In 1995, under Law 9.140, those persecuted for being involved in political activities during Brazil’s dictatorship (1964-1985) were granted compensation. The law also allowed for the families of those who disappeared after being taken into government custody between 1961 and 1979, to have their loved ones officially recorded as deceased. In São Paulo director Tata Amaral’s latest film, Hoje, the lead character Vera is one of those indemnified family members.
As the widow of one of the disappeared, Vera uses her husband’s compensation to buy an old apartment in downtown São Paulo. This is where we find her, eager to resume a ‘normal’ life, dealing with practicalities like organising her move.
When a man suddenly appears in her apartment, his identity and relationship to Vera are a mystery until it is revealed gradually that he is her husband Luis, who has reappeared after an almost 30 year-long absence.
Hoje is not a drama-filled soap opera. There are no jaw-dropping theatrics during the surprise reunion. The emotions are intense but subtle – words that aptly describe Tata Amaral’s work.
The remainder of the movie is made up of dialogue, memories, sexual tension, and catharsis. The obvious questions are never answered: where had Luis been all this time? How did he find her at the apartment? Amaral creates doubt as to whether Luis has in fact returned, or if his appearance is some sort of psychological manifestation.
Projected images of newspaper clippings on walls add to the narrative layers of the film. The love between Vera and Luis is touching, beautifully portrayed by the talented Denise Fraga. However, in a movie largely centred around the dialogue between two characters, native Portuguese speakers may find the Uruguayan actor César Troncoso’s performance somewhat jarring. Indeed, a non-native speaker like Troncoso seems an odd choice for the role.
Hoje is both powerful and delicate, exemplifying Amaral’s cinematography, which includes Um Céu de Estrelas (1996), Através da Janela (2000) and Antônia (2006).
Set entirely in one location – Vera’s apartment – Hoje has a special type of poetic feel. Occasionally, however, its slow theatrical pace and the pared-down, no-frills look can feel a bit strained. But for fans of slower films, Hoje is an easy-to-digest delicacy.