Fate and fortune
Filhas de Eva (A Woman’s Fate) creators Martha Mendonça and Nelito Fernandes and director Leonardo Nogueira discuss the themes behind this Brazilian production about three women who come together to help take back control their lives.
The only Brazilian series to be screened as part of this month’s Berlinale Series Market, Filhas de Eva (A Woman’s Fate) puts the stories of women front and centre in a story about female empowerment and the role of women in families and friendships.
Across 12 episodes, the Globoplay original series follows Stella (Renata Sorrah), Lívia (Giovanna Antonelli) and Cleo (Vanessa Giácomo), three generations of women with very different lifestyles but who each find themselves trapped by various aspects of society.
After 50 years of marriage, Stella realises she has given up on her dreams in order to be a mother and to be the woman behind a “great man.” In an act of courage, she decides to get divorced. Her daughter Lívia is a famous psychologist who similarly gives up on good opportunities to try to make her jealous and manipulative husband happy. Meanwhile, Cléo is a survivor who struggles against adversities imposed by her social life and does everything to maintain her mother’s happiness.
When the three women come together at Stella’s anniversary party, their lives become connected as they help each other to build, willingly or not, new versions of themselves.
Written by Adriana Falcao, Jo Abdu, Martha Mendonça and Nelito Fernandes, A Woman’s Fate is produced by Globo. Leonardo Nogueira is the artistic director.
Here, creators and showrunners Mendonça and Fernandes join Nogueira to discuss the themes behind the series and how they brought it to the screen.
Please introduce us to the series.
Mendonça: A Woman’s Fate tells the story of three women who break with standards to find happiness. They were trapped by generational, social and psychological ties that made them unhappy. The first one to pull the thread of transformation is 70-year-old Stella, who is filing for divorce after being married for 50 years. Her actions will also open the gates of change in the lives of her daughter Lívia and of a stranger, Cléo. The line that defines the series is: ‘Everybody wants to change. Who’s brave enough to do it?’ Stella was.
Why did you want to tell this story?
Mendonça: The inspiration was an IBGE [Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics] study, published approximately a decade ago, that showed an increase in the rate of divorce among older couples. Shortly after that, a friend’s parents, who were older, also separated – and her mother became much happier after that. That caused me to think of a plot about the new life of a woman who has been married for her entire life and how much that would affect her family and environment.
How do the three protagonists connect with each other?
Mendonça: The obstacle Stella faces is her own husband, the person who shared that story with her, a story she now wants to leave behind. But he doesn’t want that. Using all possible means to prevent her from having any quality of life, he becomes the big enemy of her change.
The challenged faced by Lívia, Stella’s daughter, is an internal one. Raised by parents with a marriage that seemed so perfect, she wants to recreate that model in her own marriage. To do that, she is willing to always give in, putting her own wishes and even her personality aside. Her mother’s separation surprises her and makes her think of her own relationship, and also of the female role model she is presenting to her teenage daughter.
Cléo, the third lead character, connects to the others because she takes the wedding cake to Stella’s 50th anniversary party. Without knowing they are married, she starts a great friendship with Lívia and has an affair with her husband. Contrary to the others, Cléo’s obstacle is more of a social one: a girl from a poor family, without a career; a brother in prison, seemingly without a future.
What themes does the series discuss and how are they portrayed?
Fernandes: Relationships. The women in the series have either an emotional or a financial dependency on their partners and will have to fight to free themselves from it. We also have Dora, Stella’s granddaughter, bringing issues of her generation. These are three generations of women questioning their conditions and fighting for change, each one in her own way.
How did you want to present the story from the perspective of the female protagonists?
Mendonça: Right from the beginning, we wanted the journey of each of them not to be superficial or cliché. For example, Stella wants to reconnect with the young woman she was, who dreamed of freedom of choice, rather than gain any professional or emotional achievement. Yes, she was in love when she married; yes, she had many happy moments; no, she was never the gold standard of a submissive woman. But when she turns 72 after being married for 50 years, she realises she has spent 50 years playing a character she was expected to play.
When, after saying she wants a divorce, her husband asks, ‘What do you want?’ she doesn’t know how to answer. Maybe she draws joy from the fact she cannot answer, because having many possibilities is what is now seductive to her. That is ultimately the great theme of the series: whenever Stella makes a move, it is like a domino piece falling down, taking apart everything she was supporting and balancing.
Lívia also seemingly has everything – a husband, daughter, a successful career. But that doesn’t help with her self-esteem. This is the type of path we want to show: every woman has her own problems, even if they are not apparent.
Leonardo, how did you work with stars Giovanna Antonelli, Vanessa Giácomo and Renata Sorrah in preparation and on set?
Nogueira: The idea was to cast actresses in different stages of life. I had worked a lot with Giovanna and Vanessa, but it was my first time working with Renata because our schedules always previously conflicted. These are actresses with a very high level of understanding of dramaturgy and production and with incredible acting intelligence, which makes the work much easier. They all added a lot to their characters, with ideas and references we kept exchanging.
Renata is more contemplative and, at the same time, very funny and with levity; Giovanna has a lot of strength and power and operates at a higher voltage; and Vanessa brings a delicate and smooth touch to her acting, and is very popular. I gave them a lot of space to create on top of the story. It was a lot of talent in one place.
Where was the series filmed and how are locations used on screen?
Nogueira: We shot in locations in Copacabana, Aterro do Flamengo, Lapa, Santa Teresa, Grajaú, Centro… We wanted to show a less touristy Rio de Janeiro and we chose to present it from the natives’ standpoint, despite the city being beautiful from anywhere you look at it.
What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Nogueira: The greatest challenge was telling a story of daily life in the most natural and familiar way. It may seem simple, being almost a portrait of day-to-day life, but that can be easier to get lost in than when we work with action, suspense or sci-fi.
The series has been selected for the Berlinale Series Market. Why might it appeal to international viewers?
Mendonça: Apart from the specifics of personal stories, there are many common questions, problems, desires and frustrations relevant to all women, wherever they come from. Women also tend to get emotionally involved with the story of other women. It’s a network of empathy and sorority that crosses borders.
Nogueira: I am very curious to see how international viewers will react to the way these three Brazilian women face their challenges. Would they react differently or similarly? I think that’s an interesting point.
A Woman’s Fate is the latest ‘super production’ from Globo. How do you see Brazilian drama and storytelling evolving at home and for international audiences?
Nogueira: We have been making big productions for years for such a wide-ranging audience, in a country with more than 220 million people. We produce the best telenovelas and sell them to more than 100 countries. Our series are in constant evolution, we have incredibly talented actors and audiovisual professionals and the industry will grow ever more.
Our content and individuals have been getting nominated for international awards for many years. Streaming is bringing global entertainment closer, and soon we will be mixing cultures and ways of making and producing through this creative exchange that has already started.