role of carefully determining not only what is seen but, more importantly, what remains hidden.

Salles’s primary preoccupation is with propriety. What better word than propriety to define this polished, privileged, and somewhat aristocratic (p.159) sensibility? Propriety opens up to several meanings including senses that refer to proper names, property, wealth, possession, and appropriateness, which in turn refers to judgment and taste. All of these find resonance in the world portrayed in Santiago, especially the final meaning of what is “appropriate” and in good taste. Although Salles and Santiago share propriety as a value, they were not always in agreement about what should be filmed in 1992. In a moment that illustrates this, the film is in between takes, the screen is black, but the audio recording captures Santiago asking if he can recite a sonnet: “Joãozinho, there is also a little sonnet, it’s very nice.” Santiago is ignored as Salles and his assistant are occupied with something. The butler’s voice falters with frustration, but he starts the sonnet: “I belong to a group of damned beings,” but Salles promptly cuts him off: “This we don’t need, we are not going to go that way.” The inclusion of this moment plays into the film’s confessional gesture as it exposes Salles’s insensitivity and control in 1992. “When he wanted to tell about what mattered to him the most, I did not turn the camera on,” says the voiceover. What is interesting, however, is how Salles’s confessional gesture still guards a notion of propriety. What did Santiago mean and why was Salles so prompt to hush him? Teaching this film to undergraduate students, I have found that they sometimes associate the idea of “belonging to a group of damned beings” as relating to issues of power and privilege: Santiago belongs not to the class of masters but of servants—though as a cultured butler he is an aristocrat among the servant class. Outside the film, however, Salles has said that Santiago intended to speak about his sexuality. In an interview, he mentions that he is not sure if he was right to cut Santiago off (note again the self-doubt), but that he did so because “it was an intrusion, not in the sphere of privacy, but of intimacy. I felt it to be a very intimate aspect of his life, and I could not tell if he realized that he was speaking not only to me, but also to the public at large.”41 I am skeptical about this protective explanation, as this is not at all what Salles’s recorded 1992 voice conveys. Also, recording the sonnet would not mean that Salles would have had to include it in the finished film—so that Santiago could have been humored and the decision to include or not the footage could have been postponed. As the film was shot in 35mm stock, there is the issue that limited film leads filmmakers to be more restrictive about what they shoot. Yet this would bring to mind the waste of film in the many repeated takes in which Santiago re-performs gestures and speech to a never satisfied filmmaker. It seems to me more likely that Santiago’s sexuality is for Salles inappropriate, in poor taste, embarrassing—at least in the context of this film. Should Santiago enter into that territory, the film would start to become about him. He would no longer be the family’s memorialist and the translucent mediator for the filmmaker’s nostalgic longing for his childhood home and would gain instead a density of his own. Ultimately, the film’s propriety relates to Salles’s family and the memory of his home and (p.160) nothing should be said that would tarnish the memory of his parents or embarrass him or his brothers.

Documentaries that incorporate the footage or the style of home movies are often alienating to the families they put on display—think of Jonathan Caouette’s Tarnation (2003) or Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans (2003) or Michelle Citron’s faux home movie Daughter Rite (1979). If we follow Chalfen’s argument and understand the home mode as a form of communication among family and friends, films that exhibit private life to the general public can become anti-home movies—movies that the family to which they refer can’t bear to watch. Santiago has a different ambition. Toward the end of the film, the narrator states: “I would like this story to be of my parents and of my brothers, Pedro, Walter, and Fernando. The memory of Santiago and of the Gávea house is ours.” The story of my parents and of my brothers (“dos meus pais e dos meus irmãos”) does not mean that he is telling their stories—although he does do this, barely and indirectly—but that the film is dedicated to them and is meant for them. The film offers itself to the memory of the family in hopes that it can function both as a feature film placed in public display and as an addition to the familial archive.

Visually, the film returns repeatedly to images of the empty house, the monument of the home. Much of Santiago’s reminiscences, produced by the prodding of the filmmaker, revolve around the blissful days of the Gávea home, when the family was whole and the children were young. Now and then Santiago skirts trouble by broaching an inappropriate subject—as in the censured sonnet, or when he muses in passing about the way the happy days in the Moreira Salles home gave way to days of bitterness and silence, or when he recalls having to cancel a birthday trip at the request of “la señora,” or when he says, pithily, that in the Gávea house he was content but surely not happy. Salles does not pursue the dark side of these statements—or at least he does not include any more about them in the final film, which protects its secrets.

Santiago is a home movie unlike any other. Just as the Gávea house works as a monument to the lost childhood home, the film itself functions as a cinematic monument to the home movie that is at its core. As archon, Salles negotiates and reinstalls borders between the public and the private, using the strong restraint of propriety to never breach the privacy of his family. The butler is an ideal subject for this negotiation between the public and the private, as he is both within and without the family, a liminal barrier between spheres whose integrity the filmmaker will not violate. Thus, the film works not only with the poetics of trace (mourning actual losses brought about by the passage of time) but also with an archival logic of omissions and absences that regulate what can be said or shown so that nothing violates the memory of his parents or the sensibilities of the filmmaker and his siblings. Doubtless a masterpiece of contemporary Brazilian cinema, Santiago is nevertheless a (p.161) conservative film, aristocratic in its sensibility, as highly protective of an ideal image of the family as is the home mode in its classic form.

