O Frames Portuguese Film Festival, festival de cinema português na Suécia completa este ano a extraordinária década de existência, tendo como tema principal as representações da juventude no cinema português. 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 Mafalda Henriques, Rita Garção e Gabriel Campos. Trevliga föreställningar!
Frames Portuguese Film Festival, a festival that showcases Portuguese cinema across Sweden that celebrates, this year, its extraordinary decade of existence, with the main theme being the representation of youth in Portuguese cinema. 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 Mafalda Henriques, Rita Garção and Gabriel Campos. Trevliga föreställningar!
Lobo e Cão (Wolf and Dog, 2022) by Cláudia Varejão
At a certain point one of the oldest characters vents something along the lines of: “Do you also want to leave? Like everyone else? It’s like there’s no life here”. She is talking about the fate of the place where she lives to a friend of Ana, her daughter, but she’s in fact thinking about Ana’s fortune and future. This is the story of an island, but also of a lonely character who is herself an island, trying to break her isolation from the rest of the world around her. Ana lives in São Miguel, one of the islands of Azores, located in the Atlantic Ocean with nothing else in sight. While everything seems to be slightly stuck in time and religion and tradition are still largely influential on the shape of daily life, Ana, rather than wanting to leave, seems to be looking for her own place in the world.
These are the stories of those who stay when everyone wants to leave, and Cláudia Varejão focuses her film on Ana and her group of friends, who run opposite of what is expected of them. Lobo e Cão is Varejão’s first foray into fictional film, but she maintains all the traces of her previous documentary work, creating an enticing and sensitive film by using the island’s natural elements (its landscapes but also its sounds, of the whales or ships, always in the background), to a haunting effect. A shy and introverted character, it isn’t always clear what Ana is thinking, and the film cleverly uses her indefiniteness and ambiguity to show us how traditions and its folklore can shape or be shaped to be part of one’s identity. Along with Ana’s journey, Varejão discovers an interesting parallel with the film’s characters, who are trying to break free of the molds they are expected to fulfill and the island, too small to contain them but nevertheless a part of them, a place of passage despite also remarkable.
O Sangue (Blood, 1989) by Pedro Costa
Pedro Costa’s first feature film, directed when he was only 29 years old and graduating from Film School, is a very rich and nuanced work, and which can be approached from many perspectives. I want to highlight three of these possible paths.
Firstly, from the point of view of Portuguese film historiography, the generation to which Costa belongs was given the name of “forgotten”, “lost” or “invisible” generation. Films like O Sangue but also Joaquim Pinto’s Uma Pedra no Bolso (Tall Stories, 1986), Joaquim Leitão’s Duma Vez Por Todas (1986), Ana Luísa Guimarães’ A Nuvem (Clouds, 1991) or Manuel Mozos’ Um Passo, Outro Passo e Depois… (1989) belong to this thread. These films were barely seen at the time and apparently, they had no unifying program. However, one of the possible ways to look at them as a whole, and something that is very visible in O Sangue, is the recurring theme of characters in search of their place in the world, of parents and children on a collision course. This theme will have an ethical and aesthetic correspondence: a sense of orphanhood (like Nino and Vicente, lonely and fatherless), a different approach from the history and aesthetics of the new Portuguese cinema, which will make these filmmakers question not only their own artistic identity, as well as the very notion of a national identity.
The second perspective is connected to this search of personal artistic identity. Costa considers O Sangue a film protected by cinema, heavily marked by his cinephile preferences as a young filmmaker. We can name a few affiliations. The famous opening scene of Pedro Costa’s film, the slap, is an homage to Robert Bresson’s Mouchette (1967), also a work about the helpless growth of a young girl. The evocative, romantic and fantastic role of the river, in a foggy ambiance, reminds us both of Friedrich Murnau’s Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927) or the gloomy children’s tale in Charles Laughton The Night of the Hunter (1955). Also, the loving pair of Nicholas Ray’s They Live by Night (1948), composed of Bowie, a jail fugitive, and Keechie, the daughter of a gas station owner, breath the same atmosphere, filled with a final harmony, that is lived between Vicente and Clara, in the comfort of home before him and Nino were kidnapped. We can say that as with the film’s character’s – Vicente and Nino remodulate their house in the absence of their father, and later having to return home after the kidnapping –, Costa is also looking for his artistic house, where he would go and craft his own personal voice.
