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Review: ‘Casa Grande’s’ message on class and race is blunt but on the mark

Thales Cavalcanti as Jean and Bruna Amaya as Luiza in the movie "Casa Grande."
(Cinema Slate)

The opening shot of the namesake “big house” in Fellipe Barbosa’s “Casa Grande” sets the stage for a Brazilian melodrama that considers the country’s long-standing racial and class divisions, from the perspective of one suddenly struggling aristocratic family.

Thales Cavalcanti stars as Jean, the eldest son of hedge-fund manager Hugo (Marcello Novaes) and his socialite wife, Sonia (Suzana Pires). When Brazil’s weak economy forces Hugo to trim expenses, Jean starts riding the bus, where he meets and falls for a mixed-race student named Luiza (Bruna Amaya).

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Plot-wise, “Casa Grande” resembles one of the more class-conscious John Hughes teen comedies, like “Pretty in Pink.” As Jean’s relationship with Luiza intensifies, it inflames his parents’ prejudices — especially because they’re convinced that the Brazilian government’s redistributive policies are giving the working poor an unfair advantage.

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Style-wise, Barbosa falls on the artier side of world cinema, favoring long takes that give viewers time to take note of every opulent fixture and every superfluous servant in the protagonists’ mansion.

A lot of the social commentary in “Casa Grande” is too blunt — especially anything involving Jean’s inappropriately familiar relationship with the family’s sexy longtime maid. But the movie’s points do translate well. Barbosa skillfully skewers the presumptions of rich folks who presume they deserve all that they’ve gotten, even as they’re squandering it.

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“Casa Grande”

Not rated. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.


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