Este ano o tema do Frames Portuguese Film Festival, festival de cinema português na Suécia, é raízes. Raízes da vida e do cinema. Histórias mais ou menos circulares que traçam o retrato das relações sentimentais, maioritariamente familiares, entre personagens que são, à sua maneira, o espelho de um país. Esta edição do festival acontece entre os dias 22 e 28 de Fevereiro em Estocolmo, no dia 27 de Fevereiro em Västerås e entre 2 e 6 de Março em Göteborg. Terá a participação do walshiano Luís Mendonça, que apresentará as sessões, da realizadora Margarida Leitão, que mostra Gipsofila, do actor Ricardo Trêpa, que irá falar sobre O Velho do Restelo do seu avô Manoel de Oliveira, e do escritor, Prémio Saramago em 2008, João Tordo, convocado para uma conversa em torno de José e Pilar. O À pala de Walsh, parceiro do festival desde a sua raiz, agradece à organização esta oportunidade de estar associado a um festival em crescimento, que se baseia na afirmação do cinema português na Suécia. Abaixo publica-se as folhas de sala que serão distribuídas em cada sessão e que foram redigidas por esta equipa walshiana: Carlos Natálio, Francisco Noronha, João Lameira, Ricardo Vieira Lisboa e Luís Mendonça. Trevliga föreställningar!
This year the subject of Frames Portuguese Film Festival, portuguese film festival in Sweden, is roots. The roots of cinema and of life. More or less circular stories that draw the portrait of sentimental relationships mostly between family members that, in their own way, are the mirror of the whole country. This edition starts in the 22th and ends in the 28th of February in Stockholm. In the 27th of February it takes place in Västerås and between the second and the sixth of March it goes to Göteborg. It will have the presence of our own Luís Mendonça, that will present each screening, of the director Margarida Leitão, author of Gipsofila, of the actor Ricardo Trêpa, who will talk about The Old Man of Belém of his grandfather Manoel de Oliveira, and of the writer João Tordo, winner of the José Saramago Prize in 2009, who is going to talk about José and Pilar. À pala de Walsh, partner of this festival since its beginning, wants to thank the Frames crew this opportunity of being part of a growing film festival that promotes portuguese cinema in Sweden. Below we are publishing the reviews that are going to be handed out for each screening and that were written by this walshian team: Carlos Natálio, Francisco Noronha, João Lameira, Ricardo Vieira Lisboa e Luís Mendonça. Trevliga föreställningar!
First session: Montanha (2015) by João Salaviza
Montanha (Mountain, 2015) is the first feature film directed by João Salaviza. Nevertheless, this is not the first time that this director portrays youth as a landscape for a wandering that takes the characters to dead end streets. Journeys that take them to nowhere, that make the characters draw circles in space and undertake vertical action in time. This is the way Salaviza has been following part of the aesthetical program of modern cinema as the underestimated Christian Metz understood it: transmutation of downtimes into heightened times.
We’ve already seen in Salaviza’s short films that usually there is a locomotion problem behind the crisis that plagues, like a continuos tempest, the unquiet spirits of his characters. In Arena (2009) we have a man captive in his own home. When he is forced to get out of his lair he threatens to throw a bicycle from the top of a building. He also forces the kid that is annoying him to get inside a car boot. In Rafa (2012) a motorcycle enables the link between two landscapes that divide the film in two: on the one hand, the restful, soft and baneful time of the outskirts neighborhood in the south bank of the city; on the other hand, downtown Lisbon which radiates movement and opens the film to confrontation. The motorcycle of Rafa is not exactly like the motorcycle of Montanha, because this is a film made of heights. A film with its feet off the ground. So the shot tightens on the faces of Rafa and David when the two escape on a stolen motorcycle. It seems like they are floating. The gesture recalls Larry Clark and Gus Van Sant: youth as an existential limbo. Or: youth as a cloud. David’s life is divided between the street and the heights of monumental buildings that are part of the suburban landscape. It reaches to an abrupt, vertical and totemic elevation in the image.
Montanha was also shot like it was a western. There is something close to an indian reservation or an uprooted territory in the habitat of these teenagers. Nevertheless, the great western landscapes can be found here not in the buildings and streets of the neighborhood of Olivais, but in the upper body, backs, arms and legs of the actors, while they “kill time” doing nothing, that is, while they kill time making it flow and cling to things, to gestures, to bare skin which suddenly turns itself into a landscape in its own right. The most luminous shot of Montanha is the one that opens the film: a two shot – which as a matter of fact is a master shot – of David’s backs while his body is laying in the bed and turned to total darkness.