The Home Mode and the Sacrificial Economy of Domestic Labor: Doméstica

Recall again the marginal inscription of domestic servants in the familial scene of the home movie segment in Santiago. As Consuelo Lins shows in Babás, this marginal inscription is typical in the familial documentation of domesticity, a fact that reflects the place that housemaids occupy in the domestic space: close at hand but not intimate, included spatially but kept in their place. What if the object of interest of an amateur camera was not the family but the servants gathered on the edges of the scene? What if it was the family that appeared on the edges and in the background of a home movie centered on the figure of the housemaid? This is precisely what occurs in Gabriel Mascaro’s Doméstica, one of the most innovative experiments in recent Brazilian cinema and a film that complicates the position of the archon and many of the representational patterns of the home mode and the documentary alike.

To make his film, Mascaro placed ads in several schools inviting teens to participate in the making of a documentary about housemaids. He never met with the students directly, which suggests that he wished to keep his distance from the process of production, saving his authorial intervention for the editing and postproduction stage. Be that as it may, Mascaro’s assistants interviewed over a hundred volunteers from which ten were selected (though only seven were included in the finished film). The teens chosen lived in homes with domestic employees who had been living and working there for fifteen or sixteen years, roughly the entire lives of the teens. The teens were asked to film their live-in housemaids for one week. The ten selected participants were given kits containing a camcorder, a tripod, and a microphone as well as several guidelines that would direct their otherwise independent videographic choices during the week-long period of shooting. These guidelines, which Mascaro was generous enough to share with me, included many interesting points. One of the first is: “[T]he candidate needs to know that the film’s subject is not only the housemaid but also the videographer.” In other words, the portrayal of the “other” must entail the portrayal of the self. Voice is of interest, another point states, adding that the interview is a valid but not the only available resource: “Pay attention to when your housemaid speaks to someone else on the telephone, the interphone, with your sibling, or with your parents.”

Mascaro seems interested in the tensions that the filmmaking experiment might generate. On the issue of the housemaids’ consent (necessary for their inclusion in the film), one instructional point states: “Even the difficulty in convincing [the housemaid] to participate can be something very interesting (p.162) to film. The important thing, in this case, is to show the drama of convincing her to participate and the drama of her refusal.” The instruction, which presumes that the filming would already be occurring when the teen asks the housemaid to sign the permission form and even betrays the hope for the occurrence of an initial refusal, is counting, nevertheless, on the teens’ ultimate success in imposing their will on their housemaids (interestingly, the only example of this permission request scene occurs in the last episode, which shows the housemaid’s timid but prompt acquiescence). If one notes a certain cruelty in the desire to instill tension and drama in relation to consent, this may be because Mascaro’s project is overtly interested in conflict: “Every interesting film has conflict,” another instructional bullet point states. “Leave your camera on whenever you perceive an imminent conflict.”

Several of the instructions given to the teens emphasize the importance of the unexpected, of that which escapes control or forethought—pointing them toward an understanding of film as a technology that can capture contingencies in the present that will be recognized and appreciated only later. Thus, long takes are encouraged and the teens are urged to “keep one eye on the camcorder’s visor and another on the surrounding space,” “to take advantage of unexpected and accidental situations,” and even “to seek out these ‘accidents.’ ” “Happenstance is the God of filming,” states another point. Finally, the teens are told to delete absolutely nothing. They are welcome to reshoot scenes, but they must include everything they record—trusting Mascaro and his team to select the best of what they filmed. These instructions are broad enough to grant the participants a degree of creative freedom while keeping that freedom within bounds.42 After the week of filming, Mascaro was given a hundred and twenty hours of rough material from which he would make the seventy-five–minute film.

The footage from which Mascaro constructed his film is of interest not only because of the object of its gaze—the live-in housemaids—but also because of the perspective it mobilizes—that of the teens. The teens occupy a unique position in the home and in its domestic relations, placed as they are somewhere between the authority of their parents and that of the housemaids, adults who have in effect raised them.43 Biographically, they are at a hinging point of their lives, on the verge of moving from childhood to adulthood, from dependence to autonomy, from obedience to the exercise of authority as privileged members of society.

For the teens, bonds of affection are melded into relationships of power. Live-in maids, as I have noted, are internal others who are part of the household but not an actual member of the family. These long-term employees, however, unavoidably become entwined in the affective life of those whom they serve, causing confusion about the nature and the terms of this relationship. The exploitative nature of the relationships between employing families and their servants, while remitting to the colonial past and determined not (p.163) only by economic inequality but also by race and gender, is often masked by relationships of affect. “Ela é como se fosse da família” (“She is like part of the family”) is a recurring phrase in Brazil, which is amply illustrated by Anna Muyleart’s recent international success, the fictional drama Que horas ela volta (Second Mother, 2015).44 Placing emphasis on the affective and the informal may be heartfelt, but it masks the socioeconomic, hierarchical, and even violent dimensions of the relationship between families and housemaids. Sergio Buarque de Hollanda’s concept of the “cordial man” (“homem cordial”) names precisely the tendency to interpret and deal with what is public (such as labor relations) in terms of what is private (affect, intimacy, family)—a tendency ingrained in Brazilian culture, Buarque de Hollanda argues.45 One of Brazil’s founding myths, notes Marilena Chauí, is the myth of its “non-violence, that is, the image of a generous, cheerful, sensual, and supportive people, who are untouched by racism, sexism, and machismo.”46 The potency of this myth is manifested in the fact that domestic servitude only became fully regulated by labor laws in 2013, and the legal change met with significant resistance from conservative sectors of society, who felt that the legislation violated the sphere of private, domestic relations and formalizes what is best left informal. Part of this defense of informality is affect—such as the notion that the housemaid is almost family. My point is not to dismiss the possible sincerity of affective bonds that may develop between families and housemaids but only to place these bonds in a broader context—one that is attentive to other ties that bind together these disparate social subjects. Mascaro’s choice of using the perspective of teens, kids who were in effect raised by the women they are now filming, serves to put on display the imbroglio of affective bonds with socioeconomic exploitation in a relationship that has always been a locus of confusion between the public and the private.

