The Hour of the Star

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“A sense of loss” and “The right to protest” A Lacanian reading of the film The Hour of the Star1

When Clarice Lispector wrote this ‘story with a beginning, a middle and a grand finale followed by silence and falling rain.’ (HE, pp.13) she hoped that it could ‘become my [her] own coagulation one day’ (HE, pp. 12). In fact, ‘her hour’ was near for she would soon die of cancer. The book emerged as an experimental novel gradually dialoguing with and producing illusions of itself, like images in mirrors, paradoxically portraying the invisible. Both her book and Susana Amaral's cinematic adaptation seem extremely conscious of Lacan’s concept of subjectivity and adherent to his psychoanalytic theory that reinterprets Freud in structuralist terms, adapting the linguistic model to the data of psychoanalysis. What lies beneath the choice to attempt a Lacanian reading of The Hour of the Star is not the film's patent openness to Lacan's ideas on desire, lack and the language of the unconscious. Despite the theoretical suggestiveness of much of the analysis that is to follow, the aim of this essay is to analyse The Hour of the Star using the methodology developed by Lacan whilst criticising its very mechanisms, stressing the importance of issues such as ethnicity, marginality, and poverty, social, cultural and political alienation, left behind by his account of the development of the human subject. A fairly mainstream cinematic version replaces the avant-garde, subversive structure of the book. In the film things fall into place more handily in the name of coherence, and social issues (the chronic plight of a certain type of North-Eastern Brazilians who undertakes a journey to the great cities of the South in search of a better life) replace the major metaphysical meditations found in the book. In The Hour of the Star everything is subjected to a multiplicity of reductions, exaggerated to the minimum, a caricature in reverse that works in favour of a growing invisibility of things. Physical invisibility, abortion and repressed sexuality are highlighted in the film, depicting the drama of Macabéa, a humble orphan girl from the backwoods of Alagoas, North Eastern Brazil, who was brought up by a forbidding aunt before making her way to the slums of Rio de Janeiro. In this city, she shares the same bed sitter with three girls and works as a typist. Centred on her (in)existence, the film explores Macabéa’s marginality by placing her among the marginalities of the characters that populate the world of Rio de Janeiro. There is a strong focus on the relationships between the characters: Seu Raimundo and Seu Pereira (her bosses), Glória (her colleague from work), Olímpico de Jesus Moreira Chaves (her ‘boyfriend’), and Madame Carlota (the fortune 1

Throughout the essay, A Hora da Estrela, (HE) will refer to Clarice Lispector’s novel (Portuguese version), while the title: The Hour of the Star (HS) will refer to the film, a Brazilian cinematic adaptation of Clarice Lispector’s book (The Hour of the Star, Dir. Susana Amaral, Raiz Produções Cinematográficas, 1985). The dialogues in this work were translated and transcribed from the film, while the book excerpts were taken from the English translation of the novel: The Hour of the Star, trans. Giovanni Pontiero (Manchester: Carcanet, 1992).

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teller). Macabéa has poverty, inexperience, ingenuity, ill-health and anonymity written all over her. All she can afford to eat and drink are hotdogs and Coca-cola. Her only (unachievable) dream is to become a film star. Without any goals in life, her sole interest is listening to Rádio Relógio (Radio Clock) that broadcasts the seconds, minutes and hours of the day along with random information about life. Olímpico, who she meets in the park one day, starts going out with her but ends up in Glória’a arms, after the latter’s visit to the fortune teller. When Macabéa decides to visit the fortune teller herself, her life seems about to change...
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