Therefore, this is a western of interiors. More Hawksian than Fordian; more about vertical concentration of time than horizontal spreading of space. The close-ups are – reveal themselves to be – master shots that call for a monumental sense of emptiness. It is the time and space as felt during adolescence. Time and space opened to the cohabitation of bodies, to useful and languid gestures, to furtive kisses, stupid laughs and shy looks. Props are shared, confessions are whispered, secrets are exchanged. Everything under the same roof. This is Hawks. Not Ford. At the same time, there is somnambulism, that flotation of bodies adrift. Is it Hawks, is it Romero? Let us not go too far here. Montanha, a movie about heights, doesn’t unbind itself from its own gesture in order to make us access a universal (and a political) portrayal of adolescence. The whole film is under a tension – that was already pervasive in Salaviza’s short films – between total control and total freedom. Sometimes, the hand of the young director shows up to claim an “authorial signature”, which contradicts his ambition to surrender the film – and us, viewers – to the bodies and their cohabitations.
At least two shots show this temptation of excessive control. Let us look again to the the most exuberant sequence of Montanha: the circular panning of the camera that took inspiration from Chantal Akerman’s La chambre (1972). The camera draws a perfect choreography – with a too exact sense of timing – over an intimate scene between David and Paulinha. There’s a distance, a shyness even, that is beautiful and, for that reason, the movement of the camera is insinuating, but it’s impossible not to feel the formalistic drive, a will to be flashy in the face of what’s unrolling in front of it, inside the world where the movie seemed not to want to get (us) out. The other shot where I feel too much the director’s hand – in this case, the wardrobe’s hand – is the one where David appears in the shot against a building that has the same color of his shirt. There is an interesting dialogue between skins and façades in the film – I’ve already talked about that -, but here suddenly something seems as if it is being choreographed up to the point of self-promotion. As if the film was rather selling the “cuteness” of the gesture behind the idea than the idea itself.
Montanha is a an engaging film, sometimes powerfully atmospheric and touching – the whispered sex at the end between Paulinha and David is a good example. However, Salaviza doesn’t completey avoid to do what (most) debutants do; he flaunts his hand, which prevents the film to achieve even greater heights.
Second session: José e Pilar (2010) de Miguel Gonçalves Mendes
Saramago’s relationship with Portugal was never peaceful, due to the numerous and infamous gestures of contempt taken in the 90s by the right-wing Government headed at that time by Cavaco Silva, the current President of the Republic, and which led to the author’s exile in Lanzarote. Saramago has always been known for his reserved and truculent personal style and his departure to the Spanish island – insularity which goes hand in hand with his personality – definitely took the spotlight away from his homeland’s public eye, which helped to create a certain myth around his persona. That is why Mendes’s documentary, an intimate testimony of Saramago’s life with his wife Pilar, is a true exercise of “unveiling” his last years (almost until his death in June 2010).
In a diaristic but serene tone (contrary to Saramago’s hectic agenda), José e Pilar (José and Pilar, 2010), a “road doc” organized in three acts, is an ambitious work, since it addresses a wide range of topics: the passage of time and the sense of urgency that old age brings, love and life as a couple, God and death, even the island of Lanzarote itself. Somehow, it turns out to be not just a documentary about Saramago, but by Saramago himself (as if he was, for a moment, the director of the film), in the sense that he takes advantage of the film to make personal notes of his daily life (to “document” it, precisely), as a kind of logbook. Exchanging views with Žižek, for whom “Fiction is more real than the reality of playing social roles”, since in the face of “the dialectic of «wearing the mask»”, “the only way to depict people beneath their protective mask of playing is, paradoxically, to make them directly play a role, i.e. to move into fiction”, we would say that, more than representing “reality”, what all documentary film should aspire to is the representation of the human element; and if the human – the “human being” itself, the behavior of “being human” – indeed implies, as we know, the use of masks in our daily lives, then what is actually real (but that is all, it does not mean necessarily more interesting) is that documental and composite final result made of transparency and opacity (the one from the “mask”), and not fiction. What is real, in fact, is the act of Saramago signing autographs when he no longer has the patience to do it (and not the impudent writer that by “removing the mask”, would tell fans to go away) or the act of Pilar asking a member of the audience to leave the room (and not to insult him or strike him as the first “inadmissible impulse” would lead to).
