São cinco sessões que englobam muito do melhor que o cinema português deu ao mundo nos últimos anos: Salomé Lamas, Pedro Costa, Gabriel Abrantes, João Pedro Rodrigues, João Nicolau, Miguel Gomes, João Salaviza e Gonçalo Tocha. Entre os dias 25 e 30 de Novembro, o Frames Portuguese Film Festival leva à Suécia, particularmente aos residentes de Estocolmo, esta boa colheita nacional. O À pala de Walsh, a convite do director do festival Carlos Pereira, produziu as folhas de sala em inglês (que aqui reproduzimos), com o inestimável apoio da nossa revisora Moira Difelice. O crítico e programador Luís Miguel Oliveira estará em Estocolmo a apresentar cada uma das sessões. Só razões para estarmos gratos especialmente ao Carlos Pereira e ao curador João Laia. Lateralmente, queremos ainda agradecer ao blogger Francisco Rocha pela ajuda que nos deu.
Five sessions encompass much of the best that Portuguese cinema has brought to the world in recent years: Salomé Lamas, Pedro Costa, Gabriel Abrantes, João Pedro Rodrigues, João Nicolau, Miguel Gomes, João Salaviza and Gonçalo Tocha. Between 25 and 30 November, the Frames Portuguese Film Festival takes this fine harvest of ours to Sweden, more specifically to Stockholm. At the invitation of the festival director Carlos Pereira, À pala de Walsh wrote the articles on the films being screened (in English and also posted here), relying on the unconditional support of our proofreader Moira Difelice. The critic and programmer Luís Miguel Oliveira will be in Stockholm to present each session. We have every reason to be thankful, particularly to Carlos Pereira and the curator João Laia. Finally, we would also like to thank the blogger Francisco Rocha for all his help.
First session: Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (2008) by Miguel Gomes
“Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto” is the title of a song belonging to the Portuguese music genre known as “pimba” – highly sentimental love songs or upbeat melodies filled with sexual innuendo and tasteless puns; sometimes a mix of the two – mainly listened to by country bumpkins, young people who are ironical and just want to have fun or Portuguese emigrants who spend 11 months longing for their home country. August is when they can come back to Portugal to be with their relatives and take part in the local religious festivities that happen during the summer. The soundtrack to the these celebrations is usually “pimba” music, performed by artists who travel across the country, moving from town to town under the scorching heat.
Miguel Gomes, a former critic in a renown Portuguese newspaper who started making short films about fifteen years ago and is now one of the most acclaimed Portuguese filmmakers abroad – his latest film, Tabu (2012), won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival -, decided to film this universe. However, the idea was not to shoot the documentary it (kind of) ended up being. If we believe his words – he plays himself in the film and, in fact, the making of the film (or a fictional version of it) is part of the film itself -, Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto (2008) was meant to be a fictional film about a “pimba” band, a love story between a Portuguese girl and her foreign cousin, and the story of her father who was left by his wife, which we watch in the second half of the film. So, the entire first half – the “documentary” part – happened due to financial problems with the producers and was thus unplanned (that’s apparently why the production manager ends up playing the girl’s father and the leader of the “pimba” band). Curiously, Gomes’s three feature films – this one, Tabu and his first, A Cara Que Mereces (2004) – are divided into two halves, as if we had to undergo a “rite of passage” and get past some kind of realism or toned-down fantasy before entering the “world of fantasy” (the world of cinema).
What’s interesting about Gomes’s film is that the lines between fiction and documentary are always blurry: you are never really sure when you’re watching which. During the first half, when we meet the regular people – the mayor, the drunk lifeguard who jumps off bridges, the couple from the big city -, some of which will later turn into actors, we are already uncertain about whether they’re acting or not. And in the second half, there’s this moment when the young actress stops acting and the camera keeps rolling (or so it seems). These are delights for the postmodern viewer, who takes pleasure in Gomes’s playfulness, private jokes and the film’s self-awareness of itself. The thing is Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto also works as a documentary (with or without quotation marks) of the universe described in the first paragraph. And, what’s even more impressive, Miguel Gomes, an artist from the big city (a complete outsider), doesn’t have a condescending look on things. Unlike some other filmmakers who, when in exotic locations (or at least places that are slightly different from what they and the viewer are used to), tend to emphasize weirdness and end up making fun of the people they portray, Gomes lets people be part of the process (he could have easily adopted the condescending look if he wanted to as there were many weird, funny, idiosyncratic things to pick from).
Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto might not be as accomplished as Tabu (even though some people like it better or think it is more sincere) but it was a necessary stepping stone to reach that level of brilliance. And that is certainly something you feel about Miguel Gomes: he is always evolving, his latest movie is his best. I’m not trying to put down Aquele Querido Mês de Agosto or A Cara Que Mereces, they are both pretty good pictures. What I am trying to say is that it’s not that common anymore to see an artist grow like this, right before our eyes.
Second session: É na Terra Não é na Lua (2011) by Gonçalo Tocha
Corvo is the smallest island of the Azores archipelago. It has a little over 460 inhabitants and most of its land is occupied by the crater of a dormant volcano. There is pasture and cropping land and a village centre, Vila do Corvo, the smallest municipality in Portugal, with two cafés (one of which sometimes works as a nightclub), a church, a post office, a pier and an aerodrome – both of them quite recent. Before the pier was built, locals had to carry visitors to shore so that they wouldn’t get wet but that’s not a problem any more. However, Corvo is still a world within itself – not exactly isolated or disconnected from the rest of humanity, but probably more so than most other islands.
While still at sea, on their way to the island, Gonçalo Tocha, the director and cameraman of É na Terra Não é na Lua, tells Dídio Pestana, the location sound engineer (and only other crew member that Tocha brings to Corvo, with whom he talks about the film-making throughout the entire film) how he wants to capture the faces of every single person in the island, every bit of land, every detail, everything. We’d think this wouldn’t take too long – Corvo is such a tiny island after all. Nonetheless, É na Terra Não é na Lua lasts three hours, because Tocha lets the viewer and himself be immersed in that world, especially in its people: Joca, who left his family for a little adventure at sea; the oldest and the second oldest man in the island; the German music teacher; the ornithologist who threw up when he saw a rare kind of bird; the politician (one of the two voters of her party, CDU, the coalition that integrates the Portuguese Communist Party) in the fascinating sequence about the regional elections going on (the only time that politicians from the mainland took an interest in the Azores islands); the man who destroyed the diary he kept about the island (from which the film takes its title); the old lady who weaves the “boina corvina”, which will be the symbol of Tocha’s acceptance by the islanders (when it’s finished, Tocha, finally a “corvino”, can go home and edit his film).
Even though Gonçalo Tocha takes pleasure from filming the beautiful landscapes – the volcano crater, the sea from his window (especially when it rains and he can’t go out), every important or significant site of Corvo (there aren’t many, bearing in mind the size of the island, but every place means something to someone) – he’s not interested in making pretty pictures. He’s not a formalist either: the visuals are secondary to the characters and some of the images are even ugly or look amateurish (there’s a sequence at night that reveals the limits of digital cameras), as if É na Terra Não é na Lua were a home movie made by someone away from home. Gonçalo Tocha is more of an archivist than a filmmaker; he tries to take it all in, recording a disappearing world for posterity – for any world as it is at any given moment is already gone when you record it.
É na Terra Não é na Lua won the main prize at DocLisboa, the Portuguese Documentary Film Festival, in 2011. It might not be the most accomplished film technically, its charm might depend on the viewer’s mood (which you could say about any movie), but the truth is it presents the world with a “new world”, one that most people know nothing about. When it ends, the viewer feels not only that it was much shorter than it actually was (no one can deny it’s engaging) but also that he/she travelled to some distant “foreign” country without leaving the comfort of the cinema.
Third session: Morrer Como Um Homem (2009) by João Pedro Rodrigues + Rapace (2006) by João Nicolau
We are all, by nature, wild animals. Our duty, as human beings, is to become trainers that tame their beasts and even teach them strange skills.
in Tropical Malady
Morrer Como Um Homem (To Die like a Man) starts with a huge close-up of a face, a masculine face smeared with paint. It’s a soldier who is camouflaging himself but, if we know João Pedro Rodrigues, each fingermark of black paste could have been drawn with an eyeliner. Suddenly a hand appears in the frame (like the lover’s hand that appears by surprise in the first shot of Parabéns! – the short that launched the filmmaker’s career) to assist with the make-up. Such an unforeseeable gesture between two brothers in arms works as a prelude to what will follow: a line of soldiers marches through the night and Rodrigues films a message being whispered along that line with a tracking shot that we could find in a film by Ophüls (whereas other shots could be found in a film by Jacques Demy). Four of these soldiers are ordered to move on separately and, of these four, two get lost from the rest. We see them through the shadows of the foliage under the moonlight and, unsurprisingly, they kiss. The kissing goes on, they start touching each other and then comes a fuck in the middle of the jungle, an almost silent one so no one can hear them. They fuck like animals, hungry for each other. This is João Pedro Rodrigues’s cinema.
