Seeking perfection

Seeking perfection

October 10, 2023

The Writers Room

Brazilian telenovela Amor Perfeito (Perfect Love) takes viewers into a fairytale that blends modern themes with a period setting. Writers Duca Rachid, Júlio Fischer and Elisio Lopes Jr explain how they brought the story to the screen.

Love and its many forms are explored in Brazilian telenovela Amor Perfecto (Perfect Love), which centres on a woman who goes against her father to follow her heart.

Hidden Truths star Camilla Quieroz plays Marê, who falls in love with Orlando (Diogo Almeida), but the romance is forbidden by her father Leonel. Then after being tricked by her stepmother Gilda, Marê is framed for her father’s death.

While she is in prison, Marê finds out she is pregnant and, during an escape, gives birth to a boy, but is separated from him. Eight years later, Marê is released and gets out determined to confront Gilda, prove her innocence and find her son, Ângelo – who is actually Marcelino (Levi Asaf), an orphan boy raised by a brotherhood of local monks and priests.

Written by Duca Rachid (Precious Pearl), Júlio Fischer (Araguaia) and Elisio Lopes Jr (Medida Provisória), with artistic direction by André Câmara (Avenida Brasil), the Globo telenovela takes place in the 1940s and is freely inspired by Spanish author José María Sánchez Silva’s Miracle of Marcelino, which was first published in the early 1950s.

Here, the three writers tell DQ about creating Marê’s journey, their writing process together on the long-running series – stretching to 161 episodes in Brazil – and how they sought to blend modern sensibilities with its period setting.

L-R: Elisio Lopes Jr, Duca Rachid and Júlio Fischer

What are the origins of the project?
Rachid: The creation of this project began in 2003, when Júlio Fischer and I wrote Sítio do Picapau Amarelo [Yellow Woodpecker Ranch] together. The story of Miracle of Marcelino has always been very dear to me, as it was the first film I watched in the theatre, the first time I had contact with that dark room and its magic. But as the story didn’t have a ‘plot’ that would fit a telenovela, we had to create it.
The story of Marê and Orlando is completely invented by us, along the lines of a classic serial. Revisiting the synopsis in 2022, we thought of a way to update it, dealing with issues that still exist today, such as racism and sexism. And for this we could count on the indispensable collaboration of Elísio Lopes Jr.

Fischer: Both Duca and I had a strong connection to Miracle of Marcelino. I already had a very strong emotional-spiritual link to the Franciscans, which was born when I wrote a children’s musical that was highly successful on Brazilian stages, The Song of Assisi, which tells the story of the encounter between an orphan boy, who is looking for his missing donkey, and Saint Francis of Assisi. So Marcelino’s story had, for both of us, a strong emotional appeal. Thanks to a desire to retell this story, but in another narrative form with great popular appeal, such as a telenovela, we were motivated to create Perfect Love.

Elísio, why were you interested in telling this story?
Lopes: This is not a story that was originally going to feature black characters. But the possibility of having a period story, which could portray Brazil with more diversity, was a very important factor for me. The media had a narrow view of the country for a long time – a white perspective, and from people who live in the south of the country, which is the richest and whitest region. Period telenovelas contributed a lot to the creation of stereotypes about the role of black people in society, and being able to initiate a new logic, collaborating with new perspectives, challenged me as an author. Shifting the focus of the story to understand the different layers of this country was and is my biggest challenge as a screenwriter.

Orlando and Marê are played by Diogo Almeida and Camilla Quieroz respectively

How do we follow Marê through the series?
Fischer: Marê’s journey is full of great movements and plot twists. At the beginning of the story, she is like a princess from a fairytale, the rich heiress of Leonel Rubião [Paulo Gorgulho]. Then thanks to Gilda [Mariana Ximenes]’s trick, she is thrown into prison for the murder of her father. Upon gaining freedom on parole, she takes her place at the top of the social pyramid, heading her father’s business, but she soon begins to fall into Gilda’s schemes, which will force our heroine to constantly reinvent herself to find her place under the sun. As if that weren’t enough, she and Orlando will also have to defend themselves from Gilda’s constant low blows to try to separate the couple – not simply to harm Marê, but also because, at a certain point, our villain discovers herself madly in love with the doctor. Lots of emotions await Marê during her journey.

