(Original Title: As Duas Irenes)
Thirteen-year old Irene (Priscilla Bittencourt) calls out her name into the vast Brazilian drylands: it echoes before falling away into the hilly expanse. “Stop wasting my name!” mutters her friend Irene (Isabela Torres) as she catches up with her on the ragged hilltop. Two Irenes reverberates Irenes. Fabio Meira in his latest searching, delicately crafted piece of film-making messes around with doubles. The film follows a shy and gangly teenager discovering her father (Marco Ricca) having another family: a woman and another 13-year old girl with her name. As Irene suspiciously gets closer to inspect her imposter sister, her distrust soon transforms into an allure of her double’s more confident and grown-up mannerisms. Irene finds that as her bond of friendship with Irene grows, she herself becomes more tangled up in the double life her father leads.
Meira’s narration from a young girl’s conflicted point-of-view has made the film one of the more sensitive coming-of-age stories I have recently seen, captured in the hot Brazilian climate. Irene is overlooked by her family (especially in favour of her more beautiful older sister) and spies the way her father Tonico is more affectionate towards the other passionate, outspoken and, to her mind, transgressive Irene. This impression is formed as she first lays eyes on her strutting up a catwalk, showy, fiery and far less disciplined than she is expected to be in her own traditional household. As they eventually become friends, Irene shows her how to pick up boys at the cinema and lends her revealing crop tops to the shock of her mother. A wonderful parallel depicts Irene eating a local pork dish at her house with a knife and fork; later the other Irene’s mother instructs her to devour the same dish with her hands to better enjoy the succulent meat.
What is fascinating and sadly not fully given the attention it deserves in Two Irenes is the role Irene’s father plays in shaping her friendship and own coming-of-age. After Irene discovers her Tonico’s other family, she refuses to call him ‘father’ not only out of anger and resentment but also because she feels he has betrayed his position as a parent. He appears to favour the other Irene more, permitting her to act and dress as she wishes whilst calling out Irene for even putting on nail polish. What’s important is that Irene’s desire to express herself is driven more by wanting to be like the other Irene and win back her father’s position. And this does happen – Tonico appears to like her the more she picks up the other Irene’s habits such as refusing food at the dinner table and wearing revealing clothes. Irene desires to be a part of the other Irene’s household intrigued by what draws him to it: glimpsing the other Irene run her hand through her father’s hair, she tries to copy her affection by taking off his shoes when he gets home. And so the growing friendship between the two Irenes is complemented by a tension concerning the way their father comparably acts towards them. Crucial therefore is the attention Meira draws to Irene’s striving to make herself seen again as her father’s daughter: the presence of her double therefore threatens to waste her value to him much like her name trailing in the winds of the hilly valley.
Yet Tonico is barely given a voice. There’s this poignant scene when Irene edges closer to her father nestling on his shoulder in an act of seeming reconciliation. This is followed immediately by the finale: both Irenes swap households and disclose his lies and cheatings. Keeping the father elusive might be part of Meira’s subtlety in filming; his presence after all does emerge from the growing bond between the two girls and is inextricably tied to it. This did not however satisfy what seemed to be a somewhat unfulfilled ending.
Watch the trailer for Two Irenes here: