A 8.ª edição do Frames Portuguese Film Festival lança a luz sobre a proximidade. Depois de uma anterior edição virtual, o festival de cinema português na Suécia reflete sobre a importância do reencontro. O À pala de Walsh, parceiro do festival desde a sua raiz, agradece à organização esta oportunidade de estar associado mais uma vez a este festival em crescimento. Abaixo publicam-se as folhas de sala que serão distribuídas em cada sessão e que foram redigidas por esta equipa walshiana: Bárbara Janicas, Duarte Mata, Raquel Morais e Ricardo Vieira Lisboa. Os textos foram revistos por Gabriel Campos, Maria de Matos, Miguel Aguiar e Sara Pires. Trevliga föreställningar!
The 8th edition of Frames Portuguese Film Festival casts the light on closeness. After a previous online edition, the festival that shows Portuguese cinema across Sweden reflects on the importance of being together again. À pala de Walsh, partner of this festival since its beginning, wants to thank the Frames’ crew for this opportunity of being part of a growing film festival. Below we are publishing the reviews that will be handed out on each screening and that were written by this walshian team: Bárbara Janicas, Duarte Mata, Raquel Morais and Ricardo Vieira Lisboa . The texts were revised by Gabriel Campos, Maria de Matos, Miguel Aguiar and Sara Pires. Trevliga föreställningar!
A Metamorfose dos Pássaros (The Metamorphosis of Birds, 2020) by Catarina Vasconcelos
Catarina Vasconcelos is a painter of the shot and a seamstress of the raccord. Choose a random frame from her last film: you will have the first half of the previous sentence justified; choose a random cut: you will have the second. In Vasconcelos’ film, there is no image that you don’t want to stop to appreciate its singular beauty, just as there is no cut that you don’t want to rewind to study the skillful connection between one shot and the next. The result of patient hands and bustling creativity, The Metamorphosis of Birds is, in sum, the work of a genuine artisan of the cinema.
Yes, I’m also referring to those shots of pictorial influences (created in collaboration with DP Paulo Menezes), both the tableaux vivants with the supposed Vasconcelos’ family and the still lifes that, at first, seem inspired by some unknown Chardin painting. It’s not hard to believe that she comes from Visual Arts, as the film demonstrates a meticulous sensitivity to color, texture, and composition. But the most captivating are those sonic (a child’s light breath leads to a resounding gale) and visual raccords (a woman’s watery eye leads to the one of a seahorse), a game full of sonic and graphic relations where Vasconcelos appears to put the world in permanent communication: people with places, humans with animals, a family with a country’s History.
And with this need to connect an intimate universe with a broader one, Vasconcelos writes a long visual sonnet. Through it, she emphasizes the importance of the maternal figure, her human symbol of strength, courage, and resilience, and where its irreversible loss leads to a profound change in the family structure and dynamics.
Therefore, it is also a film about grief and its processing. But, at the same time, Vasconcelos seems to believe in something like the remains of persons in objects that belonged to them, such is the use of so much daily memorabilia: sofas, pillows, mirrors, books, stamps and even a fossil, inanimate witnesses to the (possible) domestic events that the filmmaker immortalizes. It is as if Vasconcelos transcribed a letter recited by all those artifacts, sets and props, deciding to respond to them through images, sounds and her fertile imagination. Hence, the poetic liberties she pursues are never seen as adulterations, but as part of the brick and mortar required to build an emotionally honest monument to her family. It is left to be said that this film is, of course, held on the feeling of “saudade” and on the inexecutable desire for temporal retrocession that characterizes it.