Shot at a time when Saramago was already a figure of planetary dimension, it is also very interesting to note the way in which the film captures the zeitgeist of the 21st century writer (and the whole powerful “machine” behind him) as a media figure whose prominence as someone who interprets the world he lives in and being heard and respected for that (as were Sartre, Camus, among many) loses relevance whilst his media presence as a “pop star” soars. Saramago, for better or for worse, is perhaps one of the last models of the public intellectual armed with his own critical thoughts concerning society, even though he does not escape from his own “merchandisation”: as Saramago himself laments, even when he has nothing further to say, he still has to give dozens of conferences and speeches, smile for the audience, sign books, emit soundbites.
If every film, as Jacques Rivette once pointed out, is a documentary of its own shooting, then Mendes’s documentary is one of a double meaning, since it focuses on two “shootings”, that is to say two creative processes, the cinematic and the literary one. Indeed, Mendes follows Saramago completing the writing of The Elephant’s Journey, the last book published in his lifetime, and also catches, in one of those happy miracles that sometimes happen during a shooting, the writer on the plane germinating the very initial idea for Cain, his definitive and essayistic novel inspired by and about biblical texts. In this respect, it is curious to note that as we hear so many times Saramago, a confirmed atheist, denying the existence of God (there are many and brilliant aphorisms from him in this matter), Mendes frames these passages with almost mystical shots of the cosmos and of a deserted and virginal Lanzarote (as if dating from the “beginning of the world”, with a great mist slowly crossing the hills), a movement between the Universal and the Particular evoking the mystery of life and of creation. It seems, as Žižek stressed about Andrei Tarkovsky’s work, like the film breathes in some sort of materialist theology, in the sense that the access to “the spiritual dimension [the mystery of creation] [can] only [be successful] via intense direct physical contact with the damp heaviness of earth (or stagnant water) [the earth of Lanzarote we see in the film]”. But there is also the mystery of love, since if, as Saramago puts it, “The history of mankind is the history of our misunderstandings with god, for he doesn’t understand us, and we don’t understand him”, then the story of Saramago and Pilar is instead, as those same shots of the cosmos imply, about their complete understanding, about their almost predestined encounter somewhere written in the stars filmed by Mendes, because it is by looking up to them, as once Bogart said to Joan Leslie in Raoul Walsh’s High Sierra, that we “can almost feel the motion of the earth” (and we all know that he is not referring only, or not at all, to earth, but to love and the motion it causes in us). We may now, therefore, better understand Saramago’s dedication (“To Pilar, who had not yet been born and took so long in coming”) and his “cosmic” certainty that he and Pilar will “meet elsewhere”.
There is a defining close-up shot of the whole film: it’s that one in which we see the hands of Saramago and Pilar holding and caressing each other. The shot is long and accompanied by a musical and urgent crescendo whose peak coincides with the separation of their hands, since they are now needed for applauding a speech. The hands of Saramago and Pilar want to touch each other, indefinitely, but there is no time: they must move on to the next step, the next conference, the next plane. In this imperative of continuity, this close-up rhymes with the last shot at the airport, a “flying” shot, as if the film – and the life of Saramago, both biological and artistic – would never finish, flight to flight. And since Saramago’s biological life is so intertwined with his work, we would say without hesitation that he will always remain steady and vigorous like the quince tree of Victor Erice.
Francisco Noronha Slavo Žižek, The Fight of Real Tears: Krzysztof Kieslowski between Theory and Post-Theory, British Film Institute, London, 2001, p. 75.  Slavo Žižek, op. cit., at p. 74.  Slavo Žižek, op. cit., at p. 102.
Third session: A Nossa Forma de Vida (2011) de Pedro Filipe Marques
A Nossa Forma de Vida (The Way We Are, 2011) is the debut feature film by Pedro Filipe Marques as a director – for which he received an award at DocLisboa 2011 for best Portuguese debut and a jury special mention at Cinéma do Réel 2012. Nevertheless Pedro Filipe Marques – who is finishing now a new feature film – is one of the most prestigious editors in Portuguese Cinema, having worked with such directors as Manuel Mozos, João Botelho, Margarida Cardoso, Sérgio Tréfaut, Pedro Costa and Miguel Gomes. That in part justifies the surprising element in this film, since Pedro Filipe Marques besides obviously directing and editing the film (editing together with Tomás Baltazar) also was the cinematographer (in a shooting that took from 2007 to 2011), the direct sound technician and the producer. A Nossa Forma de Vida is then a truly personal project not only for the artisan ways of its construction, but also due to the nature of its subject, his grandparents, Maria Fernanda Cunha and Armando Cunha, who he films in their apartment with their routine daily life of a retired couple.