Mascaro’s choice of teens as videographers also results in a degree of instability in the film regarding issues of authorship and authorial control, the distribution of visibilities and invisibilities in domestic space, and the appropriate generic registers that should inform image production in this social-experimental context. Who occupies the position of the author or archon in this film? There is no doubt that Mascaro has ultimate control. But the film’s mode of production functions to diffuse authorship by making each teen the independent documentarian of his or her own segment. Mascaro repurposes the footage of others—and this footage comes imbued with the elusive intentions of others, what Jamie Baron calls “intentional disparity.” Also, apart from the director’s instructions, the teens are told nothing about how they should go about their unusual task. As a social as well as a filmic experiment, then, the making of Domésticas reorients the teens’ habitual patterns of attention and rearranges their understanding of foreground and background in their home life and home mode images alike. Given all the factors that promote instability, pushing the participants into uncharted territories, it is perhaps not surprising (p.164) that Doméstica does not fall fully within the scope of a single genre. Surely it is a documentary film, but, as critic Fábio Andrade notes, from moment to moment Doméstica emulates multiple generic registers such as ethnography, tragicomedy, Bildungsroman, the exploitation film, melodrama, and even mystery—the latter suggested by one teen’s stealth-filming of her housemaid’s nocturnal habits.47 Andrade does not mention the home video or the home mode, the generic referent evoked most consistently throughout by the film’s amateur footage in the domestic and familial setting.

Genre can be understood here not just in regard to filmic conventions but also to social relations. The word refers primarily to conventions and systems of orientation that are shared by cultural producers and consumers. Christine Gledhill proposes that genres provide “a public space of social imaginings within a culturally aesthetic framework.”48 Extending the reach of the concept, we can think of genres as patterns of organization of social experience that can be rendered in the aesthetic and narrative form (including the production of cultural texts, filmic or otherwise) but that also obtain in social life. Relying on repetition, recognition, and familiarity, genres mediate between viewers and texts as well as between desires/expectations and concrete situations/problems. Genres can simplify an otherwise unruly world, allowing us to feel that we know how a person or a character is supposed to act, what desires can or cannot be fulfilled, what mood or tone is appropriate, what can be made visible and what cannot, and ultimately how scenes (aesthetic or social) should unfold or resolve. It is with this in mind that Lauren Berlant suggests that genres are “affective contracts” and that their manifestation is utopian insofar as it amounts to a mastery over the symbolic that stands in sharp contrast to the frayed ends and blurry contingencies of actual life.49 If Doméstica seems to drift from one generic territory to another, as if the unsure teens were grasping for the proper register and for conventions that could inform their documentary exercise, it is because the participants in this experiment have themselves been dislodged from the generic patterns that structure their everyday lives and relationships within the domestic space. The generic flickering noted by Andrade is symptomatic of an experiential situation that no readymade genre can sufficiently mediate, a “social imagining” that has no established cultural “aesthetic framework,” to borrow Gledhill’s terms.

The most fertile generic interactions in the film occur between the home mode, which is continuously made present through the style and setting of the film, and melodrama, which emerges occasionally from the housemaids’ contribution. As “social imaginings” and “aesthetic frameworks,” the home mode and melodrama have profound affinities, though the narrative expectations they generate are opposite from one another. Both dwell in the domestic and private sphere and in intimate emotional relationships. To be sure, the term “melodrama” is ample and difficult to define. Gledhill suggests that the “melodramatic” is not so much a genre as it is a mode that plays a role in (p.165) almost every narrative genre. The sense in which I am using the term refers to expressions of sentimentality and heartbreak resulting from romantic and familial disappointments and ruptures. The “women’s film,” as a subset of Hollywood melodramas are often called, works with plots that are antagonistic to the idealizing home mode in its classic form. If the latter traffics in positive records of family and private life, moments in which the familial project thrives and confirms itself, the former deals in disillusions and frustrated hopes about intimacy, resulting in expressions of emotional distress and excess. As Thomas Elsaesser notes, speaking of Douglas Sirk’s films, melodramatic plots “revolve around family relationships, star-crossed lovers and forced marriages. The villains (often of noble birth) demonstrate their superior political and economic power invariably by sexual aggression and attempted rape, leaving the heroine no other way than to commit suicide.”50 Elsaesser’s observation is useful if we think of the role of domestic servants, women of color who indeed have been frequent victims of sexual abuse and whose romantic and familial projects are often sacrificed in the fulfillment of their obligations to the domestic well-being of others. Of course, the housemaids of Mascaro’s film may have no familiarity with Douglas Sirk or with the “women’s film,” but they are no strangers to melodrama, as it not only infuses the television soap operas and romantic popular music that they consume but also finds expression in the often-tragic plots of their frustrated romantic and familial lives.

