Este ano o tema do Frames Portuguese Film Festival, festival de cinema português na Suécia, é “contos sociais”. Pergunta-se: “Como é que nos organizamos em sociedade? Como é que percepcionamos e lidamos uns com os outros?” 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, 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: Francisco Noronha, João Araújo, Luís Mendonça, Ricardo Vieira Lisboa e Sabrina D. Marques. Os textos foram revistos por André Spencer, Cláudia Velhas e Vera Salgado Guita. Trevliga föreställningar!
This year the subject of Frames Portuguese Film Festival, portuguese film festival in Sweden, is “social tales”. It is asked: “How do we organize ourselves in society? How do we perceive and deal with each other?” 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: Francisco Noronha, João Araújo, Luís Mendonça, Ricardo Vieira Lisboa and Sabrina D. Marques. The texts were revised by André Spencer, Claudia Velhas and Vera Salgado Guita. Trevliga föreställningar!
Um fim do mundo (The end of the world, 2013) by Pedro Pinho
Pedro Pinho’s first (and for now, only) fiction work is a beautifully shot black and white 16 mm film that barely passes the one hour mark. As the director himself confessed in an interview, he knew that it would end up being a very long short or a very short feature (it had eleven days of shooting). Um fim do mundo had been written around a bunch of middle class teenagers from Setúbal (a large city near Lisbon), but Pinho was invited by Reis and Miller Guerra to convert the script into a trilogy in which the main character was from the Bela Vista neighbourhood – a social housing project on the outskirts of Setúbal, known for its violent television appearances). So the middle class teenagers became a multi-colour bunch in a reflection of Bela Vista itself where black people, mainly from Cape Verde, gypsies and tugas ( slang for Portuguese born people) live together, and a series of events (a school teacher who suffers Facebook shaming, a Lidl robbery and an electric blackout) cross both Um fim do mundo and Cama de Gato’s (Cat’s cradle, 2012) narratives – also presented at this year’s edition of Frames – Portuguese Film Festival.
This is a very serene film with a minimal plot (a group of high school friends goes to the beach after school and gets back at the end of the day) and a desire to film gestures and bodies of young people. In that same interview, Pinho refers back to the French nouvelle vague when “in order to make films, one did not need a giant apparatus, just a camera, the sound, a minimal story and people”. Hence, the black and white cinematography reflects, again, both the cinephile relation with 1960’s films and the willingness for a minimal, back to the basics, kind of film. Nevertheless, Um fim do mundo does not close itself in a film reference reverie. It presents us several aspects of class struggle in Portugal: in fact, from Bela Vista social housing projects to Tróia’s marina and casino is just a short ferry trip. Pinho sums this up in the provocative selfie sequence next to Joana Vasconcelos’ giant pot shoe, a work which mixes a kind of new rich nationalistic view on traditional crafts and turns that into kitsch contemporary art. Pinho’s sequence puts that all ideological project into perspective by adding to its iconic quality and, at the same time, ridiculing both the decorative aspect of the work and their clueless and arrogant owners – maybe in a reference to Godard’s Louvre sequence in Band à part (Band of Outsiders, 1964). This is the film’s candid power: to subliminally expose social inequality. In fact, these kids represent a new found multi-ethnic Portuguese society, even if that society still strives to come through.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
São Jorge (Saint George, 2016) by Marco Martins
Claude Chabrol had the best definition for those powerful actors that shape a whole film inside out: they are “latent directors” (in Comment faire un film). São Jorge is a film born out of the desire of actor Nuno Lopes to give his body and soul to a man who fights in order to survive. This was the starting point of what turned out to be one of the most sincere and intense portraits of the Portuguese economic crisis. Nuno Lopes plays this fragile boxer that is trying to glue the pieces of his shattered life. His dream is to live with his wife and small son under the same roof. However, life doesn’t go easy on him – actually, it doesn’t go easy on anyone living in this God-forsaken country. So he fights as a boxer and as a debt collector working for a company that does everything to ensure that the debtor pays.