Maybe the first thing one can say about this film by Pedro Filipe Marques is its formal accuracy, witch prevails all through the film. An accuracy that shows in the ever present invisibility of the director, in the way the documentary closes itself in the grandparents’ apartment (there is no single shot in which, in one way or the other, the building where they live – at the eighth floor – does not appear), the obsession for finding reflections inside the house and also the confidence that his family may represent something broader and specifically Portuguese: the grandfather’s communist activism and the grandmother’s domestic capitalism that talk to each other in constant mismatch.
From these directing marks I would like to call your attention to the obsession of reflections, which is present in almost every framing in the film. Be it through a television set, through the window glasses that simultaneously show what happens inside and reflect the outside (and vise-versa), the mirrors in the living room and in the bathroom, the tiles that cover the tower facade, the reading glasses lighted by a lamp or even the waters in the river Douro’s mouth into the Atlantic Ocean at sunset.
These ever present reflections in a way work as screens that mediate the exterior (together with the newspapers and the radio) that Pedro Filipe Marques opts not to film. In this way the windows work as the television or the glasses, allowing the two elderly to access the outside world from the cozyness and intimacy of the home. Inversely, these screens also format and frame the old couple’s perspective on the world (and on their country) and thus on their daily life – a moment that for me represents this interdependency between life and mediated imagery, in which one watches and finds himself on the screen, is that when the grandfather pats his wife on the back with a foot and right after the television screen shows a Chinese artist painting with his feet at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. The screen as a permeable imagetic membrane that (re)acts to a mediated/remedied world.
If this seems to be the function of the mirror obssesion in the relationship between the grandparents’s home and the outside world, the reflections seem also to have a different function in the relationship between grandfather and grandmother. He prefers the radio and the newspapers while she prefers the television, in the same way, she gets out everyday and he stays at home for weeks, he writes erotic poems while she writes shopping lists, he praises the Communist regimes all over the world recollecting with nostalgia his trip to Moscow before the fall of the Berlin Wall while she nags that he left her alone with their children and went on holidays, he wants to listen to the radio transmission of the Festa do Avante (a music festival organized every year by the Communist Party) and she wants to see Mamma Mia! (2008).
The constant dyssynchrony between the old man, a sofa idealist, and the old woman, practical but disenchanted, works as an unexpected comedy of caricatures that substantiates in those window reflection that mend together, in the same plane, what seemed immiscible. Those moments reflect also the love between that man and that woman that besides their differences have lived together for more than sixty years, and live happily and simply in their apartment.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Fourth session: Como Desenhar um Círculo Perfeito (2009) de Marco Martins + Má Raça (2013) de Marco Leão e André Santos
I hope it will not be such an abuse of imagination to start by writing that the two films that compose tonight’s program can be united through an idea of “affective geometry”, a theme that is not so original if we have in mind the cerebral way that the relationship between objects and people took shape since the first silent films of Alfred Hitchcock. However, we are dealing here with a more enlarged concept that tries to work on the figure of the circle as a possible delimitation for the familiar universe. And this starts with Marco Martins’s second feature film, Como Desenhar um Círculo Perfeito (How to Draw a Perfect Circle, 2009) that films the love and desire of its protagonist Guilherme (Rafael Morais) towards his sister Sofia (Joana de Verona) as a magnetic force that stops her from leaving the “perfect circle” formed by the family unit.
Less clear geographically, at least figuratively less evident, is the circularity that involves, once more, the familiar universe of the characters of Má Raça (Bad Blood, 2013), Marco Leão and André Santos short film. This circularity is not given to us explicitly in chalk drawings on the wall of a room, or in sugar circles and tic-tac-toe games, as it happens in the first film. Instead, it is implied in the way the two directors concern themselves with the bubble of non-communication between mother and daughter (Daniela and Olinda Gama), established in closed spaces, each one in her personal and insurmountable fortress. In the house, Simão, the dog (the only character that has a name) begins the film imprisoned and salivating behind the balcony window; the mother runs on the treadmill, staying in place; later, she will be seen from her car’s rear mirror, in the safety of a car wash boot, another one of these enclosed and secure places the camera is slowly peeking. This camera sometimes takes the form of a forgotten trinket in the living room, sometimes “hides” itself behind a tree or a window, capturing, from a “safe distance”, the comings and goings of the bodies in space. There is no such interest with faces because there is not much to tell. In this sense, the shot in which we see the daughter’s portrait — in it, one of the halves is her photo when she was a child and in the other we can glimpse the reflexion of her in the present, already adolescent, putting on some clothes — reveals in a good way the whole film.