Finally, and although we can say that O Sangue is more narrative and lyrical than the films that would come afterwards, one can already pinpoint some of the trademarks of his cinema. We’ve already mentioned the theme of the architecture and the house. If in O Sangue, the characters have, in a certain sense, to cut ties with home, the house will become later a refuge for characters like Vanda or Ventura, and the search for a home a main challenge. And other elements already present in this first film will remain in later works. For example, the working process with non-actors that he started with Nino. Also, the close-up shots that Pedro Costa would later use to set the facial expressions of Vanda or Ventura, as well as the fixed, long, slow shots, with moments of silence, often in the shadows or against the light, working both the contrast between the visible and the audible, the evocative power of the word as a mechanism for transcending imagination and storytelling. And even the importance given to areas of transition between characters, such as doors, windows and poorly lit streets or paths in the woods.
Verão Danado (Damned Summer, 2017) by Pedro Cabeleira
Is this a film about a specific period of time, or a portrait of a particular generation? Set around the time when Portugal was first starting to come around a severe economic depression, that took a heavy toll in the younger generations, a case can be argued that it is both at the same time. Yet, many aspects contribute to also look at Verão Danado, Pedro Cabeleira’s first feature, as a timeless portrait of youth’s malaises in search for meaning, deeper connections or signs of a hopeful future. Ultimately, this leads to an exercise in portraying an obsession with hedonism, as a replacement for an envisioned lack of purpose, something that occupies the days because it looks like there isn’t anything else. The film shows us a few hours in the life of Chico and his group of friends, as he navigates a series of social encounters (playing football, a meetup in the park, a dinner with friends, a night out) in which he is constantly looking for making a meaningful connection to new people, acting as a proxy or a tabula rasa which asks questions more than reveals anything about himself, but also while constantly getting lost on his own alienation, a kind of Sisyphus of elusiveness, searching for a new high only to come down.
The film is beautifully shot by Cabeleira’s director of photography, the filmmaker Leoner Teles, mainly as a sensory and dreamy series of nightlife landscapes, a surreal but paradoxically realistic representation of the sense of not understanding if something is happening or not. The film threads a thin line between being in love with its characters, and depicting their void and hedonism as sympathetic, rather than critical. At times, it’s an extremely subjective experience as it locks us out, and then asks us to come in, and the web of fleeting characters around our protagonist don’t stay too long, floating in the film’s ether. The result is a captivating experience, especially because of its unpredictability, but also because of a sense of dread, as the day – which will be followed by the inevitable hangover – threatens to come to an end.
Simão (2016), Onde o Verão Vai – Episódios da Juventude (Where the Summer Goes (chapters on youth), 2016) and O Cordeiro de Deus (The Lamb of God, 2020), by David Pinheiro Vicente.
This screening presents the (so far) complete filmography of the young Portuguese director David Pinheiro Vicente. Born in 1997, David is one of the most solid promises of the brand-new Portuguese cinema: his graduation film premiered in the Berlinale, his first professional film made was selected to compete in Cannes, he is currently completing a medium-length film and he has already secured funding for his first feature.
The first two films presented today were made at Lisbon’s Film and Theatre School (Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema), where the director graduated from. Following the curricular structure of the school, Pinheiro Vicente made a documentary in his second year and a fiction film in his third and final year. These two films are thus a reflection of his academic path and echo each other.
Simão is an exercise in observation that is somewhere between Douglas Gordon’s artistic piece, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait (2006), and João Pedro Rodrigues’ commissioned film for Guimarães European Capital of Culture, O Corpo de Afonso (The King’s Body, 2012). In other words, it proposes an almost conceptual look at how one may observe the practice of sport as a performative and choreographic art and, without contradiction, finds in that same gaze the fascination of desire, filming the athletes’ bodies as living statues (according to the typology of Hellenic sculpture of amputated, fragmented and faceless torsos). To the point where the tennis players are interchangeable, since the “Simão” of the title is not necessarily just made up of Simão Alves’ body, but of a series of bodies (feet, legs, thighs, ankles, hips, chests, arms, hands…) of the various athletes who train with him. There is, in that sense, a dimension of fetishistic collage, a work of composition about the ideal and unattainable body.