It’s difficult not to think of some great American classics. Here I thought mainly of King Vidor’s The Champ (O Campeão, 1931) and Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul (Corpo e Alma,1947), because the boxing is a metaphor for a struggle that goes way beyond the limits of the ring. It’s a way to get out of poverty or to be someone and have a family. The boxing works in these films as the backdrop to social and economic inequality. At the same time, São Jorge lies strongly on the capacity of the actor to convey feeling and meaning through his body. I would dare to say that it has the narrative clarity and the bodily emotion of Jacques Audiard, mainly De rouille et d’os (Rust and Bone, 2012) or, above all, João Canijo’s Sangue do Meu Sangue (Blood of My Blood, 2011) where Nuno Lopes starred as a drug dealer. However, what’s most important to notice here is how Marco Martins knows how to get the best from this monumental actor called Nuno Lopes – they worked together in the powerful drama Alice (2005). At the same time, Nuno Lopes knows that Marco Martins will let him direct each camera move. The camera wants us to feel inside this arena covered by sweat and flesh: the inner turmoil of Jorge’s soul, the place where his touching fragility – his “sainthood” – is at stake. Is he the mirror of a defeated economy and of a broken society? Yes, but also of its inherent strength and gentleness.
Bela Vista (2012), Cama de Gato (Cat’s cradle, 2012), Fora da Vida (On the side, 2015) by Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra
Filipa Reis and João Miller Guerra have been working on different film projects together with municipalities which, through cinema, try to present a new look on their badly famed neighbourhoods – housing projects that appear, from time to time, on Portuguese television due to the clashes between the different communities and cultures that live there. Their first films Li ké terra (Our Home, 2010) and Nada Fazi (2011) were around Casal da Boba in Amadora, on the outskirts of Lisbon. – – Their most recent work has been around Bela Vista in Setúbal. In fact Bela Vista (2012), Cama de Gato (Cat’s cradle, 2012), together with Um fim do mundo (The end of the world, 2013) – all presented at the 4th edition of Frames – Portuguese Film Festival –, complete a trilogy on the eponymous neighbourhood. One should stress the continuous interest of Portuguese cinema on housing projects in and around large cities, from Pedro Costa’s Fontaínhas to Miguel Gomes and João Salaviza’s Chelas, Pedro Neves’ Tarrafal in Porto, Cláudia Tomaz’s Casal Ventoso, and many others.
Even if the three films were written in advance, the script was filled with stories that the directors collected with the people they met (whilst ( living for three months in Setúbal) and around the actual life of the real characters they casted to play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves. Bela Vista presents their first attempt to film the neighbourhood, a documentary that gazes mainly on the space’s architecture (and the things the inhabitants added throughout the years) which helped the locals get acquainted with the directors and their film crew. Cama de Gato is a docu-fiction (with several nouvelle vague tones – the traveling shots around two characters talking, or the confession/interview that cuts the film in two halves) about a single teen mother, which relates to Filipa’s own story. Fora da Vida continues the story (three years later) after the mother has left her child with her parents and her ex-boyfriend who has finally left prison. But the thing that makes Fora da Vida the most interesting film by the directorial duo is the fact that it brings together characters from almost all their films: the ones from Fora da Vida but also the Brazilian PhD student from Fragmentos de Uma Observação Participativa (Fragments of a Participant Observation, 2013), and the child’s father ends up being one of Li ké terra’s protagonists (Miguel Moreira) and the main character of their first feature film, Djon Africa (2017). Something that reflects the directors’ strong relationship to the people they meet and portray, which is their most beautiful filmic trait.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Cavalo Dinheiro (Horse Money, 2014) by Pedro Costa
“In that year the Board ordered the cutting of more than forty-six thousand windows in interior rooms, chiefly for ventilation – for little or no light was to be had from the dark hallways. Air-shafts were unknown.” (in How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis). Without light, without air and with that stinky smell of death that impregnates the skin of the image, everything seems to be “underground” in the photographs by Jacob Riis. Therefore the raccord between them and the first shots of Cavalo Dinheiro couldn’t be better: Ventura walking in the company of a nurse in some catacombs with little light. Cavalo Dinheiro is the darkest and most cavernous film by Pedro Costa – but there is also this golden colour that reminds me of some recent films by Manoel de Oliveira, O Gebo e a Sombra (Gebo and the Shadow, 2012), Jean-Claude Brisseau’s La fille de nulle part (The Girl From Nowhere, 2012) and James Gray’s The Immigrant (2013). In Pedro Costa’s film, the concept of “underground” returns to its original definition coined by American film critic Manny Farber: “B cinema” that takes place in a simultaneously literal and metaphorical cave, i.e., in the depths of a dominant modus vivendi/operandi. Perhaps we can find in Pedro Costa’s taste for confinement the marginal place that he shares, as the “outsider” that he is, with his own actors – thus, the love and respect that Pedro Costa has for his actors. At the same time, this question of “having a home” is as problematic one for Ventura as it is for Pedro Costa inside his own cinema.