But if there is this circular and geographical proximity between these two films there is also an important difference. Como Desenhar um Círculo Perfeito is a film that problematizes the pathology connected to a centripetal force of the familiar relationships. It would be interesting to place it as an unofficial continuation of the first feature film of the director, Alice (2005), because this one starts in the special and wintry dispersion of the streets of Lisbon, where a father tries to find his missing daughter. In other words, the father tries to bring back the missing child from the unknown exterior to the centre, the centre of his familiar nucleus. Therefore, if we can say that Como Desenhar is Marco Martins’s circle-film, Alice, by opposition, would be his rectangle-film, due to the expressive force of the surveillance cameras, the rectangle of control. But concluding the reasoning, this search for the daughter, initiated with Alice, as a way of pulling what is out of the circle to the inside of it, is then completed by Guilherme’s dilemma that cannot conceive of his desires outside of this same circle and therefore tries to maintain his sister inside the circle, closer and closer to the core. This is why he spies on her, making love with a boy, spies on his father with another woman or watches her mother looking herself in the mirror preparing to go out.
Marco Martins, by filming this centripetal movement, shows that there is nothing in the film outside the family (the friends don’t exist, and even the granddaughter and the neighbour that could contribute to enlarge the circle, end up dead). If one makes the effort to problematize until the end what would be a familiar circle of desires and tensions based on the archetypical and tragic figure of the incest, we would quickly find a logical thread (thematically, not chronologically) through Portuguese cinema of this problem of the circle that becomes more and more narrow. Here I talk about Mal Nascida (Misbegotten, 2007) in which the director João Canijo watches closely the effects of the excessive proximity and the possibilities of finding lines of flight to this situation through revenge. The brother avenges his sister against the abuse of their father. Canijo adapts Electra.
Marco Martins’ film, being a work of concentration, has a less geometrical difference with Má Raça. What separate them are instead the different driving forces. The dilemma of the short film’s characters is the opposite, personified in an inverse and centrifuge movement. Here the centre is saturated and one needs to “aerate”: this is the reason why, we’ve already written it, the mother runs inside; one needs to wear out (and not take out) the dog and to go get the grandmother that doesn’t want to come. As the mother says: “one cannot stay inside the house with such heat.” Heat that is responsible for expelling some of the action to the off screen: the absent faces but also the way Simão escapes and is run over. In Portuguese the expression “má raça” does not only mean that someone or something has bad blood, but also that someone is bad by nature. With this in mind one can say that Simão’s breed, if it is bad is only a symbol of the ill will between mother and daughters. In fact, the sound of the dog’s paws clacking on the wood of the home’s floor and its vivid and joyous running around, both signal Simão as the only real “human” presence in the film.
If we take on the question of the heat still further on we can still use it to oppose the film to Como Desenhar um Círculo Perfeito. This one is a wintry, Nordic film, where the sun is not possible (it is out of the circle), and that concentrates in the rain, in the darkness and in the smoke of Guilherme’s cigarettes, his spaces of imagetic and narrative circularity. The desire, locked up in the circle of the family, has a correspondence in those dark shots of the interiors and of the father’s house-cavern (Daniel Duval), but also in the backlights, and in the unusual colours of lipstick and the creepy dolls of the granddaughter’s (Lourdes Norberto) home.
Marco Martins and Gonçalo M. Tavares — one of the major names in contemporary Portuguese literature that here has his first experience in writing for the screen — together craft and express one of the most fascinating and paradoxical elements of the film. This is the fact that the camera always finds a counterpoint to the distance between the characters, with certain proximity in the shots, at the limit of the visual blur, always nearly touching the skin and the flesh. It is through this uncanny quality, of what is both near and far away, that we can understand that it is not the father’s novels that Guilherme needs casino to read. It is instead through the reading of the lines of his face, as a novel of love that triumphed and failed, that the son searches to help him deal with his inner transformations.
And to conclude, another ultimate distant proximity: the familiar circle of Como Desenhar — and particularly in the shots of the motorbike, the party and the afterparty at dawn — evoke an unusual heritage. One that Frames Film Festival will be able to verify. I speak of Montanha (Mountain, 2015) by João Salaviza and this rampant ambition of thinking, conceptually and aesthetically, an intimate circle for a certain Portuguese cinema.
