By Eliana Nzualo (Talent Press Rio)

Joana Mariani’s first full-length film Marias, about faith in the feminine debuts at the Festival do Rio. The result of six years of research, the film shows the practice of a faith common in Latin America, devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Beginning with accounts from several women named Maria, and images of alters, paintings and drawings in honor of the saint, we witness small miracles that have made the patron saint famous. Because the subjects don’t fit the archetype of devotees, the filmmaker avoids easy sentimentalism and religious propaganda.

The photography by Anderson Capuano, with strong composition that captures different qualities of light—in a temple, of a candle or stained-glass window – manages to illustrate the contrast among all the influences that have shaped the figure of the Virgin Mary: African-based religions, indigenous ceremonies, urban legends and, of course, the Catholic church.

The Maria have become a transnational symbol of unity for Brazil, Cuba, Peru, Nicaragua and Mexico. They are an element of Latin-American identity itself. Each Maria represents a prototype of the different women of the region.

More than a film about faith, Marias is, above all, a piece about femininity. The image of Maria reflects values associated with women: maternity, sacrifice, love, justice, healing, courage and warmth.

Throughout the documentary, we see the mother of Jesus as a matriarch. This reinterpretation underscores the daily machismo in the fabric of society. The Latin-American Marias are mothers and strong women, but the challenges they face are many.

Constantly balancing the personal and collective, Mariani explores the forms and myths around the name Maria. Despite differences in the alters, stories and rituals, the Marias are always present in the imagination of the believers. Maria, whether in Guadalupe, Mexico, or Caridad de Cobre, in Cuba, represents the strength of women. A strength that can both create and destroy. A strength that gives life and can take it away.




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