In his first film, O Sangue (Blood, 1989), Pedro Costa confined and, consequently, exorcised, like Ventura inside the elevator, the ghost of cinema, against whom he will fight pointing to another sort of confinement that reaches its zenith in No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room, 2000). After Juventude em Marcha (Colossal Youth, 2006) and O Nosso Homem (Our Man, 2010), Ventura in Cavalo Dinheiro accepts the loss of his home in the neighbourhood of Fontaínhas, built with his own bare hands, and of the hope to return to Cape Verde. So he says to the soldier from the Carnation Revolution that he is dying. Pedro Costa doesn’t let him die, he plugs him to this emotional machine called Cinema. He returns to it, like the prodigal son, twenty years after O Sangue in order to perform new rituals of cinematic exhumation. These rituals lead him to the underground paths of the B pictures directed by Fritz Lang or produced by Val Lewton. Cavalo Dinheiro is a kind of “cinema’s film” that teaches the Carnation Revolution with tremors – we don’t know if Ventura shakes his hand because of the disease or, still, because of the fear that haunts him since the revolution. The revolution brought light, the photographic “flash”, to some, but to the other half it gave the shadow of doubt, uncertainty and, even more, pure and simple terror. In this “other half”, like in a Jacob Riis’ photograph, lives someone tough: our man, monsieur Ventura.
Dreamocracy (2014) by Raquel Freire and Valérie Mitteaux
In Dreamocracy, we encounter the dream of a country yet to build. A country asphyxiated by an anti-democratic financial bailout imposed by Troika. What is left of our democracy? João Labrincha, Paula Gil, Alexandre Carvalho and António Frazão are the youngsters responsible for the rally “Geração à Rasca” (Penniless Generation), that erupted all over the country on the 12th of March 2011. It was a landmark in the history of Portugal’s social struggle that gathered half a million people (5% of the Portuguese population) in a rally that wasn’t linked to any political party. It was the most vivid collective demonstration of citizenship since the Revolution, on the 25th of April 1974. From here a movement was born: “Movimento 12 de Março” (12th March Movement). It was created to prompt the dialogue and new social actions, putting forward an agenda that includes the project “Academia Cidadã” (Citizen Academy). The film follows the effort to settle this Academy over several months. Activists João Labrincha and Pedro Santos show us how the movement stays alive thanks to their daily commitment. “Turn each citizen into a politician” – José Saramago’s phrase is continuously quoted in this film and it sums up the will to develop social structures that give “more power to the people” and to the collective framework of organisation, showing how the full completion of democracy depends upon a possibility to intervene in society that doesn’t end with the right to vote.
These are the faces at the center of a movement that isn’t only the symbol of a whole generation that is getting more politically aware, but of a whole country hardened by poverty. The words of Pedro and João are filled with imperative idealism and their unstoppable movement is guided by dreams that, in the end, are of and for everyone. From the streets to the coffee shop around the corner, from the family dinners to the exchange of views with people that have alternative life styles, every conversation is dominated by the generalized insurgence and in this shared anguish prevails an irreducible hunger for change. If the extreme validity of Dreamocracy, an unsophisticated film from a cinematographic point of view, lies in the fact that it documents a continuous work – which is an urgency to grasp due to the reality of a country that is more and more tangled by an economic dictatorship – the merit of directors Raquel Freire and Valérie Mitteaux goes way beyond that, as they are publicly involved in these movements.