If there are several dimensions in João Pedro Rodrigues’s cinema (and indeed there are), animality is by far the most prominent of them all. In his first short, one of the characters behaves like a cat, drinking milk from a bowl. In O Fantasma the main character transmutes into a hideous creature who wonders through dumps and feeds himself on what he can find (a kind of latex bat-man). In the short film Manhã de Santo António Rodrigues portrays a group of youngsters who arrive home at dawn after partying all night long and wander through the streets like zombies. In his latest feature film, A Última Vez que Vi Macau, a powerful weapon changes the whole of humanity into animals – namely the main character into a cat (closing the circle with the first film). Curiously, or not so curiously, the woods or the forest – as primordial settings for finding the animality in Man – are quite absent from Rodrigues’s work (he nearly always chooses urban environments). Morrer Como Um Homem, divided between the countryside and the city, is an exception.
What happens here is that the woods become an emotional catalyst for the characters and, even more so, a place of oneiric flight from tragedy – but let’s take it easy. The film tells the story of Tónia, a drag queen artist who can’t decide about whether to undergo a sex-change operation or not – the opening credits sequence, in which the doctor explains the procedure with the folds of an origami, is somewhere between comical and terrifying (something we’ll find throughout the film). Tónia has a difficult relationship with her drug-addict boyfriend (Rosário – which is a female name in Portuguese but also a word to describe a series of unfortunate events or a chaplet) and with her son (one of the soldiers in the opening sequence of the film) who doesn’t accept his father’s choice of gender. In between conflicts at home and problems at work (age is a burden and Tónia’s rivals try to take her place at the show – a sign of Tónia’s animality is the moment when she licks the wound of a colleague/rival and doesn’t clean the blood off her lips, like a wild cat that has just caught its prey), Rodrigues paints the film with piercing, melodramatic colours, where each image is loaded with pictorial intensity, either kitsch or classic, both in its references – we see Flemish paintings on the walls, as well as photographs of Cristiano Ronaldo – and in its own construction (the first shot of Rosário lying on the floor is lighted in a way very reminiscent of the Renaissance chiaroscuro).
All this is included in the first part of the film, more linear and classic. Halfway through the film, the couple decides to go on a trip through the countryside. By no accident, just as we leave the city we start to see burned trees – maybe a sign of what we’re about to witness -, the car rolls along and with it we move through the countryside until we are lost in the middle of dirt roads. Roaming through the woods, the couple eventually reaches a house – something of a fairy tale – inhabited by two drag queens (the prominent figure is Maria Bakker, a preexisting fictional character created for the theatre by Gonçalo Ferreira de Almeida – the character’s theatrical physicality accentuates the already mentioned dreamlike feel of the woods) and together they start off on a hunt for gambozinos (a popular mythical figure which, by definition, is impossible to catch). In a lateral tracking shot through the woods, Rodrigues films this onslaught under a wonderful nuit américaine (day for night), making us feel as if suddenly we were in the studio forests of the 1950s, next to Gary Cooper in Walsh’s Distant Drums. Rosário says he caught a gambozino, shows his closed hands and out of them comes a glowing firefly (is it his soul that escapes him? or his lover who slips between his fingers?). It was a false alarm. But suddenly the moon turns red and we start to hear the gambozinos singing… Baby Dee’s Calvary. In a long steady take of almost five minutes and using a red filter, Rodrigues films the group of hunters listening to the song, a kind of musical revelation of the main character’s fate.
Take up your cross and follow!
Wake up from your sleep!
Wake up! Wake up in sorrow!
Wake up! Wake up and weep!
Although they are on opposite sides of the world, both Rodrigues and Apichatpong Weerasethakul deal with the forest in a very similar way. In the same line are Tabu by Miguel Gomes with its magical jungle (also filmed by Rui Poças, the extraordinary cinematographer who has worked with Rodrigues in all his films since his first feature) or the strange house lost in the woods in A Espada e a Rosa by João Nicolau , whose first film, Rapace, will also be shown in this screening. If there is a link between João Nicolau and João Pedro Rodrigues, it is probably because both use music in a very theatrical way. But, going back to the forest in Rodrigues and Weerasethakul, both filmmakers see it as a place of symbolic expansion where the characters are confronted with the emotional reverberations of their soul, a place where man has to deal with the pulsing animal within him and tame it (or be tamed by it). The son is overtaken by rage and a need for vengeance and kills his partner (he was tamed), whereas for Tónia and Rosário the forest is a place of reunion. Symbolizing this is the fact that the small flowers they take home (called, not by accident, não-te-esqueças meaning do-not-forget) and plant in their back garden (a domestic reproduction of the woods) are the reason why they find several objects of sentimental value buried by their dog – whose absence was the cause of many troubles at home. In other words, the forest reunites the couple and the animal proves to be responsible for their previous problems.
