Three Summers (Tres Veroes)- film review

Now showing at Dendy Cinemas,  Canberra
In Portuguese with English subtitles
94 minutes, Rated PG

Unfolding over the course of three consecutive summers from 2015, this film follows Madá, a fifty-something caretaker for a cluster of luxury beach-side condos owned by a wealthy Rio de Janeiro family.

She invests in a roadside snack kiosk, tends to the every need of her condescending employers, becomes a bystander in a major money-laundering scandal, and eventually launches a new career.

With every turn of events, Madá manages to retain her high spirits, her sense of loyalty to those who deserve it – and an eye for opportunity.

This film aims to highlight the social and economic disparities in Brazilian society through the person of its main character, housekeeper Madá. Ever ebullient and on the lookout for opportunity, Madá is forced back on her wits time and again to keep afloat. She has a finger in many concurrent pies and always seems to come up roses.

At first I thought something was being lost in translation with this film and that I was confused. However, I soon realised that this was not the case; exactly what I perceived was indeed going on. That I felt confusion was perhaps more a function of the way the story was unfolding.

The three years (summers) provide a framework for the evolving tale of Madá and her fortunes. She could be seen as a bit of a grifter but she never does anything actually criminal. She’s forced to be resourceful and hard-working; she’s bemused by the values of the rich people she works for – we see this in her incredulity at the ridiculously priced art object that is worth a year of her salary. The lavish and self-indulgent parties of the young and rich are shoved in our faces (and Madá’s).

But some justice prevails when the police arrive and search the house. While the employer is carted off to jail, Madá teams up with his much more pleasant and law-abiding father, Lira, and they set the house up as an Air BnB to cover their spiralling costs.

Then we leap to the house being used to film an advertisement and Madá is given a chance to tell her story before the cameras – but is it a real story or part of the TV filming or is she playing another role? No matter – we get the picture about the disparity, again.

The social issues broached in Three Summers are certainly significant, but I am not sure that this film does them justice. I found it diffuse. That Madá does get a happy ending of sorts through her relationship with Lira is a satisfying thing. That she shares her fortune with her family in a new year celebration is yet another directorial comment on the essential goodness of the working-class heroine. It’s a bit heavy handed, message always front and centre.

We don’t see many Portuguese language films here, though, and so to have this one is something of an education. And it should be noted that it attracted an international award – Regina Casé (as Madá) for best actress in the Antalya Orange Film Festival 2019.

Thanks to Potential Films for the opportunity to preview the film.