O Frames Portuguese Film Festival, festival de cinema português na Suécia, atinge a impressionante marca de 9 edições este ano, tendo como tema principal desta vez as paisagens. 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: Carlos Natálio, João Araújo e Ricardo Vieira Lisboa. Os textos foram revistos por Gabriel Campos e Mafalda Lancinha. Trevliga föreställningar!
Frames Portuguese Film Festival, a festival that showcases Portuguese cinema across Sweden, reaches the impressive number of 9 editions this year, having as its main theme this time: landscapes. 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: Carlos Natálio, João Araújo e Ricardo Vieira Lisboa . The texts were revised by Gabriel Campos and Mafalda Lancinha. Trevliga föreställningar!
O Movimento das Coisas (The Movement of Things, 1979-1985) by Manuela Serra is a unique work in the history of Portuguese cinema. Not so much because it has achieved a certain cult status, but because it is still today a film that resists any viewer’s fingerprints.
Movement, when genuine, is difficult to grasp. First attempt. Serra worked as assistant and editor of Deus Pátria Autoridade (1975) and Bom Povo Português (The Good People of Portugal, 1980) by Rui Simões, both works that somehow address the Portuguese revolutionary period. Serra was also a founder of a cooperative named Virver, in 1975. Thus, naturally, there was an expectation that, even indirectly, O Movimento das Coisas could be tagged as a film engaging with a political structure. As a general statement that is not wrong, but still… Second attempt. Serra´s single film captures men, women, and children in the village of Lanheses, Minho, north of Portugal, engaging in daily rural life, working in the fields, taking the bus to go to work in the factory, talking at the table around a plate of soup, or going to the church. Therefore, the film is seen, in the lines of other filmmakers such as António Campos or António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro, in their poetic anthropological gesture of capturing the traditions of the Portuguese rural world. And that is also not untrue. Third attempt. The film was also seen as a political statement against the increasing tempo of industrialization, attested by the final shot of the film – a factory and its smoke among the vegetation – that was removed at the time, seen as too pessimist for the imminent entrance of Portugal in the EU, and now finally added in the restored version of the film.
Interestingly enough, O Movimento das Coisas encapsulates all these elements: something from the Portuguese post-revolutionary feeling; the capture in celluloid of these rural gestures and postures; while, still addressing, subtly enough, a critique of Modernity which is a critique of movement. But it goes much further. While rational movement must slow down, the movement of things must be presented in cinema. Not as a statement of purity or a form of achieving cinematic transfiguration and aesthetic poetry, but as a wider and deeper notion of movement. Real people represent daily actions for the film, but there is also the movement of light, shadow, fog, sunrise, water. And all of these are grasped, patiently, without concession, by another affective movement: that of the unclassified, uncategorized Manuela Serra’s gaze and camera. In the context of a male-dominated cinema production system, O Movimento das Coisas, although it had won some prizes, never got to be distributed commercially at that time. Only last year, due to the digital restoration of the film, issued by the Portuguese Cinematheque, was it possible the historical reparation of having Serra´s beautiful film come out in a commercial distribution. The diamantine position of Serra’s only film also tells us something about the fragility of this gaze, how one needs time, comprehension, and poetic solitude to grasp the deeper movement of things in all of its splendor.
O Fim do Mundo (The End of the World, 2019) is Basil da Cunha’s second feature film, six years after Até ver a Luz (After the Night, 2013). The time in between these two movies was spent writing several other projects and filming a series with many of the friends, inhabitants of Reboleira’s neighbourhood, that are the actors in this film. So, although Cunha’s films are post classical in the sense of having a written detailed screenplay, the fact that he uses mostly people he already knows in his life, prompts the happy accidents in the shooting, predicting many reactions for each scene and using his tense camerawork in the context of heavy improvisation. O Fim do Mundo is also post classical in a larger sense, since some of its inspirations are Scorsese and Coppola’s works, as well as the comedy of buddy movies such as in Lethal Weapon (1987), or the ironic hang-over anti-heroes of Bruce Willis’ action films in the 90’s. He openly wants his family, but also his larger family (the actors and crew in the film) to go to the cinema and amuse themselves.