Fifth session: Sangue do Meu Sangue ( 2011) by João Canijo
It’s been more than four years since Sangue do Meu Sangue (Blood of my Blood, 2011) was released. At the time, it already seemed like a summary of the work João Canijo had been doing in his previous films, particularly those loosely based on Greek tragedies – Noite Escura (In the Darkness of the Night, 2004) on Iphigenia in Aulis and Mal Nascida (Misbegotten, 2007) on Electra. Although Sangue do Meu Sangue didn’t take its story – which was worked out between Canijo and the main actors: Rita Blanco, Anabela Moreira, Cleia Almeida, Rafael Morais and Marcello Urgeghe [as one can witness in the documentary Trabalho de Actriz, Trabalho de Actor (The Actor’s Work, 2011)] – from any play, Greek or otherwise, there are some signs of a relationship. The most striking one is the unbelievable coincidence that throws Cláudia in her father’s arms. In this case, coincidence could be another word for destiny, the mainstay of Greek Tragedy.
Incest, which is strangely and inexplicably prevalent in Portuguese cinema, takes us to the main theme of the film: family ties. In Sangue do Meu Sangue, the family is divided in two pairs – the mother (Blanco) and the daughter (Almeida); the aunt (Moreira) and the nephew (Morais). Each pair is almost self-sufficient and hardly communicates with the other. It is like the house in the poor neighbourhood of Bairro Padre Cruz (near Lisbon) in which they all live is split up in two, each pair occupying their space – the mother and daughter share a bedroom; the aunt and nephew share a smoke in the couch. When they are all together, as in the big scene at the dinner table, there’s an inevitable clash, an argument that distances them even further. This divide is made explicit by the sound design. Several times, there are two conversations running at the same time playing simultaneously on the soundtrack (a trick that Robert Altman mastered). More often than not, they match these pairings.
This tension between the private (the pairs) and the public (the family) stretches out to the whole neighbourhood. Sounds from the outside world slip in throughout the film: the commentary over a football match (Sangue do Meu Sangue takes place during a World Cup), neighbours shouting at each other (so pervasive it becomes as undistinguishable as background noise), a song sang excruciatingly at a karaoke bar. They help to provide the context for the two main stories. In a way, the same could be said for the other characters. With few exceptions, they seem to exist mainly to make the film’s world more colourful. It is not that they are exactly caricatural, but they are always on the verge of it and Canijo could be accused of being somewhat condescending to them.
At this time, I should state that I am writing about the shorter version of Sangue do Meu Sangue. There is a longer one, which expands on that very same world, giving more screen time to the secondary characters and their stories. This version has its own problems (Marcelo Urgeghe’s character, which was already awkward, is nearly unbearable) and I must confess I prefer the shorter one. However, Canijo’s “condescension” as he portrays “the people” and what could be described as “portugalidade” (the Portuguese way) was probably the main criticism directed at the movie (in any version). When Sangue do Meu Sangue was released, I didn’t agree with it. But Canijo’s last two films, both documentaries on “real people” from the “real Portugal”, made me rethink the subject. É o Amor (2013) is so focused on the quirkiness of the fisherman’s wife and her friends that you no longer know if he’s making fun of them or is simply enamored by the “trashiness” of it all. And Portugal – Um Dia de Cada Vez (2015) plays out as a gigantic joke (it runs for almost three hours) on Portugal’s interior to be laughed at by the urban crowd. At least it did in the screening I attended to.
For this reason, Sangue do Meu Sangue seems a lesser movie now than it did when it came out. Nevertheless, Anabela Moreira’s performance is still remarkable, as is Rita Blanco’s and Nuno Lopes’ (the quietly menacing criminal), the tragedy works as well as it did, and the powerful last scene hasn’t lost its punch. One can only hope that João Canijo returns to drama as soon as possible to wash away the bad taste his recent documentaries left.
Sixth session: O Velho do Restelo (2014) de Manoel de Oliveira
In a catalog dedicated to Manoel de Oliveira’s work and edited by the Portuguese Cinematheque more than 30 years ago, the director coined a phrase that works sometimes as a punchline to his own work analysis, “cinema does not exist”. Putting it in context: “everything lies in theatrical forms. I repeat, in fact cinema does not exist. I thinks it is healthy to start from that principle.” The opposition-division-symbiosis between cinema and theatre is thus the usual starting point when watching Oliveira’s films. But, as all punchlines, this one reduces the work of the master director to a joke and frequently his films have the ability to contradict their author. If it is a fact that Oliveira’s films have a strong relationship with theatre, the same could be said, without loss of generality, of its relation with literature and painting. I believe that all Manoel de Oliveira work rests on this three legged table, even if some films rest more over one or two of those legs than the other(s).