Regarding this, three moments occur to me in particular, all of them with trees—women in Vasconcelos’ family are compared to them for their symbolic verticality and for how they serve as shelters for “the birds”, that is, the children. The first, the one in which Vasconcelos, by using the reverse motion effect, restores leaves to the branches from which they were torn; the second, the one in which she tries to push up a felled tree, as if trying to reinstate its lost verticality (a metaphor for the impossibility of returning the maternal entity to life); and the third, the one where, in a wood, she points a mirror to the trees that are “backwards”, that is, in the past. Because it is between the past and present that the film wanders, just as it wanders between documentary and fiction, between fact and poetry, between presence and absence, between life and death, between man and woman, between land and sea. And among all these wanderings, only one word permanently resonates: “mother”.
Amor Fati (2020) by Cláudia Varejão
Amor Fati starts with an excerpt of Plato’s “The Banquet” being read in Armenian where one hears about the human being as the “face of a coin” divided into halves. Once recombined, the two halves produce “a strange impression of friendship, kinship, love, to such an extent that they no longer accept to separate for even an instant!”. The inseparable encounters of kindred spirits is the subject of Cláudia Varejão’s film: two old women from Trás-os-Montes symmetrical in everything, two twins who dress alike and work in the same place, a white-haired man and his white horse, a dog and his human companion (or a movie and its spectator), the daughter and her mother, couple with the same fluid gender expression, a musician and his instrument (or a family and their art), a mother and her son (or a son and his smartphone), among others.
However, what is surprising is the way in which the editing shows itself as a kind of conceptualization of the cut, as an act of connection. If Amor Fati is about the deep connections between people, things, and animals, naturally the film would have to focus (almost exclusively) on the art of the raccord. Varejão, who is also the director of photography of the film, works on the idea of raccord within the shot by constructing the entire film around visual coincidences between two (or more) characters. Her camera is delighted by the mirror effects and similarity between the human face and the physiognomy of an animal or between two very similar people. The film develops what could be a mere superficial approach by establishing continuity games between those who do not relate directly in life but do so in the film (through editing).
The raccord reveals itself, after all, as a (passionate) way of facing the world: the hand that shakes the short hair after trying on a wedding dress becomes the hand of the blind young black man who discovers Eusébio’s bust at the entrance of Benfica’s stadium; an unborn baby makes the same sounds as a baby in a family video; an exhausted mother who takes a nap turns into an old woman who wakes up at daybreak; the white horse in the woods is suddenly at a photoshoot; from a shearing place we go to a barbershop; a painting with the twins Elizabeth and Maria reminds us of the couple from Trás-os-Montes; and a manicure session anticipates the talons of an eagle tearing a wild hare to pieces. It is in the way in which Varejão (together with editor João Braz) establishes these connections that the film takes on a tender humanism and it is also there that the exercise of cinema reveals an ethical point of view.
Amor Fati is, in the end, a delicate object that researches a delicate way of looking at the universe. A gaze fascinated with the beauty of people, animals, and things. And this is, once again (after several shorts and two feature length films), what most characterizes Cláudia Varejão’s work: a photographic enchantment that believes in beauty as an end in itself. And, paradoxically, it is in a film “about” montage that she cannot decide (a sign of her enchantment) for just one ending, opting for three: the album, the death, and the birth. One gets an outcome that reinforces the circularity of things and their continuous renewal. In Amor Fati nothing works towards growth. On the contrary, the horizontal is its base line. But isn’t that the definition of the Nietzschean expression?
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Terra Franca (Ashore, 2018) by Leonor Teles
Leonor Teles has come to stand out as one of the most promising Portuguese directors in the documentary field since her first short film Rhoma Acans (Gypsy Eyes, 2012), made while still studying at the Lisbon’s Film & Theatre School. Not only is she the youngest (female) director to receive a Golden Bear for Best Short Film at the Berlinale for her documentary film Balada de um Batráquio (Batrachian’s Ballad, 2016), but her first feature film Terra Franca (Ashore, 2018) was also awarded the SCAM International Prize at the 40th edition of Cinéma du Réel. For each of these projects, Leonor Teles and her crew immersed themselves in specific environments somewhat linked to her roots, whether the roma community – she is partly Romani from her father’s side – or the modest family of a fisherman from Vila Franca de Xira, the filmmaker’s birthplace.
