Property

Property (Propriedade) (2022) at Make Believe 2024

Property (Propriedade) screened at Make Believe Seattle 2024

Writer/director Daniel Bandeira’s Property (Propriedade) opens with an onlooker’s phone footage, immediately setting the film in a realist mode, literally at street level. A man stands behind a woman with his arm locked around her neck, and a gun pointed at her head. He is demanding a car and money, and as a policeman tries to coax him to release the hostage, the man is suddenly, graphically shot in the head, and the cop swoops the woman away.

That woman is Tereza (Malu Galli), who is next seen with short-cropped hair, sitting in a large, elegant penthouse with an ocean view. Yet even in this environment of privilege and luxury, she remains a prisoner, rendered so anxious and agoraphobic by the trauma of that earlier incident that she does not even want the glass door opened to the balcony where the family dog sits looking in at her. Tereza certainly does not wish to drive out with her wealthy husband Roberto (Tavinho Teixeira) to their large farm estate in the country, but reluctantly obliges, not least because he has just bought an expensive new armoured car to make her feel more secure. 

To Roberto, Cavalcanti’s Farm is a patrimony and a birthright. Yet the close(ish) crew of workers who live and labour there together also feels invested in the property. After all, they are responsible for its day-to-day to running; they are the ones who have risked, and sometimes sustained, disfiguring workplace injuries; and their blood, sweat and toil have cost them their loved ones and in some cases their very lives. So when they hear that the farm is going to be converted to a hotel and that they will have to leave what they consider their home, possibly without their papers or pay if they have not cleared the debts of their de facto wage slavery with the paymaster Claudio, they decide to ransack the main house and to get their hands on any valuables. It is at this point that Roberto arrives with Tereza, and an already volatile situation quickly escalates into class war.

Soon Tereza will have fled to the relatively safe interiors of the car, with its bulletproof windows, and finds herself under siege and unable to escape. Yet everyone here is trapped within their circumstance, as they are driven to take one extreme action after another to protect their individual or collective interests, with the damage left in their wake often of a collateral kind. Capitalism is the real villain here, using its innate imparities and hierarchies to drive a wedge (or rifle butt, or machete, or pitchfork) between these folk and prevent any social good emerging from the farm’s soil, now become a burial ground. This is an incendiary film of violent confrontations across the social divide, dramatising impossible tensions in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, and refusing to offer pat answers.

Property

“This should’ve never happened,” worker João (Edison Silva) tells Tereza through the impenetrable glass of the car’s window. “We’re good folks. Working people. We’ve been living here forever. Families with children. But we’re desperate, ‘cause your husband’s kicking us out.” Tereza’s response is to honk the horn so that she does not have to hear his pleas. That callous indifference, also shown by the workers as they make themselves at home in the luxurious farmhouse and pretend that they are not engaging together in a calculated act of murder, dramatises a complete collapse of communication between the pampered, sheltered 1% and the impoverished proletariat whose labour enriches them.

Tereza may seek to close herself off, as best she can, to the realities of the outside world, but the forces out there that beleaguer her prove no less happy to bury inconvenient truths. Everyone has a claim to the farmland at the centre of Bandeira’s film – and for all of them, in different ways, property is theft, whether an unearned heirloom, or ground seized by revolutionary violence and sown in blood. Accordingly, like Mariano Cohn’s 4×4 (2019) and Michel Franco’s New Order (Nuevo orden, 2020), Property takes a cold, bleak look at the dialectics of structural inequality, and finds both ugliness and justification on every side. For all here are hostages to the same economic system. 

strap: In Daniel Bandeira’s incendiary feature, a traumatised woman tries to lock herself off from violent class realities on the ground

© Anton Bitel