Keeping that in mind, I also believe that the new century has made clear that cinema itself is also a major presence in the films of Oliveira [something that in retrospect is already present in second feature, Acto da Primavera (Rite of Spring, 1963), and in Le soulier de satin (1985), Mon cas (1986) and most evident in his 8 1/2, Viagem ao Princípio do Mundo (Voyage to the Beginning of the World, 1998)]. But more than just cinema, his own cinema has appeared and been re-evaluated by his own recent work. In this way we are led to a type of recursive thinking where one defines Oliveiras’s films through themselves. Such a process seems empty, but since Oliveira is himself the manifestation of cinema – from silent to sound, from nitrate to digital, from black and white to color grading – it is not that surprising.
As evidence of this shift in his interests one has Porto da Minha Infância (Porto of My Childhood, 2001) where the director looks back at his own city, history and memories and necessarily at his own foundational films filmed at Porto: Douro, Faina Fluvial (Labor on the Douro River, 1931), O Pintor e a Cidade (The Painter and the City, 1956) and Aniki Bóbó (1942). As further support of this shift one can look at Rencontre unique (2007), a three minute silent film inside a dark film theatre, O Estranho Caso de Angélica (The Strange Case of Angelica, 2010), with its moving pictures drying on a rope, or, as expected, O Velho do Restelo (The Old Man of Belém, 2014). Make note, nonetheless, that the self-reflexivity in each of these films has nothing of a post-modern or a self-referential exercise in it. Cinema in the late works of Manoel de Oliveira reflects only the rereading of his own work (and that of others), something that is typical of aging directors. O Velho do Restelo works in some ways as a commented epilogue, a self critical look, or the construction of a new look, on some of his previous films – something that he continued with in 1 século de energia (1 century of energy, 2015) his last work and only adverting campaign, that looked back at his second short film, Hulha Branca (1932).
Unlike what could be expected, in these revision films there is not a hint of testament nor nostalgia. There is in fact the clear manifestation that an author is the one who always makes the same film, to the point that, after an 80 year career, all his recurrences and obsessions have been already filmed. In an interview in Variety at the time of the premier of this short he was asked if the inclusion of excerpts of previous films was a kind of “overview”, to which he answered “I don’t ever try to produce an overview of my work. O Velho do Restelo is based on the novel by Teixeira de Pascoaes, The Penitent, and the scenes shown from some of my other films are solely used because of their link to this novel.”
At some point in O Velho do Restelo someone says that “a work of art is the projection of the fauna and flora that inhabit our intimacy”, and after so many films I also feel intimate with some of those figures. For this reason this last short film features scenes (or simple shots) from Amor de Perdição (Doomed Love, 1979), ‘Non’, ou a Vã Glória de Mandar (No, or the Vain Glory of Command, 1990), O Dia do Desespero (The Day of Despair, 1992) and O Quinto Império – Ontem Como Hoje (The Fifth Empire, 2004). And also for this reason we see, appearing from the bottom of the sea, Os Lusíadas – as if Camões had never saved it from the shipwreck the old man from Belém had predicted – like the floating letters exchanged between Simão and Teresa at the end of Amor de Perdição. Or remember the actor (and cinematographer of many Oliveira’s films) Mário Barroso as the writer Camilo Castelo Branco (author of the novel Amor de Perdição that Oliveira adapted) from O Dia do Desespero and also from Francisca (1981) – in addition to his frequent collaborators, Diogo Dória (as Teixeira de Pascoaes), Luís Miguel Cintra (as Luís Vaz de Camões) and Ricardo Trêpa (as D. Quixote). And to all this one could consider Oporto as the fifth and recurrent character and recognize from previous films the river, the doves, and even the garden bench from O Pintor e a Cidade.
But besides his own films O Velho do Restelo also features Don Kikhot (Dom Quixote, 1957) by the Russian director Grigori Kozintsev, which the critic Luís Miguel Oliveira reads as if through it “the never accomplished dream of directing his own Dom Quixote was possible”. On the other hand the director, in other interview, to António Preto, explained that the inclusion of such a film invited to the symbolic reading of the windmills as history repeating itself (and the comet that passes through the sky at some point reflects Oliveira’s view on history). Once again O Velho do Restelo is a film of returning circularities. Besides Oliveira wrote, with regard to O Dia do Desespero, that for him it was Camilo, and not Camões, who was the most similar Portuguese writer to Cervantes, not duo to his characters but because of his persona, and he is the central character of the film: “In Don Quixote I see Cervantes devoid of any illusions. And I see Camilo Castelo Branco in the context of the disenchanted” – it is no coincidence that this adaptation was a long delayed project (like many of his late films) and no surprise that Oliveira here brings the character of Quixote and not Cervantes to a meeting of writers.