In a scene that illustrates the irruption of melodrama through the housemaid’s participation, we see Vavá, the family’s driver as well as its maid, taking two teenagers to school. Neto, the teen in charge of filming this segment, films her during the drive until they arrive at their destination and then, surprisingly, hands the camera to her. Vavá then films the teens leaving the car and places the camera on the dashboard, at which point there is a cut. The following shot shows her driving the car, seemingly absorbed in her own thoughts, singing along to a song by Reginaldo Rossi, one of Brazil’s most popular romantic singers: “Now I need to cool my head/ To uproot love before it grows/ So that I will never suffer or cry again” (“Agora preciso esfriar minha cabeça/ Cortar o mal do amor antes que cresça/ Pra nunca mais sofrer e nem chorar”). It is worth noting that the genre of melodrama evoked here is not derived from the silver screen but from popular music. Vavá taps into the musical genre known in Brazil as “brega,” which is characterized by romantic themes and popular appeal and that has been historically deemed by the cultural elites to be of poor taste (the noun can literally mean “poor state” and “unrefined”). As another popular singer of this genre once stated, “to be in love is to become ridiculous.”51 Vavá appropriates with ease the emotional excess of the genre. She not only sings the words, which she knows by heart, but interjects comments such as “it is hard to love without being respected and valued.” The scene is flooded with pathos and she appear to be on the verge of weeping. Note the degree of authorial ambiguity that ensues—including the fact that her (p.166) complaint about respect and value, ostensibly referring to heartbreak, could resonate in more than one situation. It is also unclear to whose desires Vavá is responding by filming herself here, though it would be reasonable to presume that the teen asked her to document herself. This, however, would not account for the emotional intensity of the scene, which surely goes beyond anything the teen might have requested. The scene raises questions about the extent to which the moment captured is spontaneous or whether it is self-consciously directed to the camera. Mascaro’s editing only accentuates the uncertainty as the cut at the beginning of the scene is an indeterminate temporal ellipsis. We are left unsure about the duration of the shot. Though the camera could have been left on for long enough for Vavá to forget its presence, I find it easier to believe that this is not a moment of spontaneous expression but a conscious performance of melodrama. From this perspective, Vavá is taking momentary charge of the filmmaking task and fashioning her own image, appropriating the direction of the film just as she appropriates Reginaldo Rossi’s lyrics. Moved by designs of her own, Vavá directs a surplus of emotion at the camera and at the displaced gazes it represents—including those of the teen, of Mascaro, the director whom she never met, and of a future viewing public. My point is not that the feelings she exhibits here are false but that they are theatrical, dramatically performed, and delivered with enough savvy so as to leave us unsure about whether the display is naïve or contrived. Regardless of which assumption one makes, Vavá engages with popular dramaturgies of sentimentality, adding a melodramatic inflection to the surface of the documentary image.

Charged with intentional ambiguity, this film stages many micro-negotiations over meaning and mood, over forms of looking and being looked at. Another particularly interesting scene shows a Jewish family during a Shabbat dinner with the housemaid, Dilma, sitting on the left of the father, who is at the head of the table. Next to Dilma sits the teenager responsible for this segment. The stationary camera is placed so as to render the family’s Friday ritual in one long take. The father performs the prayers to sanctify the Challah bread before he tears pieces from it, which he distributes, starting with the woman on his right (presumably his wife, who is almost entirely left out of the frame), then to Dilma, and finally to the rest of the family. But this is no ordinary Shabbat: It is the first time that Dilma participates in the ritual, and the family is solicitous in explaining the rites to their guest, including fine points such as the tricky task of beginning by sanctifying the wine without offending the bread, which “takes precedence over all things,” notes the father. In the scene that precedes this one, we see Dilma making the Shabbat Challah, as she presumably has done during the fifteen years she has worked for this family. There is nothing extraordinary in the fact that Dilma has never before been invited to the table. The fact that she is not Jewish could perhaps provide a reason. More importantly, though, not eating with domestic servants is the norm and is part of the social segregation of domestic space that is even (p.167) manifested architecturally. Brazilian homes and apartments typically have separate service entrances, elevators, and bathrooms. Even modest, middle-class apartments are likely to include housemaid’s quarters, which are adjacent to the kitchen rather than to the family’s living space.52 This architecture is a compact version of the distribution of spaces that obtained in households of the pre-Abolition period—where there was both contiguity and separation between the plantation house and the slave quarters and the kitchen figured as a particularly fertile space of mixture and contact (as argued by Gilberto Freyre in his classic1933 essay about the formation of Brazilian culture).53 Another reason why the family may not have invited Dilma to the table before is the fact that this family has other servants. This is indicated by an earlier shot that makes brilliant use of depth of field (Fig. 5.3). In the foreground, Dilma is seen cooking in the kitchen. In the background, in a service area attached to the kitchen, another domestic worker is seen ironing laundry. As the bodies of these service women are similarly oriented in relation to their domestic tasks, and as their skin, hair, and clothes have similar coloring, the shot’s composition has a disquieting mise-en-abyme effect, suggesting that behind a housemaid, who is herself usually in the background of domestic life, there are still other laboring women—a bottomless pit of female servitude sustaining the household.

Homes, Archives, and ArchonsReworking the “Home Mode” in Contemporary Documentary

Figure 5.3 Still from Doméstica (2012), by Gabriel Mascaro

What is interesting about Dilma’s presence at the table is not the fact that she was not invited before but the fact that she was invited for the first time precisely for this documentary occasion. If in Vavá’s scene the housemaid takes momentary control of the image-making process, here the head of the household reclaims his place as the archon of this nuclear family. In this segment, the family not only occupies the foreground of the film, which is ostensibly (p.168) centered on the housemaid, but also stages an ideal image of itself in line with the dominant logic of the home mode. Through this dinner scene, which was provoked by the making of the film, the family crafts a flattering image of itself that is in accord with the mythic self-image of Brazil as a non-violent, generous, non-discriminatory place.

