Carolina Markowicz is an award-winning filmmaker based out of São Paulo, Brazil.
Inspired by true events, her latest short film tells the story of a teenage orphan who is cruelly left isolated for being ‘different’. A sad reflection of harmful and pervading conservative attitudes of the moment.
Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge caught up with Carolina to learn more about this poignant story.
Q: I believe ‘The Orphan’ was inspired by true events. Were you shocked to hear of these accounts or do you feel it is just reflective of conservative attitudes in Brazil and globally?
A: Yes, it was inspired by true events. Not an exact true story of this specific character, but there have been kids adopted and then returned for the reason the film shows. It is shocking to hear about. These tragic situations will always be shocking for me, even being immersed in this conservative wave we have been experiencing.
Q: You beautifully contrast the colourful inner flair of Jonathas (Kauan Alavrenga) with the coldness and emotional ambivalence of his surroundings. Can you tell us about putting together a visual style for the film with cinematographer Pepe Mendes?
A: Myself, Pepe Mendes and Vicente Saldanha (production designer) worked closely together to try to raise this feeling of coldness and also Jonathas’ feeling of never getting to be part of the family that adopted him.
At the orphanage, we tried to aesthetically merge him into his surroundings, in terms of cinematography and palette, because that’s where he actually felt most “at home”. And to demonstrate that, unfortunately, he would eventually return there no matter what he tried to do differently.
It was intense shoot, but very pleasant and collaborative. They are both very talented and were obsessed with finding a tone that would best fit the story. That’s the most important thing to me.
Q: Escape into fantasy is one of Jonathas’ only ways to explore his true self. What would your advice be to young people dealing with similarly repressive surroundings?
A: No matter how hard it is, stay true to yourself. The fight is worth it. Our fight is always worth it.
Q: Kauan Alavrenga is magnificent in the film. How did he standout to you during casting?
A: He is indeed a young genius. He did stand out, he felt very comfortable from the very beginning, and he is so smart and funny. He would say interesting and irreverent comments about what was happening to him, but without ever losing the deep and sad look in his eyes. Jonathas will always have that inside.
Q: Can you tell us about working with Kauan during the film and what you believe he is capable of in the future?
A: As I said earlier, it was a short but intense process. Kauan says he relates to the character a lot. I guess it helped a lot too.
I had the help of an acting coach who assisted me with him in the beginning. Then, we did three or four rehearsals with Julia – who plays his friend. We only did one with the parents as I didn’t want him to feel “close” to them during the shooting.
It was a process that demanded patience and love from all parts, and I was so lucky to have him as well the rest of the cast. He has a beautiful path ahead of him.
Q: ‘The Orphan’ won the Queer Palm at Cannes. Have you had any notable responses to the film at film festivals across the world?
A: Yes, I’ve been very honoured and happy about The Orphan’s path. It has won many awards around the world and screened at festivals such as the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, TIFF, Locarno, AFI, Biarritz, Mar del Plata, Flickerfest and many more. I never expected that.
Q: I’ve been excited to hear about your first feature film – ‘When My Life Was My Life’. What can you tell us about it?
A: It’s a dark humoured look at a peculiar Mafia that hides fugitives in small family houses in the countryside of São Paulo.
It tells the story of Miguel, a former drug lord who starts living in a small house and gets very close to the son of the couple who hosts him. The boy ends up learning great life lessons from Miguel. It’s kind of a cynical look crazy world we are living in and how accustomed we are becoming to it.
It has a really awesome cast confirmed (Cesar Bordon, Maeve Jinkings and Rita Cortese), and we intend to shoot it in the second half of 2019. I can’t wait!
Q: What are your hopes for 2019?
A: I was lucky enough to be invited by producer Dominique Welinski to be part of The Factory, a program that invites five foreigner directors to partner up with local ones. This year, we will shoot in Bosnia and produce a short film that will be screened at the Director’s Fortnight 2019. I’m so happy about it! Right after that, I hope to start the pre-production of my feature.
And of course, I hope that the messages we are trying to spread through cinema could, even for a small bit, help make the world less intolerant and conservative. A less dark place for us all.