In 2012, the Brazilian Senate approved an affirmative action law for universities, that reserves half the places in the country's prestigious federal universities for black, mixed race and indigenous students. This fresh political climate forms the backdrop of Casa Grande, the first feature by Fellipe Barbosa.
In a wealthy part of Rio de Janeiro, we meet the seventeen-year-old Jean. He lives in a big house with three servants and is about to graduate from a private school. After initial awkwardness, he falls in love with a mixed-race girl he meets on the bus. In this personal bliss, the teenager remains somewhat oblivious to the fact, that the stability of his life around him is slowly disintegrating. His father, a bit of a doofus with the face of an incompetent politician, has lost a significant amount of money in a financial gamble, which puts the family's middle class lifestyle in danger. The new quotas meanwhile will make it difficult to get a place at a good university. Even when one of the servants departs on an "indefinite holiday," the penny doesn't drop.
Barbosa finds an agreeable balance between the political debates about race and class, and the teenage coming of age story (even if Jean doesn't actually come of age and learns little). He uses non-professional teenage actors alongside soap opera stars and never loses is focus on Jean, compellingly portrayed by newcomer Thales Cavalcanti. Casa Grande is an equally engaging and entertaining tale about growing up in contemporary Brazil.