Canoas focuses on the preparations for a cocktail party at Casa das Canoas – the house Oscar Niemeyer built for himself in the early 1950s. The film stages a situation that echoes the house’s past use and glamour, set in the contemporary Brazilian cultural scene.
Canoas was shot for the São Paulo biennial in 2010. Biennials are collective exercises in the projection of national identity,
and Guimarães was interested in the ways in which the Casa das Canoas, the house that architect Oscar Niemeyer built
for himself in the early 1950s, had achieved iconic status in Brazilian cultural lore. In the early 50s and during Juscelino
Kubitschek’s presidency, from 1956-61, the house had not only served as a location for important cultural gatherings but—
through its tropical sensuousness—helped establish the myth of Brazil as an emerging modern paradise, serving as the
postcard of a country yet to be.
Canoas was shot with a mix of actors and non-actors, and before filming Guimarães had proposed to each of them, thequestion of whether or not modernist architecture in Brazil was in most cases a luxury item for the wealthy, dependant on underpaid labor and whether the notion of Brazilian racial democracy and social mobility was blatantly flawed. Restaging the glamorous gatherings that had taken place there, the film probes the ways in which the past lingers into the present. The 2010 biennial came at a point of almost euphoric optimism about Brazil’s future. The country had been largely unaffected by the global recession and was buoyed in anticipation of the infrastructural improvements that would result from hosting the upcoming World Cup and Olympics. Yet now, as crisis and infamy take hold of the political scene, in spite of volatility and violence, one can’t help but look at the strange, extravagant forms of Niemeyer’s house and think that Brazil remains full of potential.