Where the Summer Goes (chapters on youth) extends this investigation, but in a “fictional mode” and under the cloak of nostalgia of an already lost youth. Once again, this is a collection of images of young bodies, but instead of (re)discovering dance movements in sports, is instead a (re)staging of small everyday gestures, trying to recompose the rhythms and physicality of a day at the beach among friends, where not much happens. However, unlike Simão‘s visual sparseness (except for the final sequence with its rural parenthesis), Where the Summer Goes is heavily laden with religious symbolism – anticipating the next film – with various references to Eden, its serpent and its apple/peach. Whereas “Simão” was a single entity made up of several bodies, here the confusion of limbs (see the very cluttered first shot of the film) doesn’t create a figure, but rather announces a distended and fluid understanding of parts, of boys’ and girls’ bodies, of animals and plants, of wind, river waters and sun. As my friend Carlos Natálio put it, “the bodies spread out in a serene rather than sensual way”.
Likewise, in The Lamb of God, Pinheiro Vicente creates a main character that works as his alter ego, Diogo, who lives among angelic children and failed gown-ups. Desire makes him grow up, despite all of the childhood delights that still sing him lullabies. David (Pinheiro Vicente) also films between delicacy and dirt, i.e., between haunting sensations and the smell of blood. Then, everything gets stirred, elliptically and metaphorically, in a web tangled with fragments of what may be dreams, memories or visions (like the web of sexual innuendos connecting all the adult characters). At the center of the film is a tension between death and guilt (which end up complementing each other in ritualistic sacrifice).
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks, 2014) by Daniel Ribeiro
Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro made his first solo short film in 2007, entitled Café com Leite (You, Me and Him). Before that, he had worked with Eduardo Mattos on, among other films, the very funny and playfully trashy A Mona do Lotação (2007). In his “first” film, he reconciled the themes of mourning, orphanhood and the paternal responsibility of an older brother who suddenly finds himself as an adult, against the backdrop of a secret homosexual relationship. What is touching about this film is the way in which the director balances romantic love with fraternal/parental love without ever imposing the notion of a new family, but rather allowing his audience to be carried away by the natural restructuring of affections – with the special nuance that there is never any need for a coming out, because the reality of the characters’ feelings is clearer than their words. According to the director himself, it was during the festival circuit of that short film that the basic idea for what would become The Way He Looks, Daniel Ribeiro’s feature debut, was born. However, on the advice of the producer (Diana Almeida), before moving directly to the long format, he made a short version of the same film, already with the main cast and telling exactly the same story, but in only 15 minutes, as a way of rehearsing the possibilities of a longer film, testing the capabilities of the cast and producing an object that could also serve as a quality assurance for eventual financing. This short film is entitled Eu Não Quero Voltar Alone (I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone, 2010), the Portuguese title of the feature film being an inversion of the short film’s title, “Today I Want to Go Back Alone”.
The story is the same in both films: a blind boy, Leonardo (Guilherme Lobo), falls in love with the new student in his class, Gabriel (Fábio Audi). In the feature version, the complexity of the boys’ feelings and those of Leo’s best friend, Giovana (Tess Amorim), is made up of mistakes, doubts, assumptions, misunderstandings and everything that makes up teenage desire – summed up in the intelligent metaphor of the lunar eclipse. Like You, Me and Him, the protagonist’s sexuality is secondary to the main narrative axis, the coming-of-age trajectory and adolescent first love story. It’s true that there’s the issue of school bullying (which is much more ableist than homophobic), while the center of the action is much more about the emancipation of the blind teenager from his hyper-protective mother. That is why the titles of the short and feature films are reversed: while in the former the focus is on teenage passion (hence Leo’s desire for Gabriel’s company walking home), in the latter this is mixed with the desire for independence and autonomy, which results from the introduction of the characters of the mother, father and grandmother and the subplot of the exchange school in Los Angeles.
While it’s true that Daniel Ribeiro is trying to make a movie for the public, using a clear language, directing actors close to the formulas of soap operas and using a series of narrative solutions typical of television productions, it’s curious to note the way in which the film deals with Leo’s subjectivity (from a formal perspective). Since the character is blind, the director never offers a point-of-view shot of the boy, opting instead, in a systematic way (which demonstrates a surprising coherence), for medium shots with various characters or, in the case of the shot/reverse shot, choosing asymmetrical axes that move away from Leo’s “line of sight”. This need for exteriority is evident (or rather crystallized) in the recurring choice of god’s eye shots, which film the characters from a point of view that is totally foreign to them (simply observing them without intervention). Although this solution is frequent, it doesn’t carry a sense of detachment or coldness – rather, it reflects a sense of fairness in the relationship between the characters’ “gazes”. Perhaps for this reason, the most surprising moment in the film comes in Leonardo’s nightmare, which is entirely constructed in a point-of-view shot.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa