Based on the Brazilian short story collection of the same name, the movie An Unforgettable Year – Summer introduces us to Inha (Lívia Inhudes), who hates Carnival and fantasizes about studying fashion in France. She believes her dream is impossible until the biggest fashion designer in the world Carrie Catherine (Mariana Rios) comes to Brazil to create the costumes for Portela, a samba school in Rio de Janeiro. Inha is determined to get the fashion designer’s letter of recommendation – except her heart has other plans.
At first glance, the film rehashes all the tropes of a typical teen romance. And to a certain extent, it does. However, An Unforgettable Year – Summer cleverly weaves in deeper themes of coming of age and the importance of community by using Carnival as a connecting thread.
As the film starts, Inha is a sheltered young woman, cut short by her conservative father Otávio (André Mattos), who wants his children to work in his campaign for governor.
That is until Inha’s grandmother (Regina Sampaio) watches Portela’s rehearsal on TV. She reminisces about when she would parade down the Sambódromo and how she felt so at home in that moment. This first representation of the holiday is very telling. According to research by Cândida Rosa Ferreira Costa and Regina Glória Andrade, Carnival works because it suspends daily logic in favor of fantastical thinking. It’s a moment to fantasize about what you can not experience in normal life.
Inha’s been living within the limitations the real world brings. Due to her father’s strictness, she doesn’t even allow herself to believe she can achieve her dreams. But when Inha discovers that Carrie Catherine will be at Portela, she suddenly realizes she has a path to Paris after all. Her grandmother tells her to go after Carrie and Inha heads to Rio de Janeiro.
On her way, Inha has a chance encounter with Guima (Micael Borges), whom she immediately dislikes. After exchanging a few sharp remarks, they go their separate ways. When our protagonist arrives at the samba school’s Barracão she is surprised to find Guima there.
Inha’s relationship with him is rocky and so are her interactions with the people at Portela, as she doesn’t want to work there.
That, of course, backfires.
According to that same study by Costa and Andrade, another important aspect of Carnival is how it strengthens community ties. Even though the concept of Carnival has its origins in Europe, with the masked balls and the Entrudos, many of the traditions that make the modern were developed in the Brazilian favelas.
In the 1930s and 40s many were forced to migrate up the hills and once there, had to count on each other for day-to-day support. This support ranged from sharing some food, all the way to making “Gatos,” a way of clandestinely diverting electricity to your homes, as the government wouldn’t bother to provide it. Another way people provided for each other was by creating and consuming culture.
As Carnival rolled around, most of the residents of the favelas couldn’t afford to attend the clubs where the official parties happened. So, they organized groups and paraded around town, free of charge to anyone who wanted to come. These street parties, known as bloquinhos, slowly transformed into bigger events, becoming samba schools in the 1960s and being officialized as part of Brazil’s cultural heritage in the 1990s.
It is this spirit of community that Inha has to learn when one of the costumes rips during a test and the floor manager, Arlete (Késia Estácio) wants to fire all the seamstresses.
Inha has an idea on how to fix the dress, but she won’t be able to do it alone before the manager returns and kicks them out. Reluctantly, she lets people help and they fix the costume in time.
Slowly, our heroine, who started her journey hating all things summer and Carnival, becomes attached to the mission of making an incredible parade, but mostly to the people who are on this journey with her.
As Inha gets closer to talking to Carrie, her father becomes suspicious of her whereabouts. After Inha’s brother, Heitor (Guilherme Dellorto), comes looking for her, she convinces him to help.
It all culminates after Inha has an embarrassing encounter with Carrie, and unknowingly says she thinks the costume created by the designer is unoriginal. Desperate that she might have lost her chance, she makes her case to the designer and the woman says yes to her proposal.
They spend the night coming up with a new design and the costume manager at Portela loves it. Inha is overjoyed and sure she will receive the letter when Carrie blatantly lies and says the new costume was created only by herself.
Inha is devastated. But now she has supportive friends, and they help her get through it.
As the film progresses, she learns more how to lean into her newfound sense of community and place – even if it means adjusting her original dreams of how her career and lovelife would look.
An Unforgettable Year – Summer is not the perfect movie. Some of the tropes give the film a sense of cliché and some of the character work feels unrealistic – do we really believe an ultra-conservative politician would simply let go of his prejudices and enjoy the party after a heartfelt talk with his daughter? Probably not.
Regardless, An Unforgettable Year – Summer is a beautiful representation of growing up and how Carnival – a cultural landmark – is, beyond half-naked women and drunk people. It’s a statement of how community can bring meaning and joy to people’s lives. Even if just for a week.