If the film ended there, we would end up happy, with a smile on our face. But the title is telling. Tónia has to die… like a man, i.e. refusing her acquired gender identity and being buried in a man’s suit. Her body rejects the breast implants (the stage animal has to leave) and the infection they caused, added to an already frail health, condemn Tónia to death, as well as her lover (who disappears, once again in a long steady take, both beautiful and sad). We will not reach the end of the film with a happy smile on our face, but with a tearful smile to the sound of a fado sung by Tónia herself (Fernando Santos) who, now separated from her body, sings for all of Lisbon, wearing feathers and sequins – after all, the animal could not be tamed. Morrer Como Um Homem lives in that dim line separating the ridicule from the sublime, swinging from one side to the other, but great filmmakers are capable of keeping their balance, surprising and fascinating us with their films.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Fourth session: Arena (2009) + Cerro Negro (2011) + Rafa (2012), three short films by João Salaviza
We cannot say there is an original and distinct João Salaviza touch. Indeed, his three short films Arena, Cerro Negro and Rafa show us a set of aesthetic features which are the easily identified cornerstones of contemporary world cinema. The linear, elliptical and almost invisible diegesis, the sparse use of dialogue, the preference for long takes, the mix of non-professional and professional actors, the stretching of time vis-à-vis a sense of spatial closeness, etc. Salaviza is without any doubt a direct product of his time and – some might immediately conclude – that is the reason why he is capable of winning two of the most important film prizes in Europe within three years time: the Palme D’Or with Arena and the Golden Bear with Rafa. Salaviza is closer to Jia Zhang-ke, Tsai Ming-liang, Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso or the Dardenne brothers than most Portuguese filmmakers. He is more concerned with the transformative reality in front of the camera than with following the classic mise en scène lessons, so deeply rooted in the Portuguese paradigm of filmmaking.
More outside than inside Portugal, some critics may say that perhaps Salaviza is not risking much or even that he is just following the successful recipe(s) of contemporary cinema. However, he is distinctively and consciously twisting some vices of the Portuguese filmic modus operandi. His films, as he likes to stress, are born out of a non-traditional way of working, placing the film’s reality, or the reality of its own making, above any preconceived idea of how a film should be made. For instance, in an interview conducted by Carlos Pereira and Vanessa Sousa Dias for the book Novas & Velhas Tendências no Cinema Português Contemporâneo (2013) he says that if a film like Arena would have been carried out as an assignment at the Portuguese Film School, the school would have rejected it, not only because of its narrative sparseness or elusiveness but mainly because the shooting was done in the same spirit as the previous months of planning.
“I wanted the shooting to be an extension of those two calm months, when we were looking for actors, settings, when we rehearsed, and when on other days we didn’t do a thing, which is also part of the process”. With this idea Salaviza is not only talking about the working process but mainly about his own film. It is like that inspired sentence by Jacques Rivette, according to whom – and I am paraphrasing – the greatest films are all documentaries about their own making. Arena, but also Cerro Negro and Rafa, are tangential examples of how sharply right this thought can be. In these films there is a director who is not seeking for a dramatic ride – or, as he put it, some “climactic moments” – but one that knows how to contemplate all the down time that is “part of the process” of filmmaking, that is, of living. Films should resemble their working process and this process should contemplate life in all its non-dramatic forms, that is to say, even in its own multiple states of inaction. In a short film this is a daunting task, but Salaviza shows it is possible.
The main character in Arena is living under house arrest with an electronic tag around his ankle, the father in Cerro Negro is a prisoner for whom the greatest loss of freedom is not being able to talk to his small son or not knowing if he will be able to spend Christmas at home, and in Rafa we have a boy who has to wait if he wants to take his incarcerated mother back home. (In this film there is a rare cinephilic quality in the interrogation sequence, which is a direct quotation taken from François Truffaut’s Les quatre cents coups.) We seem to be thrown into the middle of these films and have the feeling we won’t experience much within the boundaries of those limited spaces of time. All three are experiences of space framed in time by action – and mainly inaction.