Sabrina D. Marques
Balada de um Batráquio (Batrachian’s Ballad, 2016) by Leonor Teles
A lot of people were taken by surprise when the Portuguese filmmaker, then only 23 years old, won the Berlinale 2016’s Golden Bear for Best Short Film, equaling João Salaviza’s 2012 accomplishment with his film Rafa (2012). But while we are watching the film, this epidermal reaction is quickly replaced by another one of jubilation beholding an object that, in its freshness and daring, may well be the omen for a great filmmaker.
Teles, who inherited gypsy origins from her father, develops after Rhoma Acans (2012) her vision on the gypsy universe, doing so half as an “insider” and half as an “outsider”. Now not so much from an anthropological point of view and of self-discovery (although the archive footage of the first and the last parts of the film also promote it), but mainly through an eminently political gesture of fighting prejudice in the field.
Pushing the idea of cinema as moving images or, more appropriately, as images in action to the limit of literality, Teles is the rebel with a cause that “breaks free” in the political place – and once also a very cinematographic one, in the sense that, together with the films of Chaplin, neo-realism and the Nouvelle Vague, Teles’s film shares a certain idea of “street cinema” – par excellence: the street, the Portuguese streets where prejudice lurks in every store entrance. So what we may find here is, in a way, a kind of Agitcinema delivered through this gesture which, contrary to what has been argued, is less performative than genuinely political (since it is truly transformative), lighting the fuse that may ignite the spectator into feeling capable of “making movies”, which is, to leave the room and start breaking ceramic frogs as well.
On the other hand, it is ironic (and no less provocative) that the kind of treatment that Teles gives to the image (the colour, the grain), while referring the film back to the past, to “ancient times”, collides with the circumstance that those ominous frogs are indeed part of our very present (the same, after all, that elected an example of walking prejudice called Donald Trump). Moreover, this past-present duality is latent in the way in which the film is divided (and narrated) between the pre-human fable and the world of man, a symbolism that lends its lightness and grace to the film, yet doing so without ever losing sight of its central target: prejudice and, on the other side of the coin, freedom. If “militant cinema” still exists, then this is one of the places where we may find one of its most actual and audacious expressions.
Lisboetas (Lisboners, 2004) by Sérgio Tréfaut
As much as Lisboetas is the product of a specific time – a brief period of relative prosperity which made Portugal an attractive destination for migrant workers – it tries to sketch a portrait of a society in the midst of permanent change and the travails of its new population. If Portugal has historically been a nation of emigrants, here the country struggles to play the role of host. The first sequence shows us a worker carrying pieces of meat into a butcher and, the analogy of the migrants as pieces of meat in an unforgiving market isn’t lost in the viewer, even if it’s a crude picture. It isn’t long before we witness a version of a similar market, in a location where some of the migrants try to negotiate any kind of undocumented work to survive. Most of the work they can manage is illegal because that means it’s cheaper for their employers, so when they have to get a documented job to renew their visa, it is often a struggle. The bureaucracy that follows exhibits signs from a society that isn’t ready to accept or even be kind to these workers trying to make the best of a difficult situation.
By placing itself along the migrants and their hardships, by shifting our look into the subjects of the film, who undergo daily life invisible (like the street vendor who is ignored and not even looked at by most people), the film becomes undoubtedly critical and political in its approach. In one of the most telling scenes, an out of luck eastern European worker looks for help in a free clinic set up in a van, because he won’t or can’t go to a hospital. With an injured foot and signs of alcoholism, he’s questioned by the health worker, but as details of his past life as a former army pilot and current troubles emerge, he gains the nurse’s compassion, who is herself a former migrant from Angola. It’s as if the film itself proposes that we follow the footsteps of the nurse with her empathy, as opposed to the passivity that is often portrayed here.
Sérgio Tréfaut is known for his documentary work, which often tackles a variety of issues but is always interested in the way communities shape themselves and adapt to ongoing changes – whether during the Portuguese revolution or in a cemetery-city in Cairo. Here, he presents a work filled with humanistic sympathy for its subjects but that also questions the unseen fabric that holds everything together. Watching the documentary, all these years after it was shot, it’s impossible not to wonder about the fate of some of these characters – what the film still resonates is a testament to its vitality and relevance. The title refers to the name of the inhabitants of the city of Lisbon, and if the film suggests that these migrants are indeed part of the new “Lisboners”, the ending seems to entail, at least, some sort of hope.