Doméstica’s oblique dialogue with the home mode becomes particularly poignant in the last segment of the film, which culminates with one of the housemaids, Lucimar, leafing morosely through the family’s photo album. What is most revealing in this segment is the fact that the relationship between Lucimar and the teen’s mother, Fernanda, predates by several decades her fifteen-year-long employment. Felipe, the teen in charge of the camera, appears to be disturbed by the realization of this older family history, which he explores in several scenes, including interviews with each of the women. Fernanda tells him that Lucimar was the daughter of the caretaker of her great-grandmother’s farm, a place she often visited as a child. Fernanda has known Lucimar ever since she can remember and could say her name (“Ushimar”) even before she could properly speak. Whenever she visited the farm all she wanted was to play with Lucimar, who was four years older and her best friend. “I never thought she would work for us,” Fernanda says. But when their former housemaid quit unexpectedly, leaving the couple desperate to find a maid to care for their toddler and infant, a relative mentioned that Lucimar needed work. “In the beginning it was hard,” the mother continues, “because I had to assert myself as her boss. And here was Lucimar, my childhood best friend!” Following this interview, there is a segment in which Felipe films his belongings in his bedroom, panning the camera until it shows an open family photo album. The camera moves past two photographs of a boy (most likely himself) and then stops to linger on photographs of Fernanda and Lucimar as children. In one of them, the girls share a doll, each holding one of the doll’s hands, sister-like in picture-perfect harmony despite their contrasting skin colors and disparate social classes (Fig. 5.4). The doll is closer to Fernanda—and is perhaps her doll which she is somewhat sharing with Lucimar. The picture is an uncanny foreshadowing of the way the two girls will later share Felipe—Fernanda’s son who was cared for by Lucimar.

Homes, Archives, and ArchonsReworking the “Home Mode” in Contemporary Documentary

Figure 5.4 Still from Doméstica (2012), by Gabriel Mascaro

These shots of the album suggest that Felipe is disturbed by the turn of events that transformed his mother’s childhood best friend into their live-in, uniformed maid. What he may not realize is the way this private history bears the imprint of broader historical processes by which the social hierarchy that places white landowners above the dispossessed descendants of slaves carries over to urban, modern settings, where people of color continue to provide undervalued services to the predominantly white middle and upper classes. Just as Lucimar’s parents lived and worked on the land of Fernanda’s grandmother, she is now the live-in servant of Fernanda and her family in a modern Rio apartment. By paying their servants pittances but providing them (p.169) with living quarters, modern Brazilian families reproduce the hierarchical relationships that existed in the post-Abolition context, when the dispossessed were “free” but without options and often depended on the “generosity” of landowners to survive. This is a generosity that binds the receiver into an informal debt to the giver—and is associated, for instance, with the social figure of the “agregado,” an added-on member of the household who is “almost part of the family.”54 Another word for “housemaid,” which is falling in disuse, is “criada.” The Aurélio dictionary offers three definitions for this noun: “Raised by” (“Que se criou”); “Youth employed in the domestic service”; and “Self-given designation of someone . . . who places himself . . . at the disposition of another.”55 Note the proximity of “raised by” to being “employed in the domestic service” of another. The meanings of the noun betray the confusion between the family-like relations of child-rearing with labor relations involving power and servitude.

To return to Felipe’s footage, shortly after the shots of the photo album in his bedroom, we see his interview with Lucimar, which holds particular importance to the film as a whole, as it is the concluding segment. Here, Lucimar is sitting on her bed and holding the photo album. Felipe asks a number of pointed questions: “Do you like to wear a uniform?” “Does it bother you to wear your uniform when you go out?” Did your relationship with my mother become strange once it was no longer only a relationship of friendship but also of work?” What is remarkable here is the pause-filled, thoughtful way in which Lucimar responds to each question. She says absolutely nothing negative about her life, her job, or her employer. But even if she had wanted to, how could she? Her slow responses seem to me like caution resulting from (p.170) the awareness that she is speaking not only to Felipe but also indirectly to Fernanda, and speaking about Fernanda to communities of viewers beyond this familial scene. “The archive,” Foucault claims in his analysis of the a prioris of discourse, “is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements.”56 Here we are not confronted with the a prioris of intelligible statements but with a consciously negotiated understanding of how power regulates speech, especially when that speech is being recorded. Lucimar may very well be sincere about her generally positive feelings toward her “best friend.” But it is a fact, as well, that her speech is being recorded and she must measure her words. The interview ends with the answer to a question that is elided from the film, but that we presume is, “Are you happy”? After another pregnant pause, she concludes that her life “is pleasant.” Her statement evokes Santiago’s comment recalling his years in the Moreira Salles home: “I wouldn’t say that I was happy, but content.”

Although all of the housemaids in Doméstica are cautious with what they say, not all are as self-censoring and stoic as Lucimar. This is illustrated by irruptions of various melodramatic plots, by which I mean moments in which the housemaids speak of misfortunes and disappointments in their own romantic or familial lives. These moments present the teens with a disconcerting dosage of emotional excess. When Vavá tells Neto about her son’s drug addiction, we see the teen’s hand reaching in from offscreen and awkwardly touching Vavá’s arm in an inept attempt at consolation. Heart-wrenching stories about sons and husbands punctuate the film and gradually pile up like wreckage at the feet not of Benjamin’s “angel of history” but of a project of family and home. When one maid finishes narrating her experiences with her abusive former husband, a man who literally kept her as a captive and a slave, the overwhelmed teen immediately interjects that at least everything is fine with her current spouse. It is as if the teen hopes to gather up and contain the mess of emotional pain opened up by the maid’s reminiscence. To the teen’s dismay, the maid promptly disabuses her of this notion: Things are not going well with the current husband, although she spares the girl the details. One maid recalls being beaten and kicked in the gut by her spouse when she was pregnant, leading to a bloody miscarriage that nearly killed her. And despite her stoicism, Lucimar’s trajectory from best friend to uniformed servant is the ideal material for melodrama. Another maid recalls the assassination of her son—a story that becomes even more awful when she adds that she had not seen him in the weeks leading up to his death because she was working overtime caring for the teen’s sick grandmother.

