Writer/director Caroline Fioratti’s “Meu Casulo de Drywall (My Drywall Cocoon)” explores the conflicting ideas between security and safety. [SXSW]

What does security look like? Is it the absence of threat or the protection from them? Does security form from an abundance of safety or a dearth of individuality? Can one be secure and therefore free to share their concerns, their fears, their joys, or does it create a cage where the only true freedom is the truth you keep to yourself? In her new dramatic mystery, My Drywall Cocoon (Meu Casulo de Drywall), writer/director Caroline Fioratti (Meus 15 Anos) explores these ideas across two generations through the lens of tragedy. Examining the tragedy by jumping between the present and future (or past and future, depending on your perspective), Fioratti challenges the audience to consider their own biases and the way they obfuscate the truth, a truth which may be the difference between life and death.

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L-R: Michel Joelsas as Nichollas and Bella Piero as Virgínia in MY DRYWALL COCOON. Photo credit: Stella Carvalho.

It’s Virgínia’s (Bella Piero) 17th birthday and she’s having a kids-only party in a condo on a high-security property that she and her mother, Patrícia (Maria Luísa Mendonça), reside in. Despite concerns of leaving her alone for the night, Patrícia acquiesces, giving Virgínia and the revelers space to just be kids. Except, the next morning, Virgínia is dead and the only thing left is the negative space left for each one of those closest to her to explore in the wake of their isolated existence.

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Maria Luísa Mendonça as Patrícia in MY DRYWALL COCOON. Photo credit: Helcio Alemão Nagamine.

The structure of Cocoon is critical to its effectiveness. Rather than telling a straight-forward story, Fioratti opts to start before the party, introducing Virgínia, Patrícia, and housekeeper Silmara (Lena Roque), before jumping forward to the next morning. Doing so immediately puts the audience on their heels, thinking that the film might be one of celebration and youthful exuberance, those expectations are shattered by Patrícia’s grief. By structuring the film this way, Fioratti enables the audience’s worst fears to come into play, weaponizing their ignorance to create tension and disquiet. Just like Patrícia, we spend the film, as we jump forward and backward, trying to uncover the mystery and learn various secrets kept well-hidden inside the glittery cage that is the condo property. This means that before we have the truth, we presume answers based on the tidbits provided via conversation or inference created by interaction. This means that, throughout the film, the audience suspects everyone and no one is guilt-free. Because of how little we know, Fioratti teases the audience with moments during the party sequences in which Virgínia flirts with things or people that could kill her. Is it a drug or an armament? Is it on purpose or an accident? In a crowd of people celebrating her birthday, how could no one see?

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L-R: Michel Joelsas as Nichollas and Bella Piero as Virgínia in MY DRYWALL COCOON. Photo credit: Helcio Alemão Nagamine.

This last question is what drives the mystery and cuts straight to the point of the film. As important as the revelation of the truth is, what matters is the willingness to see it. People have to *choose* to see what’s happening in front of them and, when convinced that they are housed in safety, why would anyone look for a threat? To make this point, Fioratti plays with reality right before us. Upon meeting Virgínia, the audience can see a bruise and broken skin upon her left shoulder. Even as cracked skin oozes blood after she’s picked at it, no one mentions a thing, as if it’s not even there. Her boyfriend Nichollas (Michel Joelsas) also has a bruise and it’s mentioned in passing that everyone knows where it’s from. No big deal is made of it; it’s merely acknowledged and ignored. If one sees the two as parallels, then it makes sense that no one at the party — not her friends, not Silmara as she goes about the party, not a single guest — inquirers about why Virgínia’s injured and why it grows worth with each scene. Thematically, if one considers that the title of the film refers to the place they reside, then the only way to break-free from a cocoon is to first breakdown one’s self and transform into something else, then the degradation Virgínia seems to incur throughout the film could always be viewed as her body forcing her to move on to a different state of being. However, considering the lack of discussion, lack of examination or openness toward Virgínia, the absence of recognition for Nicollas’s injuries, a stronger read on Virgínia’s festering wounds, and the absence of acknowledgment, speak to the way in which people who lean too hard on security lose the ability to open themselves up, to connect.

The truth is that we don’t know what kinds of battles people are fighting. We don’t know what’s going through people’s minds, nor the perceptions that drive them. The bulk of Cocoon follows this mode of thinking as the parents make multiple presumptions about their respective children, all the while the audience is learning slowly how incorrect these assumptions are. From the minute to the grand, what the audience learns would shake their parents to their cores, partially because of the presumption of safety promised by living in a facility that has everything a person could want and cameras everywhere. Except, if there’re cameras everywhere, there’s no possible way to be one’s authentic self due to the awareness of observation. We see Virgínia struggle with this when Patrícia considers not leaving, the implication being that the kids can’t have a good time with a mother around. The same is true of where they live. None on the property are able to be who they are as every inch of the place is monitored, for good or for ill. Thus, a divide occurs, a schism between someone’s public self and private one. Which brings us back to the constantly ignored degradation of Virgínia’s outward-self. As the private self tries to break free, the public one violently breaks apart and, in its wake, a void is left behind.

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L-R: Mari Oliveira as Luana and Bella Piero as Virgínia in MY DRYWALL COCOON. Photo credit: Stella Carvalho.

Not everything about My Drywall Cocoon is executed as well as intended. The score and performances sometimes mix together in a soap operatic way, bringing a falseness to a horrific circumstance. To a degree, it feels like watching rich people having their problems (each character has some kind of affluence in order to live where they do), except, within the construct of her making, Fioratti shifts the decadence of condo living into a self-made prison wherein the inmates have little privacy. So even when things seem larger than life, the ideas Fioratti explores never lose their weight or significance.

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Bella Piero as Virgínia in MY DRYWALL COCOON.

We can never know what someone is thinking or how they’re feeling. Even when they speak or move, their intentions may remain hidden out of fear, shame, pride, or anger. So much of what occurs within My Drywall Cocoon is realizing how little we actually speak to each other in our fervor to be noticed, to be loved, or accepted. Even worse, that the trials we often face are created by our own hand, crafted by our unwillingness to be ourselves, free from the constraints of what we’re told to be. To that end, even the idea of moving one’s family into a place of maximum security, of plentiful food and water, of a life without want, creates a facsimile of safety as it really is merely another illusion to be projected onto ourselves: a replacement for connection, a substitute for security, a drywall cocoon.

Screening during SXSW 2023.

For more information, head to the official SXSW My Drywall Cocoon webpage.

Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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