Although his films are popular – he particularly wants to inject, whenever possible, a lyrical dimension, something akin to magical realism – there is also an authorial ambition as well. For instance, while O Fim do Mundois filmed in scope, a take on genre film with an apocalyptic dimension, it also works as a fictional tale of coming of age, that tells us something about the imminent disappearance of Reboleira, a social neighbourhood that the City Council wants to tear down. That end of the world also means the end of a space of communion, friendship, sticking together when there are problems to solve. Rui Xavier’s incredible cinematography work crafts an almost futuristic element to the Reboleira “set”, that conveys the emotions of its characters, especially the protagonist Spira (Michel Spencer). In this sense, Cunha’s work – vital to which are his years spent as a kid with his father in Switzerland, getting to know the Portuguese community in the local Portuguese Center – is truly a collaborative, celebratory process of familial community spaces. Filming faces, gestures, conversations shaped over years of interaction are key to a real documentarian feeling of relationships within Reboleira, even in the most evident set up of pop tragedy fiction.
A Nossa Terra, O Nosso Altar (Our Land, Our Altar, 2020) is André Guiomar’s first feature film, and a documentary shot over several years with the residents of the Aleixo neighbourhood in Porto, as the towers they inhabit were slowly emptying once the deadline for their demolition was set. It is a film similar to others shot in recent years on the same theme, such as the short films Bicicleta (2014) by Luís Vieira Campos, in which Guiomar participated as a camera assistant, and Russa (2018) by João Salaviza and Ricardo Alves Jr., which above all portray the desolate conditions to which these residents have been condemned in recent years, and especially since the 2011 demolition of the neighbourhood was announced; and is a film close to Tarrafal (2016) by Pedro Neves, about another neighbourhood in Porto (S. João de Deus) abandoned to its own sadness, who shares with Guiomar’s film the way it portrays, with empathy and without flourishes, the spirit of the inhabitants who, in the face of adversity and helplessness from the authorities, try to make the best of a difficult situation.
The film is divided into two distinct moments. The first one was filmed in 2013, when two of the five towers in the neighbourhood had already been demolished, at a time when the degradation of the living conditions was already evident and, worse than that, the almost void halls seemed increasingly inhabited by ghosts and memories of other times, in the presence of harbingers of an irreversible but drawn-out end, haunted by symbols such as apartment doors that are boarded up, like forbidden signs about an era, about a community that saw entire families born and disappear there. If this first part is not very different in relation to what other films on the same theme had already revealed, it is in the second part of Our Land, Our Altar, filmed in 2019 and closer in time to the end of the neighbourhood, that the film takes on a new dimension. The death of one of the youngest members of one of the families portrayed in the film at the beginning, and the family’s mourning that is also the mourning of an entire community, shakes the film and it is as if the ghosts suddenly had a face. In that process, the emptiness one feels in the buildings, haunted by a silence that grows and becomes oppressive and deafening, where once noise was a sign of life, is striking. So, it is when the film shows a kind of communal celebration in honour of the lost son-brother-friend, which is also about lost memories, and about what was and will not be again, that the film strikes a remarkable emotional note, a redemption against the erasure of history, which leaves us looking forward to the next work of this young director.