The interaction between home mode and melodrama in Doméstica reflects the sacrificial economy of domesticity and domestic servitude in Brazil. The film puts on display a perverse interdependence between sustained and failed projects of love and family. Live-in housemaids labor to keep up the domestic and familial lives of their employers while enduring the parallel ruination of (p.171) their own. The misfortunes of failed romance and domesticity recounted by the housemaids in the film are not only related to their condition as domestic servants but also to the fact that they are women in a patriarchal society. Many are abused by men who see them as valueless possessions—to the point that they perceive their lives as servants to be a desirable refuge from even more blatant forms of abuse that they might suffer at home. Be that as it may, their occupation enforces their absence from their own homes and their distance from their own families and children. In Babás, Lins also suggests this sacrificial logic. She recalls that the nanny who cared for her child for several years could only see her own daughter once a week. Lins guiltily confides that she could not imagine having a job that kept her away from her son in the same manner. In Babás, we see not only images from home mode archives but also newspaper “wanted” ads for housemaids—ads that repeatedly emphasize that they are seeking a woman “sem compromissos” (“without commitments”), which is to say without families of their own. The domestic and familial lives of some are maintained at the cost of the domestic and familial lives of others, establishing a perverse economy that makes itself manifest through Doméstica’s evocations of and interactions between the home mode and the melodrama. These two “socially aesthetic frameworks”57 become like two sides of the coin of the domestic, familial project as it is pursued in a patriarchal, highly segregated and unequal society. (p.172)


(1.) Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981), 27.

(2.) Laura Rascaroli, Gwenda Young, and Barry Monahan, “Introduction: Amateur Filmmaking: New Developments and Directions,” in Amateur Filmmaking: The Home Movie, the Archive, the Web, eds. Laura Rascaroli and Gwenda Young with Barry Monahan (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014), 1.

(3.) Cited in Roger Odin, “The Home Movie and Space of Communication,” in Amateur Filmmaking, ed. Rascaroli and Young, 21.

(4.) Patrícia Machado, “Arquivos íntimos na tela: os filmes de família no documentário Person,” Doc On-Line no. 5 (December 2008): 37, http://www.doc.ubi.pt/05/artigo_patricia_machado.pdf, accessed January 11, 2018.

(5.) James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). See also James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988). For a film-focused discussion of the crisis of ethnography, see Bill Nichols, “The Ethnographer’s Tale,” in Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), 63–91. For a book-length reflection on the exchanges between ethnographic discourse and experimental filmmaking, see Catherine Russell, Experimental Ethnography: The Work of Film in the Age of Video (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999).

(6.) Michael Renov, “Domestic Ethnography and the Construction of the ‘Other’ Self,” in Collecting Visible Evidence, eds. Michael Renov and Jane Gaines (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 141.

(7.) I am referring here to Nader’s 2008 Pan-Cinema Permanente (about the poet Waly Salomão) and the 2015 film A Paixão de JL (The Passion of JL, about the artist José Leonilson); Rocha’s 2008 film Acácio (about the Portuguese etnologist Acácio Vieira); and Gaitán’s 2008 Vida (Life, about the actress Maria Gladys). Many other intimate biographical films can be added to this list. See Cláudia Mesquita, “Retratos em Diálogo: Notas Sobre o Documentário Brasileiro Recente,” Novos estudos-CEBRAP no. 86 (March 2010): 105–118.

(8.) Drawing on the memory of cinema, the archival footage is taken from films that documented the resurgence of the labor movement toward the end of the dictatorship. The films are Leon Hirszman’s O ABC da Greve (ABC of a Strike, 1990), Renato Tapajós Linha de montagem (Assembly Line, 1982), and João Batista de Andrade’s Greve! (Strike! 1979). Peões has a companion film, João Moreira Salles’s Entreatos (Intermissions 2004), which also illustrates the documentary’s turn to private life even as it approaches a major public (p.233) figure in a historic moment. To make this film, Salles followed Lula continuously during the final weeks of the campaign—bringing to mind the tradition of direct cinema illustrated by Robert Drew’s classic depiction of JFK during a presidential campaign in Primary (1960). What is crucial is that Salles’s finished film is made almost exclusively of behind-the-scenes material when Lula is in transit between events, or in hotels, or during what amounts to private times and spaces, when he is outside the public view. Peões and Entreatos were made in coordination and released together to theaters.