“When I say that cinema does not exist, that only theatre exists (…) it is because it is there where it is richer, where it is truly different from theatre which is ephemeral. (…) In the same way I could say that life does not exist (…). Because life escapes us all the time, the present moment is already lost.” So the film director records on the screen the moment – before it is lost forever – so one can (re)watch it again every time the same way. Manoel de Oliveira has been recording his moments and we have been allowed to live them. In Oliveira’s films life does not happen, only what abound of it – and after being filtered by painting, theatre, literature and finally by cinema itself. And to be allowed to live that filtered life in moments, simultaneously intimate and public, is a rare pleasure. Today, at this screening of O Velho do Restelo, that pleasure is once again possible.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Seventh session: Gipsofila (2015) de Margarida Leitão + Luz da Manhã (2011) de Cláudia Varejão
The main event (a true happening) in Gipsofila (Gypsophila, 2015) is the sharing of time or of “a duration” between two people under the same roof. What happens here, and makes the film breathe and alleviates the feeling of captivity, is that duration shared between granddaughter and grandmother in the divisions of the last one’s appartment. The connection to Andy Warhol is assumed in the film when Margarida Leitão appears taking a nap by the side of her grandmother. The grandmother wakes up and asks the granddaughter what’s the point in shooting that. She sweetly replies: “Now we sleep a little. Let’s stay in the film just sleeping. It’s a film about two people sleeping. They’ve already done that. It wouldn’t be new.” This scene celebrates the singularity of the hic et nunc being shared and represented by those two people – people or characters that can incarnate a grandmother and a granddaughter as ideas. All this in spite of the fact that Andy Warhol had created the formal device and this one had been copied more than a thousand times.
This is not the first time that the film internalizes its own “discourse”. It reveals itself as simultaneously a film-diary (flows of the self) and a film-thesis (composition or inscription of a certain “filmic technique”). It’s important to know that Gipsofila is a work made for the Portuguese film school in a Master’s degree course. So it is no surprise that one of the film’s main subjects is its own process. Margarida Leitão told me in an interview that this was a film made with little preparation. It is a film made without fear of the past and of the future. Thrown into the possibilities of a present time that unfolds in front of the camera.
Regarding this welcomed “existential crisis” of and in the film, I recall two aphorisms by Paul Valéry in his Cahiers: “The past is between the present and the future – it’s the first consequence – and the future, the second one”, where “Loosing life [is] loosing the future./ – You are not the future of the recollections that you have inside you? The future of a past?”. The grandmother teaches the granddaughter not to hurry in having a past and having a future – of having the “future of a past”. She offers her the secret that aging reveals: that happiness is found in the “little nothings” of the present moment. It’s “keep on living” the great lesson that the grandmother can give to the granddaughter. What’s more remarkable in Gipsofila is that it is more about a transmuted temporality, touched by life and death (and love), than about the specific relation between Margarida Leitão and her granny Lourdes Albuquerque. A remarkable achievement.
Luz da Manhã (Morning Light, 2011) is the last film of a trilogy of short films directed by Claudia Varejão that focus on intrafamily relationships. Fim-de-Semana (Weekend, 2007), the first film, is a portray at the same time sunny and tense of a family and a weekend of leisure. The action unfolds inside and around a swimming pool that recalls us of one of the main references in Varejão’s work: the Argentine director Lucrecia Martel. Um Dia Frio (A Cold Day, 2009) enters again the family unit, but this time in the cold scenario of the city. The film is made up of the small everyday stories starring a typical middle-class Portuguese family.
We then arrive to Luz da Manhã, the last film in the trilogy and the one that now is being shown at Frames Portuguese Film Festival as a companion piece to Gipsofila. Compared to Margarida Leitão’s film, Luz da Manhã shows the same attention to time and detail. However, there is here an apparently insurmountable barrier between the characters. The daughter that is unable to “reach” for her mother. Luz da Manhã is about a distance that has no redemption. The camera is attracted by the actions and the atmosphere, distracts itself with a kind of human interaction that doesn’t quite evolve. It is an arduous, distressing, broken battle between the presences of three women: the grandmother on one side; the daughter and the granddaughter on the other. The viewer is lost somewhere in the middle.