Salaviza’s cinema is pervaded by the idea (an inaction) of waiting for someone or something (freedom in Arena, the father in Cerro Negro or the mother in Rafa) and the irrevocable conclusion that time is all we have and we will treasure it by lying on the couch, taking a piss, lightning up a piece of paper and throwing it out of the window, wandering within or between suburban buildings (a kind of abstract or metaphysical, Pedro Costa-like setting in Arena). Doing all this means “encaging” ourselves at home or simply letting space fill our empty lives with possibilities, even if they lead us nowhere – but shall we presume that a dead end is nowhere? Following the linear path of his characters, almost like a suburban Lisandro Alonso, Salaviza’s camera articulates in a very franc way what he stated in the above-mentioned interview: “I preferred the cases where, in spite of all that happens, nothing changes”. Salaviza’s touch is not risky in nature but is always at the risk of being non-existent, so skillfully it reflects his very own approach to cinema: maybe nothing changes but a lot is made to happen – and, be sure, the camera is brave enough to only record dead ends.
Fifth session: Terra de Ninguém (2011) by Salomé Lamas + O Nosso Homem (2010) by Pedro Costa + Liberdade (2011) by Gabriel Abrantes and Benjamin Crotty
Terra de Ninguém (No Man’s Land) opens on the sky. Aerial shots over a jungle might hint at a supreme beginning from a god’s point of view. That would be a wrong guess. Maybe a war scenario? Still wrong. The “war” ended years ago and we are now searching for someone. Someone who is hard to find. He fought in the Portuguese colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique and, after some minor jobs as a personal security guard during the ensuing years of the Carnation Revolution, he became a mercenary. His name is Paulo de Figueiredo and we now find him sat on a chair in an abandoned place, in between rusty walls set against a black background, wearing a black shirt. He is ready for the film though he doesn’t know exactly why he is doing this. He is, of course, in a no man’s land. It is in this neutral physical space, used as some sort of half-stage half-life confessional booth, that a man, who saw and did terrible things in the past, introduces himself and will talk about his profession. But, in saying confessional, I am ruling out the moral tone because the emptiness of the walls, the fixed camera, the absence of the filmmaker’s voice are exactly the construction of an amoral dispositif. We are facing a structure of freedom manufactured for the viewer, which Salomé Lamas needs in order to respect one of the key features of her work: the rigorous ethical exigency of distance between what or who is on camera and the other side: the ominous presence of the all-knowing eye, the all-powerful spectator.
But let us take this “no man’s land” metaphor a step further. In a way, we just have to take a quick look at some of Salomé’s previous films to understand the importance of being in between. In between individuals and technical registers. As if it were only possible to see and feel the world by constantly changing the “landscape”, while maintaining our ability to temporarily position ourselves here or there and thus soften the non-place of moral judgement. For instance, when she films Clube Campista de Lisboa, the oldest camping park in Portugal, in A Comunidade (2012), we are always facing two possibilities: either the picturesque caricature of big bellies and short swimming suits or the more anthropological approach towards the old couples and young kids in this particular microcosm. In Golden Dawn (2011) the filmmaker watches the routines of Dutch fishermen in the North Sea but decides to “contaminate” the observation space with the sound ambience created by the young Portuguese composer Filipe Felizardo. Again we are in between documentary and fiction, between soft and hard images. Finally, in her most personal film to date, VHS – Video Home System (2012), where Salomé talks with her mother and works on a home-made videotape of her early childhood, we are faced with a search for some sort of truth between being awake and being asleep and, in this process, also reshape our conceptions of the analogical image and repetition. As if by repeating “tenho sono, tenho sono” (“I’m sleepy, I’m sleepy”), the young Salomé would send sleep away and, through the continuing of this tape and its mantra of grainy images, we would gain privileged magical access to her personal and already gone Proustian “madeleine”.
This interplay between registers should not be taken as the postmodern bricolage so often identified in filmmakers overwhelmed by the permeability of cinema to video art. Salomé does not fit into this group – she is mainly concerned, it seems, with understanding how the totality of available resources (and the world is just one among them) could serve the construction of an open space that would be filled with meanings that are often temporary, paradoxical and free. In Terra de Ninguém these meanings result from the interplay between Paulo’s position and Salomé’s minimalist approach. Paulo always dwelled in this no man’s land, this uninhabited, vacant space in the back alleys of the system. As a CIA-hired mercenary in El Salvador and later as a contracted killer for GAL (the anti-Basque underground organisation), he was always the strategic shadow placed between power and revolution, between the bureaucracies of violence and the paradoxes of justice. This man is not looking for redemption and Salomé is not willing to play this role either. So the film receives him in static shots and cuts his speech into short chapters (as if they were brief entries in a dark personal diary), which are only at times interrupted by Salomé’s low-key, paused voice and form the basis of her own research and reflection.