(9.) For recent critical evaluations of the essay film, see Timothy Corrigan, The Essay Film: From Montaigne, After Marker (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011) and Laura Rascarolli, The Personal Camera: Subjective Cinema and the Essay Film (New York: Wallflower Press, 2009). João Salles latest film, the superbly well-crafted No intenso agora (In the Intense Now 2017), which was released after I finished drafting the chapters for this book, provides an outstanding example of essayistic work on the borders of the public and the private. Made entirely with archival footage coupled with the filmmaker’s disarmingly personal voiceover, the film is a meditation on intensely transformative historical moments, such as May of 1968 in Paris and, to a lesser extent, the Prague Spring and protests against the military regime in Brazil during the same period. The film’s reflection is actually propelled and interspersed by amateur footage of China’s Cultural Revolution taken in 1966 by the filmmaker’s mother—which enhances the sense of liminality between the personal and the historical that obtains in this film. Although I cannot explore this here, the aristocratic sense of propriety that this chapter argues is essential for Santiago, also finds expression in Salles’s latest film.

(10.) In addition to the films discussed here, there are many notable examples of films that incorporate amateur footage, such as Marcelo Pedroso’s Pacific (2009), made entirely from amateur images taken by passengers in vacation cruise to the island of Fernando de Noronha, on the Northeastern coast of Brazil. With no voiceover commentary, the film is an audiovisual plunge into the perspectives of the vacationers rendered in images that are at once familiar (as the amateur records of a vacation) and strange (as a result of the images’ dislocation from the private to the public sphere). Pedroso’s highly original film consists in an immersive, sensory, non-verbal ethnography of a class-specific form of leisure and consumption. I will discuss other uses of amateur, home mode images in chapter 6.

(11.) Patricia R. Zimmermann, “Introduction. The Home Movie Movement: Excavations, Artifacts, Minings,” in Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories, eds. Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 18.

(12.) Susan Aasman, “Saving Private Reels: Archival Practices and Digital Memories (Formerly Known as Home Movies) in the Digital Age,” in Amateur Filmmaking, eds. Rascaroli and Young, 245–256.

(13.) See for instance his film Maelstrom—A Family Chronicle (1997), which approaches history from the perspective of the home footage of a Jewish family living in Netherlands during the 1930s. For a critical discussion of Forgács’ work, see Bill Nichols and Michael Renov, eds. Cinema’s Alchemist: The Films of Péter Forgács (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011).

(14.) Richard Chalfen, Snapshot Versions of Life (Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Press, 1987). See also Patricia Zimmerman, Reel Families: A Social History of (p.234) Amateur Film (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995) and James Moran’s There’s no Place like Home Video (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).

(15.) Vivian Sobchack, “Lounge Time: Postwar Crisis and the Chronotope of Film Noir,” in Refiguring American Film Genres: History and Theory, ed. Nick Brown (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 130. Note that although primarily based on the domestic setting, the home mode also includes forays into public space through occasional public celebrations, holidays, and tourism. For an innovative filmic repurposing of amateur images see Marcelo Pedroso’s Pacific (2009), a film made exclusively with images taken by tourists during a cruise in northeastern Brazil.

(16.) Michelle Citron, Home Movies and Other Necessary Fictions (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 5.

(17.) Zimmermann, Reel, 134.

(18.) Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 35.

(19.) See especially Citron, Home Movies.

(20.) See Roger Odin’s “The Home Movie,” 16.

(21.) Barthes, Camera, 8.

(22.) Citron, Home Movies, 8.

(23.) Moran, There’s no Place, 41.

(24.) That said, the publicity targeted at consumers of amateur technology remains family centered. A 2007 marketing pitch by Sony electronics states familiar themes: “Your trip to Paris. Your child’s first steps. College graduation. Life is full of moments that are worth remembering. There’s no better way to capture those moments than with a Sony Handycam® camcorder.” Cited in David Buckingham, Maria Pini, and Rebekah Willett. Home Truths? Video Production and Domestic Life (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2014), 13–14.

(25.) Roger Odin, “Reflections on the Family Home Movie as Document: A Semio-Pragmatic Approach,” in Mining the Home Movie: Excavations in Histories and Memories, eds. Karen L. Ishizuka and Patricia R. Zimmermann (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 258.

(26.) Citron, Home Movies, 22.

(27.) Citron, Home Movies, 18.

(28.) Perhaps there is no greater example of this than Gilberto Freyre’s classic Casa-Grande & Senzala (Rio de Janeiro: Editora Record, 1998 [1933]). For a recent and thoughtful discussion of domestic servitude in Brazilian culture see Sonia Roncador, Domestic Servants in Literature and Testimony in Brazil, 1889–1999 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

(29.) For the incorporation of the archive and archival gestures in contemporary art, see Ernst Van Alphen, Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media (London: Reaktion Books, 2014).

(30.) Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia (New York: Basic Books, 2001), xiii.

(31.) The house was designed in 1948 by Olavo Redig de Campos and built in 1951 with the collaboration of Roberto Burle Marx. At the time of construction, Walter Moreira Salles was an ambassador and the house was meant to be not only a family home but a place for hosting receptions and entertaining public figures and foreign dignitaries. See Guilherme Wisnik, “Casa Walther Moreira Salles,” IMS (blog), May 6, 2011, http://www.ims.com.br/ims/instituto/unidades/rio-de-janeiro, accessed 11, 2018.

(32.) The piece is titled “Dekalog VII, Part 7” and is part of the soundtrack for Kristoff Kierslowsky’s TV series “Dekalog.”

(33.) The explanations, however, do not exhaust the meaning of the segments. For instance, the two segments are from films that were released roughly around the time João Salles’s parents moved into their new house in the early 1950s to start a family. These clips put on display a cinephilic nostalgia that appears to be chronologically linked to the filmmaker’s nostalgia for his family’s home and history.

(34.) Dominick LaCapra, “Trauma, Absence, Loss,” Critical Inquiry 25, no. 4 (Summer 1999): 697.

