Desire to Direct
Luiz Henrique Rios, the artistic director of Brazilian telenovela Terra e Paixão (Land of Desire), introduces this epic tale of a young woman’s search for justice and explains how it shows viewers a different side of Brazil.
In the time before streaming, television audiences reaching 32 million people in the UK were reserved for landmark events such as the 1966 World Cup Final and the funeral of Princess Diana in 1997.
But in May this year, that same number of people in Brazil tuned into the opening episodes of Terra e Paixão (Land of Desire), the latest telenovela from broadcaster Globo.
Created by Walcyr Carrasco (Hidden Truths, Sweet Diva) and directed by Luiz Henrique Rios (Total Dreamer), the series is described as a classic story of family drama, disputes and unspeakable secrets set against the backdrop of the Brazilian countryside.
Set in Mato Grosso do Sul, in the fictional Nova Primavera, it begins with Aline (Barbara Reis), a young woman who sees her family cut down by a crime. Fuelled by a desire for revenge, she crosses paths with the family of Antônio La Selva (Tony Ramos), which is divided by ambition and many secrets.
Here, Rios tells DQ how he led the artistic direction on the series, his partnership with Carrasco and the challenge of sustaining tension across more than 100 episodes.
How did you become involved in Land of Desire?
Land of Desire began as an invitation from Zé Luiz Villamarim [Globo’s director of drama] to live a great adventure with Walcyr Carrasco. We built a primetime telenovela for Globo, based on the idea of portraying Brazilian agribusiness and its challenges.
Why did the story or its themes appeal to you?
Land of Desire is a discussion about succession and legacy, understanding succession as the dispute over the ownership of things and legacy as what one leaves for their descendants – not things but values. This discussion between things and the value of things is what seduced me the most. It’s a telenovela for us to talk about what we leave behind – is it goods or values?
What were your initial thoughts about how you would film the project?
After talking a lot, and having read the beginning of the story, Walcyr and I went to Mato Grosso do Sul, where the story takes place. When I got there, seeing the immensity of the plains, the infinity of plantations, that homogenisation of nature, it took me to a place of deep solitude, and I believed the telenovela spoke a lot about this place. The search, the encounter, the search for humanity, for humanisation.
From there, I thought of a camera that was very intimate, a story that would bring the audience a deep intimacy with these characters. That’s the path I took, the path of seeking an intimacy with these characters and this environment that would bring that feeling of warmth, because that place is very hot and the colours are very warm, very vivid, very exuberant. But above all, this is a place that makes people move towards each other.
How did you work with Walcyr?
My meeting with Walcyr was endless happiness. He is a man of profound intelligence, of infinite intuition, but above all a man of dramaturgy. I love dramaturgy, I live and enjoy doing dramaturgy. So my encounter with him has been a very satisfying one, a meeting of much exchange, much searching, much conversation and, I believe, much identity. I think I’m managing to give Walcyr, and he’s managing to give me, a meeting of intentions, desires and soul. But more than anything, what will remain from all this is a great friendship, because he is a very special person, and I am very happy to be developing this relationship with him.
Did you have any other key creative partnerships on the series?
Yes, definitely. I was doing another telenovela when I started preparing and thinking about Land of Desire. And the team that was with me on that project all came to Land of Desire. I have an intense creative partnership with my art director, my costume designer, my set designer, my photographer and my directors – this is a job done by many hands. My path is much more about inspiring such talented people to overcome themselves and to build an environment with me, which I think is working very well – an environment that is not only visual, but dramaturgical, existential and deeply happy.
Does Land of Desire have a specific visual style? How was this achieved?
My idea from the start was to make a very classic telenovela, a primetime telenovela, but with a modern twist where we flirted with the narrative speed of the series and with the intensity of the shots. We have a narrative that seems very simple and direct, but at the same time it has a decoupage that is quite sophisticated, which allows the audience to go into the story, feeling and observing that story and, more than anything, participating in it. I think our idea as a visual construction is a place not to comment on this story, but to experience it.
How do we follow Aline through the story?
This character undergoes a major transformation in the very first episode. The death of her husband, injustice and the destruction of her family transform her into a warrior. She becomes a woman in search of justice, and it is this search, which has the earth as its symbol, that drives her. She is not driven by money or love; she is driven by justice. It is in this heroic struggle that she finds love and fulfilment. Over the course of the series, we’ll see how someone transforms their life into a just life, a true and therefore heroic life.
How do you like to work with actors on a series?
I think my path is one of provocation and exchange. All the time, our work – mine and that of all the directors – is very collaborative. We propose things, we look for frictions and discoveries and we propose that these solutions take place on the scene. We basically work in a place of collaboration, encounter and proposition. And from this path, we reap the rewards, which are the actors being able to give their best in each scene.
Where is the series filmed and how did you use the countryside locations?
Our story is set in Mato Grosso do Sul, a state in the centre-west of Brazil. We filmed in a specific area of Dourados, which is the state’s largest grain-producing region. It’s a place of endless plains – and this story was born there. We basically filmed 20 episodes there and it inspired the entire visual construction of our work, the colour scheme, the language of the lenses and the dynamics of the cameras. It was an inspirational place. After these 20 episodes, we are at Globo’s studios, where we have the scenic cities, as well as nearby farms, in the interior of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, since Mato Grosso do Sul is much further away from us.
What do you enjoy about making long-running telenovelas – and where are the challenges?
The biggest challenge of a telenovela is it’s such a long series. It’s being able to keep a cast and crew motivated, stimulated and challenged to carry out a job like this for almost a year. Maintaining morale and, above all, the desire for discovery are the main challenges.
What I enjoy most about directing is directing the actors. It’s increasingly about giving them a place of difference, where comfort is not given, a place of discomfort so that this unease can reach the audience and thus captivate their interest and their ability to follow such a long story. What really matters is that you surprise the other person and thereby create a different kind of attention and capture that desire and that love.
As the director, how can you try to keep viewers coming back for 120 episodes?
The great challenge of such a long story is maintaining its tension with the audience. As Hitchcock would say, a suspense movie is only suspenseful because every shot, every scene, is suspenseful. A telenovela needs to be new every day, it needs to give the audience the feeling that everything is happening at that moment. The big challenge is to build a place of permanent conquest, permanent challenge, permanent novelty, even if you have a story that moves slowly. The characters have to be intense and moving at the speed the audience wants, which is what will make them stay here, that feeling that it’s new, that it’s interesting, that it’s worth giving my time to.
Why might the series appeal to international viewers?
When we talk of a story about succession and legacy, we’re talking about anywhere in humanity. It’s a discussion about the future. It’s something we’re always discussing. What someone is going to leave to their descendants is a universal story. What’s more, it’s a great saga, it’s a telenovela with a lot of adventure, a lot of intensity, refined humour and, above all, great performances and beautiful scenes. That always interests anyone, anywhere, because it’s about us, about our humanity.
It also touches on something people know very little about in Brazil, which is this Brazil of the modern countryside. Modern Brazil is one of the largest grain-producing countries in the world and this telenovela showcases this place, which is different from the one we usually portray, which is natural and bucolic. It is a Brazil of great transformations, where tradition and modernity collide and produce new questions and new ways of thinking and living. I think the public will see a Brazil that is rarely portrayed.