Are there certain themes you wanted to talk about?
Lopes: Despite taking place in the 40s, the telenovela features topics that are relevant today. We talk about sexism, and how women can overcome it with unity, solidarity and intelligence. We also look at homophobia and bisexuality, and the people whose lives are affected by other people’s prejudice. The racial issue was also on the agenda, as was the situation of thousands of children who grow up without adequate family support.

Perfect Love comprises 161 episodes

How did you match modern themes and characters with its 1940s period setting?
Lopes: The hurt is the same; what changes over time is the collective. From the moment a woman who suffers violence from her husband realises she can count on other women, that it is not her fault, and that she can talk about it, healing becomes possible. There are always people ahead of their time who bring new thoughts and seek to heal pain. That’s what we talk about.

How would you describe your writing process – is there a writers room or do you work together in a different way?
Lopes: We are three authors. Duca and Júlio started this project, then invited me to share the creation. We work together all the time, deciding the direction of each character’s plot. The amazing thing was how our thoughts complement each other in different ways, so it was absolutely a work of adding and refining ideas. We don’t always agree, but this only made the choices more and more consistent. In addition to the three of us, we had three screenwriters acting as collaborators, to write the dialogue. Then we put the scenes together and gave the episodes their final form. As it is a period piece, we also had a researcher present at all times to support us historically.

What’s the secret to writing a single series over so many episodes – and keeping viewers coming back for the next episode?
Rachid: It’s a very big challenge. You have to be very inventive and create dramatic situations with great impact, using all the resources of the serial, especially with plot twists and strong hooks.

Does Perfect Love have a structural format common in telenovelas, or does this one break the mould in some way?
Rachid: Perfect Love is a classic serial. The novelty comes from the diverse cast – with black characters who are not just there to discuss racism, but exist in different social positions and live their own stories – and the discussion of topics that are always relevant (for better or worse), such as relationships between parents and children and sexism.

How involved were you during production?
Rachid: We were very involved in the production, from choosing the cast, to the soundtrack, opening, art direction and the editing. We worked in close partnership with our director, André Câmara.

Lopes: We watched the episodes before they aired, giving opinions and adjusting things in the narrative while they were still on the editing floor.

Perfect Love’s story is inspired by José María Sánchez Silva’s Miracle of Marcelino

What challenges did you face during development or production?
Rachid: The challenges were many. We had to adapt to new production models and guarantee quality productivity. That’s why we were very close to the direction and production.

Fischer: Writing a telenovela is a combination of challenges that we faced daily in order to create the scripts for a daily production, without losing the freshness and emotion of the narrative. These are challenges that we face with great pleasure and that, instead of exhausting us, make us stronger every day and make us hungrier to tell stories to this daily audience of millions of people.

Lopes: Challenges happen daily. Putting 161 episodes [for the Brazilian version] on air, with space for all the characters, and telling so many stories, demands stamina, attention, creativity and a lot of technique. This was my first telenovela. When writing series or movies, the concerns are very different; after all, the pace and volume are infinitely smaller. The telenovela has an industrial scale, so story planning becomes fundamental to making the scripts viable.

Why might the series appeal to international viewers?
Rachid: The story of Miracle of Marcelino is one of the greatest assets of Perfect Love. This is a story that touched an entire generation. The first movie adaptation in 1955 captured hearts all over the world. Another adaptation, in animation, was made in 2001 (a Japanese production), and in 2010 a new film adaptation was made (a Mexican production). It is a story that lives in the imagination of many people.

Fischer: We were absolutely faithful to the spirit of the book, but at the same time we infused the plot with contemporary issues, such as racial equality and the role of women in society. We are bringing this classic to viewers of any age or part of the world who want an engaging plot that provides a form of entertainment while respecting their sensibilities.

Lopes: Perfect Love is also a telenovela about faith. It’s not about any specific religion; it’s about faith in love. Love is perfect, but we are not, and yet we deserve to love and be loved. I believe the public will understand a lot about the real Brazil – a Brazil with layers, with diversity at all levels – all within a plot full of passionate twists.

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