Aquarius (2016) is Kleber Mendonça Filho’s second feature, which continues to explore some of the themes of his previous film, O Som ao Redor (Neighboring Sounds, 2012), in the depiction of a small community, the interpersonal relationships of its inhabitants and the weight of the memories of the past. But it’s much more than a continuation of the previous film, remarkable in the way it is attuned to the hidden malaise of its time, surveying the uneasiness and restlessness that seems to hang in the air, foreshadowing the slow disintegration of a society that is losing empathy and surrendering to a partisanship that has contaminated all sorts of matters in recent years in Brazilian society. But Aquarius is also (or only) about its main character, Clara, a masterfully written strong and complex fortress of a woman, masterfully played by Sonia Braga, showcasing exactly why she is considered one of the greatest Brazilian actresses: from curiosity to boredom, from sorrow to joy, filled with energy, sensuality, nostalgia, despair and hope, her range is magnificent and, in that way, this is also a cinematic love letter to her, to acting and to women in general.
The core of the film is the story of Clara’s apartment, the last independently owned flat in a building taken over by a company wanting to rebuild it as a luxury complex. All that is left for Clara is to sell her part, and a couple of representatives from the building company keep harassing her to do it. Upon her refusal, strange things start happening in the building – like late night loud parties, among other things – trying to complicate her peaceful life, but she remains unfazed. Later, another window of conflict opens when her daughter almost demands that Clara sell the apartment because she needs the money, now that she is divorced, but still Clara seems unbreakable. This is, after all, her home, where her kids grew up and is filled with memories and her beloved artifacts. But this story plays out like a background to reveal Clara’s network of support: her friends, her family, the way she connects to other people in her life, from her maid to the lifeguard at the beach where she usually takes a swim by herself, and how human connections override any other kind. It is filled with nostalgia, at the same time defending that it shouldn’t be nostalgia but part of the present, in the same way that the film employs old photographs as not only mementos or reminders, but as important pieces of the present time. Clara’s way is, after all, an antidote to the bitterness around her, and a personal history of survival above anything else.
Solo (2012), by Mariana Gaivão, As Ondas (2012), by Miguel Fonseca, e Plutão (2013), by Jorge Jácome
Here is an unusual short film programme: three films made a decade ago, by three filmmakers who, at the time, were starting to direct and who, in the meantime, developed an interesting production of short films and are now starting to make their first feature length films. Mariana Gaivão would direct, after Solo, the short films First Light (2013, commissioned by the Du Nouveau Cinéma Festival) and Ruby (2019), her best film to date, and is now preparing her first feature documentary Die Jugend – A Juventude with production company Primeira Idade, which has been accompanying her in recent years. Miguel Fonseca, a little older, had already directed the very curious futuristic film Alpha (2008) with production company O Som e a Fúria, with whom he remains, having directed his third and most recent short film, Sara F. (2018). Jorge Jácome, whose Plutão was part of his cinema degree fulfillment at the Film and Theatre School in Lisbon, would join the Le Fresnoy residency-school, where he would direct the experiments A Guest + a Host = a Ghost (2015) and Fiesta Forever (2017), which would be followed, already out of school context, by the acclaimed shorts Flores (2017) and Past Perfect(2019), having just presented, earlier this year, his first feature film Super Natural (2022) in the Forum section of the Berlinale Festival.
Watching, or rewatching, these films nowadays reveals, on the one hand, a certain formal tendency that characterized Portuguese cinema in the late 2000s and early 2010s, especially in short films (namely, the tendency towards contemplation and silence – see, for example, the contemporary works of Cláudia Varejão, André Santos and Marco Leão) and, on the other hand, it serves as a reminder of what is the nature of these three director’s work and how, over the last decade, their films have perfected what already existed in these first films. Solo is already a film made of textures, light and shadows, and a disturbing and involving soundtrack, something that Ruby would improve, adding stronger connection to the real and thus eliminating professional actors (the recognition of the actress Isabel Abreu, in Solo, in the role of firefighter, undoes the desire for realism that the film procures). Miguel Fonseca also develops in Sara F. what was the portrait of a certain youthful malaise that As Ondas had set in motion. After the oppressive tension between two sisters (one healthy, the other sick, with the latter restricting, out of pity, the actions of the former) in As Ondas, with Sara F. the director describes, once again, a relationship between two teenage girls (Rute, an exemplary student who is being bullied online by an anonymous user called Sara F.) – always focusing on the dramatic possibilities that arise from silence, the actresses’ physicality, and what can be implied without being said.