(35.) Ilana Feldman, “Na Contramão do Confessional: O Ensaísmo em Santiago, Jogo de Cena, e Pan-Cinema Permanente,” in Ensaios no Real: O Documentário Brasileiro Hoje, ed. Cezar Migliorin (Rio de Janeiro: Azouque Editorial, 2010), 149–168.

(36.) Louise Spence and Vinicius Navarro, Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning (New Brunswick: Rutgers Universtiy Press, 2011), 61.

(37.) A documentary filmmaker himself, Escorel is also the editor of many masterpieces of Brazilian cinema, from the Cinema Novo period to the present, including fiction and documentary works, among them: Glauber Rocha’s Terra em Transe (1967), Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Macunaíma (1969), Leon Hirszman’s São Bernardo (1971) and Eles Não Usam Black-tie (1981), and Eduardo Coutinho’s Cabra Marcado Para Morrer (1984).

(38.) Eduardo Dieleke and Gabriela Nouzeilles, “The Spiral and the Snail: Searching for the Documentary—An Interview with João Moreira Salles,” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies 17, no. 2 (August 2008): 141–142.

(39.) Jaimie Baron, The Archive Effect: Found Footage and the Audiovisual Experience of History (New York: Routledge, 2013), 17–30.

(40.) Jean-Claude Bernardet, “A migração das imagens,” in Documentário no Brasil: tradição e transformação, ed. Francisco E. Teixeira (São Paulo: Summus, 2004), 69–80.

(41.) Dieleke and Nouzeilles, “The Spiral,”144.

(42.) This form of audiovisual production, which uses invented rules to establish parameters of image production that place cinema and the real in interaction with one another, has been discussed by Brazilian critics as “filmes de dispositivo” (dispositif or “apparatus” films, as dispositif was translated into English). “Filmes de dispositivo” are defined by “a productive, active, creative procedure that produces realities, images, worlds, sensations, perceptions that did not pre-exist the production of the film,” writes Consuelo Lins. In Doméstica the presence of the camera in the home and the teens’ task of recording is productive of new realities, altering the world as part of its own production process. Consuelo Lins, “O filme-dispositivo no documentário brasileiro contemporâneo,” in Sobre fazer documentários (São Paulo: Itaú Cultural, 2007), 44–51. Another notable example of a “filme-dispositivo” that also involves the production of amateur footage and deserves mention here, in Rua de mão dupla (Two Way Street 2002) Cao Guimarães enlists six strangers in the city of Belo Horizonte to switch apartments for 24 hours, each in possession of a camcorder. They are asked to film whatever they wish and, at the end of that period, to construct an image of the absent stranger based on the apartment and the ordinary objects found there. A meditation on urban solitude and a sort of participatory archaeology of the material stuff of ordinary life, the film presents the strangers’ images simultaneously by splitting the screen into two adjacent halves. Rather than a documentary about the existing world, Rua and other “filmes-dispositivo” are experiential experiments that place, through a set of (p.236) invented production rules, reality and filmmaking into a mutually generating arrangement. For a lengthier discussion of Rua and other relatable films, see Gustavo Procopio Furtado, “Where Are the ‘People’ The Politics of the Virtual and the Ordinary in Contemporary Brazilian Documentaries,” in Latin American Documentary Film in the New Millenium, ed. Michael J. Lazzara and María Guadalupe Arenillas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016), 115–131.

(43.) Fabio Andrade, “Dramaturgia imponderável,” Revista Cinética, May 16, 2013, http://revistacinetica.com.br/home/domestica-de-gabriel-mascaro-brasil-2012/, accessed September 24, 2015.

(44.) See also Alice Riff and Luciano Onça’s short film Como se fosse da família (2014), which deals with the stories of two families and two long-term, live-in maids.

(45.) Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, Raízes do Brasil: edição comemorativa 70 anos (Rio de Janeiro: Companhia das letras, 2006).

(46.) Marilena Chauí, Between Conformity and Resistance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), 158.

(47.) Andrade, “Dramartugia.”

(48.) Christine Gledhill, “Rethinking Genre,” in Reinventing Film Studies, ed. Christine Gledhill and Linda Williams (London: Arnold, 2002), 232.

(49.) Lauren Berlant, The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 219–220 and 259–260.

(50.) Thomas Elsaesser, “Tales of Sound and Fury,” in Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film and Television Melodrama, ed. Marcia Landy (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991), 70.

(51.) Perhaps because cultural elites have become self-conscious about the class prejudice that equates “bad taste” and “popular taste,” brega music has started to acquire a “hip” status in some circles. Ana Rieper’s documentary Vou rifar meu Coração (I Will Raffle Off My Heart, 2012) is part of the re-appraisal of the genre. I take the phrase “to be in love is to become ridiculous” from the singer Wando, who participates prominently in Rieper’s film.

(52.) For an essay on contemporary architectural forms of social segregation, see Teresa P. R. Caldeira, “Fortified Enclaves: The New Urban Segregation,” Public Culture 8, no. 2 (Winter 1996): 303–328.

(53.) See Freyre, Casa-Grande & Senzala.

(54.) For the figure of the “agregado,” see the analysis of Machado de Assis by Roberto Schwarz, “As Idéias Fora do Lugar,” in Ao vencedor as batatas: forma literária e processo social nos inícios do romance brasileiro (São Paulo: Duas Cidades, 2000), 10–31.

(55.) Novo dicionario Aurélio. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Nova Fronteira, 15th Edition.

(56.) Michel Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), 129.

(57.) Gledhill, “Rethinking,” 232.