This combination sets up a space of discussion on a shaky ground that intertwines facts and memories as personal fictions, challenging the notions of documentary, portrait and confession. Paulo is always “the good, the bad and the ugly”. He is the Portuguese man of “brandos costumes” (an expression used to characterise the Portuguese people as being soft), who sometimes uses popular sayings (such as “quem torto nasce, torto morre” – “as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined”) and other times describes brutal details impassively: “killing is like drinking a glass of war”, he says. Concerning the other short films shown in this session, maybe more important than categorising them is to understand that Paulo, the dead characters in O Nosso Homem by Pedro Costa and, in a slightly different way, Liberdade in the homonymous film by Gabriel Abrantes are all some sort of result, in the form of condemned and tragic figures, of the colonial presence and influence in Africa.
In the case of Pedro Costa, this path should be understood cum grano salis. His short, as we will see tonight, is guided, in his own words, by two intentions. The first is to make a political film about the administrative expulsions that are taking place in Fontainhas (the slum neighbourhood where No Quarto da Vanda was filmed in 2000 and that is somehow the centre of his “stage” since then). The second is the desire to make a film that begins with a mother and ends with a knife (this knife, the ultimate shot of the film, is a shot of violence or against violence). Of course that people who follow Costa’s career will see O Nosso Homem as a reediting of his two previous short films Tarrafal (2007) and The Rabbit Hunters (2007), which were both commissioned to be included in films made up of shorts by different filmmakers. So there is yet a third idea that may allow us to see the film as a variation of the other two, exploring the endless possibilities when working with the inhabitants of this place, his family of friends who became actors and actors who became friends. Pedro Costa says: “Everything is possible. If we put a cap on them, they can be mechanics. If they wear a crown, they can be kings”. In this case they were told to be dead.
So it is here, we see, that by working with this group of people – all the same: Cape Verdean emigrants, construction workers, alcoholics, living in Lisbon’s slums – and by giving them this mythical role of storytellers (most of the stories told here, unlike in Salomé’s film – which is also a film of stories – are invented and rehearsed), Pedro Costa is challenging our idea of art. Art made with/by people that Paulo could have killed (he may even be this mythical figure that sucks blood, which Lucinda tells her son José Alberto about) and that for some reason inhabit this space, without knowing if they are really alive. Somebody may have killed them, they always disappear mysteriously when they go “chasing rabbits”. Pedro Costa’s gesture is always of friendship but, above all, it makes them exist by recognising that our eye (and material culture) is in the process of telling them to go away. Their expulsion is under way.
In the case of Liberdade, the answer we hear in Luanda’s streets is of international cooperation. But Gabriel Abrantes films the inoperability of this political and economic cooperation by turning to the upsets of an “emotional… cooperation”. A doomed Romeo and Juliet love story between a young Angolan and a Chinese emigrant girl, where a sexual obstacle replaces the family one. In other words, Freedom (Liberdade, the character of the title) just doesn’t have a hard-on. But what does it mean to film the fact that “freedom doesn’t excite” you anymore? Abrantes, as in A History of Mutual Respect, 2010 (best short film in Locarno), is always concerned about how the political is affecting sexuality and provoking – either through military conflict or freedom – a crisis in desire. In this case, Liberdade and his girlfriend are bourgeois teenagers whose feelings may have inherited something from the West but who, due to the post-colonial environment, refuse to accept western culture per se.
When Liberdade walks alongside the beach with his girlfriend, towards the end of the film, with Sinatra singing about the warm, beautiful hideout of being seventeen, and we see rusty boats on the shore like big graffitied scars that need to be removed in order not to frustrate the deep dives of youth, we are left with a mixed feeling. Young kids capable of feeling melancholia? Or is it rather misplaced ennui? Liberdade films the process of creating new problems for old lands or old problems for new lands. The result is both beautiful and compelling, as if the place that Lucinda dreams of returning to in O Nosso Homem had vanished. “There is no lamp that could lighten that darkness”, she says. Exactly because that darkness now depends on inner lamps, say we.