A soft piano beat fades in as we see portraits of mothers, stern and serious and nearly mythical, transform from images on paper to etchings in their sons’ skin. Many of these women appear with words arched in silky script above their heads: Minha Fortaleza (My Fortress). As drum beats and light guitar strums join the piano, we hear Fernando Macario’s voice as he sings “My mother. My fortress.” The camera pans from a statue of the Virgin Mary to a tattoo just beginning to come to life on a man’s chest, echoing the numerous renditions of these mothers enveloped in the Madonna's garb, haloing them in a saintly light. These images slide into one another as Macario continues to detail how his mother has shaped him, singing over and over: “She’s my fortress, she’s my fortress, my fortress friend.”
NOVA FRONTIER FILM FESTIVAL Treats Mothers As Saints
This documentary, directed by Tatiana Lohmann, follows the lives of a few families living in a favela in São Paulo, Brazil. In this poorer area, it is the norm for fathers to be absent from the majority of their children’s lives. Throughout My Fortress, we see many sons bearing tattoos along the same vein as the ones featured in Macario’s song. Murals of mothers cradling children are painted on the sides of buildings, where these women appear literally larger than life, gazing down over those who walk beneath them. Mothers in this community are undeniably placed on a pedestal, in this writer’s view.
One man, reuniting with his family after being in prison for eight years, stares off into the distance, a darkness cast over him in the shadow of the sun. Wiping tears from his eyes, he says, “My mother is all I have. I love my wife, I love my daughters, but my mother is my mother.” After watching this confession, and many others like it, you too might feel, as this reviewer did, the weight of the praises these sons place on their mothers. Although these tributes come from a place of deep gratitude, we feel a sense of heaviness when recalling the depiction of these mothers as akin to Virgin Mary’s—saints, something more than human.
Sadly, the story continues with a mother wistfully sharing recollections of her life before her identity as mother took over her entire existence. After watching this film, you too might admire the praises these mothers get, but also wonder if placing these women on such high pedestals can at times render them two-dimensional in the eyes of their children, as they are likened to saints: images to be tattooed on bodies and painted on walls.
My Fortress would be a worthwhile watch for those who especially enjoy sociological themed documentaries that bring other cultures to life, such as this portrait of motherhood in one of the world’s most disparate slums in Rio de Janeiro. This might also have appeal for those who are interested in stories that examine the complexities of parenthood for single moms worldwide.
Director: Tatiana Lohmann
Cinematography: Humberto Bassanelli
Camera: Humberto Bassanelli, Tatiana Lohmann
Executive Producer: Marina Puech Leão
To watch the documentary, visit the Nova Frontier Festival Website.
Images courtesy of Nova Frontier Film Festival
About the Author: Grace Downing
Grace has been an aspiring writer since she got in trouble in second grade for scribbling down ideas for her burgeoning fiction story instead of paying attention to the teacher. Since then, Grace has written a mix of fiction and poetry, penned a number of opinion articles for her high school newspaper, and has published one of her poems in a local newspaper in Venice, California. Reading lengthy fantasy series is a favorite pastime of hers as well. Grace is a part-time tutor, and when she is not reading or writing, she can likely be caught rewatching one of the Marvel movies or their many television shows.