But the most interesting of the three films in this programme – and the one that seems most out of tune – is Plutão. The film was built as a bouquet of filmic genres: it combines a voice over that seems to have been taken out of a scientific film, but which then turns into a more confessional tone; it takes a kind of mockumentary approach in a reminiscent talking head style, adding an aura of science fiction. All of this leads to a “boy meets girl, boy loses girl” story during summer, told in flashback. What interests me most in this film, rewatching it now ten years after, is the way in which the core of Jorge Jácome’s work is already here, but is still in a very disjointed and somewhat shy version. From Plutão onwards, the hyper-romanticism will only be accentuated, and will be combined with his tendency for sci-fi (in particular, astronomy) and everything will be united through a purely melancholic quality where memories form the foundations of the future. Despite being a little rough and very naive, Plutão appears like a flower in bud, about to open.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Something very exciting is happening in Angola regarding the cinema sphere. Among the many new production companies, one stands out: Geração 80. Founded in 2010, it has since then produced six short films, four documentaries and two feature-length fiction films. Ar Condicionado (2020) was the first of these fiction features, directed by Fradique, one of the founders of the company (with Tchiloia Lara and Jorge Cohen). The second, which premiered a few months ago at the Locarno Film Festival, is called Nossa Senhora da Loja do Chinês (2022), and was directed by Ery Claver (the cinematographer and co-writer of Ar Condicionado). What defines the work of this collective is the urgency with which they film the city (Luanda) and its people; the refusal of any kind of exoticism that frustrates (in a good way) the expectations of the western spectator about what one understands by “African cinema”; and a preference, as far as possible, for metaphors whose meaning is not immediately (if ever) revealed. Ar Condicionado starts as a portrait of a decrepit building in the centre of Luanda (on Rua Rainha Ginga, in the Mutamba neighbourhood, right in the heart of the city), focused on two characters who work there, Matacedo (security guard) and Zezinha (maid), and ends up becoming a kind of reminiscent dream in sci-fi lo-fi mode, with touches of surreal media dystopia (considering the preponderance of the radio propaganda). It all starts with a heat wave that forces the air conditioners to overload, but instead of power outages or mere breakdowns, what comes from the overuse of these appliances is that they just give up: the air conditioners simply stop working and “throw themselves” to the ground, just tired. If this could be a comment on the fragility of Angolan infrastructures and the poor living conditions in the capital, there is something symbolic, which I cannot help but “read” as a metaphor for the hardships of the proletariat and the exhaustion of a class system – the falling of the air conditioners reminds me of the disturbing shot in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (O Acontecimento, 2008), when the workers in a building under construction began to “rain”.
But the metaphor isn’t obvious or straightforward, and everything gets complicated when “Cota Mino” (the local appliance repairman) claims that the air conditioners fall like fruit from trees when they’re ripe. He suggests that, in a city without plants, the air conditioners took over the ancestral function of storing memories and, when they are full, they just let themselves fall. This mystical science fiction perspective, that merges tradition with memories (backed by one of the most beautiful sequences in the film in which Mino’s “machine-car” takes Matacedo to travel through time and space without leaving the same place), accentuates what the opening credits already discreetly announced: the influence of La Jetée (1962). Ar Condicionado’s opening credits consist of a series of black-and-white photographs of the neighbourhood, with strong contrasts and a lot of grain, like those in Chris Marker’s film. And, in addition to this visual reference, there is the matter of memories, the relationship between time travel and sleep, the decrepitude of a present as opposed to some sort of nostalgia and, more than that, the improvised nature of the production and the crude quality of the retro-futuristic devices. Fradique pays homage to Marker – and, to a certain extent, there is also something of Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville (1965)– and, in the process, he produces a political fable about Luanda, as atmospheric as it is mysterious.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa