EXCLUSIVE: Walter Salles will direct and Mariana Lima will star in I’m Still Here, based on Marcelo Rubens Paiva’s best-selling memoir about his mother Eunice Paiva, a housewife forced to reinvent herself as an activist when her husband fell victim to the military regime that took control of Brazil in 1964. Her husband became among many who were tortured and disappeared with no due process.
Mariana Lima, one of Brazil’s most acclaimed actresses with credits that include Dark Days and Father’s Chair, will play Paiva. Murilo Hauser, who scripted the 2019 Un Certain Regard winning-Invisible Life, adapted the screenplay, with Salles overseeing the development process.
Videofilmes, Mact, and RT Features are producing.
The film is set to begin production in Brazil early next year, with Library Pictures International providing financing. CAA Media Finance will broker domestic distribution while Wild Bunch is handling international sales, excluding Brazil. The sellers will introduce the project via an in-person presentation to buyers at the Cannes Market. Globoplay, Grupo Globo’s streaming platform, is in final negotiations to be executive producers, and to acquire all Brazilian rights.
The author was 11 when his father, leftist congressman Rubens Paiva, was dragged off for interrogation by the military, this after he returned from exile. He was never seen again. His wife campaigned relentlessly to find his whereabouts, at a very dangerous time when Brazilian was controlled by military dictatorship. Eunice Paiva was arrested along with her husband and held in a dark cell for 12 days before taking on her new role, which would become a race against Alzheimer’s Disease. While she was still able, she got to the bottom of her husband’s disappearance and made sure the records of events were recorded to be shared with future generations. It was concluded by the National Truth Commission that her husband had been tortured to death for receiving letters from leftist organizations. The tragic history of torture in Brazil came to light recently when Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro waxed nostalgic for the days when the military dictatorship was in place, much to the outrage of many.
To Salles, who grew up in Brazil and watched the country change from dictatorship to democracy, telling the story of the saga of the Paiva family was a personal mission he has spent four years on. It was also a story he closely observed because he was friends with the Paiva family.
“Most of my personal projects required very long development processes, back to Central Station, which was five years, and Motorcycle Diaries was four,” Salles said. “None took as much time as this one that I in part was a witness to when I was 13 years old,” Salles told Deadline. “What triggered to it was the emotion I felt when I read the book, written by this friend of mine, Marcel. He was one of the five kids of the family he described in the autobiographical book that is truly about this completely normal family composed of father, mother and kids from nine to 16. They had this rich life with friends, levity, humor and a light that made a lot of us gravitate around their house. One day, the unexpected happened when the father was taken to the military headquarters for an interrogation. No one in that moment knew that was the last time they would see him again. This coincided with a moment of this Brazilian totalitarian regime, where things started to become extremely violent, and where there was censorship and torture.”
Salles said he prepped I’m Still Here in relative secrecy, he knew from moment one that he wanted Lima for his protagonist.
“Mariana is an extraordinary theater actress, and one of the most sensitive film actresses of her generation in Brazil,” Salles said. “We’ve talked about collaborating, but I waited to find the role that could truly benefit from her extraordinary talent to give birth to this character. I thought of her since the very beginning, because of her unique talent and the economy she has in transmitting the emotional core of a character and a story. [Eunice Paiva] had to build an internal fortress to survive, but you could sense the trauma she went through. Marina is the actress to best portray this role. I most like movies where the arc of the main character somehow reflects the arc of the country itself as it goes through a specific period of time and tries to determine what it wants to be,” he said. “We had that in Central Station, and we have it here.
“Having known Eunice, her husband and her children, makes this is a very unique project to me,” Salles said. “I never came so close to my own life experience in a movie than this. In that sense, it feels a little like my Roma, in terms of the personal nature of Alfonso Cuaron’s film which I love so much.”
Salles is represented by CAA and Hansen, Jacobson; RT Features by CAA.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.