At the beginning of Terra Franca, the camera gets on board with Albertino Lobo, ready to follow him on his workday, fishing in the waters of the Tagus River near Lisbon. When he is filmed on his boat, wrapped in the dim light of dawn, silently scanning the horizon as he stands inscrutable against the landscape, Albertino features the mythical presence of a lonesome cowboy, evoking an older and less noble Clark Gable; his face seems made for the big screen (and the resemblance with Tom Selleck is striking). The film then quickly sets its tone as an observational documentary about an endangered profession: the arrival of a letter ordering the suspension of Albertino’s fishing license forces him to stay ashore, and so does the director and her crew.
Instead of trying to find another fisherman, which would allow her to shoot the film she intended, Leonor Teles decided to keep the chosen protagonist, now a mere spectator of his family’s daily life. His unstirred image fades slightly as the longing for the river takes over him – Albertino definitely “misses his water”, as Otis Redding’s song goes, but he’s no “rumble fish”, as he accepts the waiting with stoicism and is able to arouse the viewers’ empathy with sparse words and common sayings exchanged with his wife and daughters during meals. Throughout the film, time is punctuated by the gentle succession of seasons and the preparations for the oncoming wedding of Albertino’s eldest daughter. This big event marks the beginning of a new cycle and thus the end of the film.
As you watch Terra Franca, you’ll probably remember English writer John Donne’s famous words: “No man is an island entire of itself”. On one hand, the same adage may apply to Albertino, who rediscovers his place as “a piece of the continent, a part of the main” land ruled by the three strong and independent women that surround him. On the other hand, Leonor Teles’s film shows us that documentary cinema isn’t necessarily meant to be an island either. Even if the camera’s presence in the interior scenes remains mostly imperceptible and neutral (like a “fly-on-the-wall”), the directing logically draws its substance from the unexpected events of life and resorts to careful framing, witty soundtrack, and other narrative strategies in order to establish meaning and convey a deep sense of community – as if we were all sharing a table with Albertino and his family.
A Toca do Lobo (The Wolf’s Lair, 2015) by Catarina Mourão
The past, like memory, could be compared to the interior of a whale, an immense creature full of secrets. In one of Catarina Mourão’s dreams, described in the film, the director and her sister cross a very rough sea, full of waves, entering the mouth of the animal to find their grandmother’s old objects kept in dark galleries. The antiques discovered in the dream echo the vast assembly of objects — pictures, movies, letters, diaries, poems — retrieved by the filmmaker from personal collections and national archives. Drawing from them, Mourão reconstructs and invents, like a detective or a writer, the family’s and country’s history, focusing on the relationship between her mother, Maria Rosa, and her grandfather, author Tomaz de Figueiredo, the Gordian knot that A Toca do Lobo tries to untie.
In one of the film’s central scenes, the grandfather, whom the director never met, features in a black and white TV show from the 1960s, where he presents his collection of pipe bags. Those images seem like a bottle thrown into the sea, lost for many years until Mourão found them: Figueiredo talks to his then current spectators, as well as those of the future, addressing his imaginary granddaughters. The film is built upon the possibility that people and objects from the past may have something to communicate to us, and it is therefore conceived as a series of testimonies: from Figueiredo to Maria Rosa, from Maria Rosa to Catarina Mourão, from Mourão to her children, Francisca and Lourenço.
A Toca do Lobo is a work about archives, but it does not have the archives’ rigidity. It is made of documents, but above all, of dreams, memories and fabrications. Filled with aquatic images and sounds, the film is designed with the fluidity of water, the maternal element, echoing the environment full of women in which Maria Rosa grew up, without the presence of her father and brother. Relating the history of past generations to their socio-political context, Mourão investigates the situations of isolation into which her mother, grandfather and uncle were forced into, tackling themes such as the female condition, political resistance, and mental illness. On the one hand, the filmmaker builds a new familiar identity using an official and so-to-say dead archive. On the other hand, it transforms personal memories into collective stories, reflecting on the intersections between private and public.
A Toca do Lobo is constructed as an investigation into cinema’s ability to create memories, rather than being a transparent window over them. The film attempts to deconstruct the sense of distance towards images of former times, but in doing so, it also abandons the idea of unravelling the past in a strict sense, concentrating instead on the need for fictionalization. What cannot be accessed has therefore to be generated through invention, transforming silences into sounds, similarly to the trompe l’oeil effect, a key concept in the film, based on the creation of light through the use of shadow. In this way, Mourão answers her grandfather’s considerations regarding what he describes as the imperfect nature of media such as television and cinema, namely when compared to human organs such as the eyes and the brain. Mourão opposes an idealistic conception of visual media as mere imitators of the senses, and of moving image as a defective copy of the world. She offers us a film that accepts the limitations of images, while embracing them as a possibility of human connection, despite their mechanical character.
Listen (2020) by Ana Rocha de Sousa
For her directorial debut – after an acting career in Portuguese television and an MA in Filmmaking at the London Film School –, Ana Rocha de Sousa offers a harrowing story of social disarray around a Portuguese immigrant family battling against British social services for the custody of their children. Listen was particularly well received at the 77th Venice International Film Festival, winning multiple awards among which the Lion of the Future for a Debut Film. It was also the first choice of the Portuguese Academy of Cinema to represent Portugal in the Best International Feature Film category at the Oscars (later “disqualified” for being mostly spoken in English – even though this aspect turns out to be perfectly justified by the theme and plot of the film).
Life in the suburbs of grey and gloomy London isn’t easy for Bela [played by Lúcia Moniz, that international audiences probably know from the Christmas-themed romantic-comedy Love Actually (O Amor Acontece, 2003)], her husband Jota (Ruben Garcia) and their three kids. When the film starts, the couple is already on the edge of the abyss, struggling to make ends meet and attend to their children’s basic needs; but everything falls apart soon after their deaf-mute daughter Lu (played by nine-year-old deaf actress Maisie Sly) shows up to school without her hearing aid and several bruises on her back. Social services are promptly warned, and the next routine visit turns out to be the last: the kids are taken away and temporarily placed in an institution where they’ll be put up for forced adoption – a rather common policy in the UK known to be ruthless and irreversible. While the viewer may share the doubts concerning the ability of this couple to raise their children properly, it quickly becomes clear that Ana Rocha de Sousa relies on this intimate family drama to draw a portrait of a brutal social system, impervious to any attempt at communication from those who seek help in the first place. Communication is ultimately at the center of the Kafkaesque situation lived by the parents: authorities won’t listen to them, and they are even forbidden to talk with their children in a language other than English – not even in the sign language they naturally need to communicate with Lu. Some of the most poetic moments of the film are set around the young girl’s perceptions, as if she was wrapped in white noise, eyes turned skyward or seeing the world through her toy camera lens. The directing is otherwise sober and neutral, almost surgical, and ultimately it is Lúcia Moniz’s powerful performance that feeds the screen with the palpable tension and visceral despair it needs to emotionally engage the viewer.
In spite of the recognition received by Listen at international festivals, critical reception in Portugal was less enthusiastic: while some praised the boldness of the filmmaker for committing to tell a story from an ambivalent point of view, others argued that the directing lacked density and identity. In fact, Listen seems to owe more to the English school of social realism we associate with notable British directors such as Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, than to the majority of the auteur cinema which has been made in Portugal these last twenty years. But it’s precisely because Ana Rocha de Sousa’s first feature film comes from “a no (wo)man’s land” – not only that of the immigrant family portrayed but also her own as a Portuguese female director in the UK – that it successfully manages to not get “lost in translation” and can aspire to a universal dimension.