A 5.ª edição do Frames Portuguese Film Festival lança a luz sobre as mulheres. O Frames On Women trata, em primeiro lugar, do complexo problema da representação das mulheres no cinema e, em segundo lugar, da visibilidade das mulheres no cinema português. Considerando que a grande maioria das representações cinematográficas contemporâneas ainda está ligada ao olhar masculino, é imperativo contrariá-lo. Esta edição apresenta, portanto, uma seleção de filmes de mulheres e/ou sobre mulheres, colocando o feminino em primeiro plano. 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: Carlos Natálio, João Araújo e Ricardo Vieira Lisboa. Os textos foram revistos por André Spencer, Cláudia Velhas e Vera Salgado Guita. Trevliga föreställningar!
The 5th edition of Frames Portuguese Film Festival casts the light on women. Frames On Women is firstly about the complex problem of the representation of women in film and, secondly, about giving fair visibility to women through Portuguese cinema. Considering the vast majority of contemporary cinematic depictions is still linked to the male gaze, it is imperative to counteract it. This edition features therefore a selection of films from women and/or about women, placing the female gender on the foreground. 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 were handed out on each screening and that were written by this walshian team: Carlos Natálio, João Araújo and Ricardo Vieira Lisboa. The texts were revised by André Spencer, Claudia Velhas and Vera Salgado Guita. Trevliga föreställningar!
Colo (2017) by Teresa Villaverde
As is quite often the case, unfortunately, dark times tend to sparkle creative forces. So it was in Portugal in the aftermath of the 2010-2014 Portuguese financial crisis. As a result Colo is the last of a series of three long features that addressed the stressful situation the country was in. The other two were As Mil e Uma Noites (Arabian Nights) – a three volume series from 2015, directed by Miguel Gomes – and in 2016, São Jorge (Saint George) by Marco Martins. In contrast to what one would expect, Colo is the one where the crisis seems to hit harder, despite being the last of the three and released three years after the end of the official period of economic turbulence. Approximately in the middle of the film, in a candle-lit scene, the daughter Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges) asks her mother (Beatriz Batarda): “What is happening to our life?”. And we understand her concerns: no money to pay the electricity bill, her father is desperate because he can’t get a job, the mother has to work double shifts, barely enough for public transport and basic needs. One thing after another hits the family and we barely breathe the air of redemption. Maybe redemption is just in small moments placed in the film, like the father, exhausted, eating a big size salted tomato, the mother cleaning her husband’s feet wound or in a gentle and dying bird, but not in much more.
Here, the crisis is a big and abstract beast progressively affecting the family and planting apathy in characters, in the rhythm of the film. Slow and geometric lateral travellings show us this state of walking around in slow burn desperation. However, this apparent lack of redemption gives Villaverde room to bring forth an interesting idea: one could say that some of her films – I have in mind Três Irmãos (Two Brothers, My Sister, 1994), Os Mutantes (The Mutants, 1998) and Água e Sal (Water and Salt, 2001) – care for the idea of family and the camera, in particular, works as a sort of emotional aerometer, perceiving the quality of “familiar environment” as a key element for a healthy relationship of the group. If the air is too dense, people cannot breathe; if it is too rare, there is not a sufficient aggregating atmosphere. Colo is also about this loss of air. A small apartment that is situated very high (cut from the world, as we can see from those occasional very high-angle shots), progressively losing its light (a beautiful work from one of Portugal’s historical DOPs, Acácio de Almeida) and from which everyone, at least mother and father, slowly seem to need to get out. Yet Marta is a different story: she is growing up and needs “colo”, a supporting lap. That is why we end up in a different home, Marta encroached near a cabin’s wall. As if she entered a mythical cave made of dreams and poverty. Those who’ve seen Pedro Costa’s No Quarto da Vanda (In Vanda’s Room, 2000) will recognize this turn to grey, this leap into immobility.
Fleurette (2002) by Sérgio Tréfaut
It’s always moving to witness the mouvement (at first timid and then progressively more resolute) of the natural curiosity, a vital instrument, in the career of a documentary filmmaker. As it is often the case, at first, curiosity is sparkled by a very close and intriguing element. In the case of Fleurette, its director, Sérgio Tréfaut, dwells on an autobiographical documentary that is also a sort of emotional and “familial whodunnit” in respect to the repressed memories of his own mother. It’s funny how films relate and collide like angry planets, strange stars. If in Teresa Villaverde’s Colo (which will also be screened in this edition of Frames) we are before a family that is slowly driven apart, instead, in Tréfaut’s film, we start with a family scattered across the four corners of the world and the director’s beautiful gesture is one of approach. Approach in the sense that he films his mother (living in Lisbon), his father (settled in Cuba) and one of his brothers (in Brazil), but also goes with Fleurette to France to visit her old boarding school and to the farm in Portugal where both parents lived before going to Brazil. So, in a sense, Fleurette alternates between these moments where they go to important places to rescue memories, and moments where places come to them, through word-to-word “combats”.
Combat it is. At the beginning, Tréfaut’s voice-over tells us how difficult it was to make a film about his mother and we watch words in a letter going out of focus, dancing in this combat. Everything is blurred, mixed in mother and son’s heads. Slowly, a woman is introduced – long lines in her face, small eyes, like an aged Hanna Arendt – who never told important parts of her past to her sons. She doesn’t have a photograph of her father, and stayed long periods without seeing her mother and some of her children. In a way, the combat at stake here is one between a woman that lived a life on the defensive (trying to deliberately forget some parts of her life to stanch the suffering) and a filmmaker that struggles to rescue the absent images (physical, emotional) of his own family. But the investigator here was not hired for some job, he is an interested party (if we can say it like this). And so what adds to the fragility and beauty of Fleurette‘s combat is this sort of inversion: some scenes start with an almost harsh and judgmental tone of the son recriminating some of his mother’s choices and end up with his own disorientation and moved reactions. Just as it happens when Fleurette explains Sérgio what is “the love of your life.” So, in a way, Fleurette is also about a clash between modes of affection – one can sense that while mother and son in Brazil share some sort of anger and isolation modes towards suffering, Sérgio and his father have a more constructive approach in common. In between, Tréfaut gives us the historical elements to place this familial enigma: the second World War, the occupation of France, the dictatorship in Portugal and subsequent liberation, the affiliation with the communist party in Brazil, the divorces, the “absent presences”. In a word: the world. The world that scattered and hid the images of a family. Images partially recovered here, even if against a backdrop of inextinguishable sorrow.
Ama-San (2016) de Cláudia Varejão
Here is a film that shows how there are many ways of displaying courage and how, at the same time, a tradition can still be a form of disrupting the status quo: Ama-San (2016) is an exquisite portrait of an old tradition in Japan. Cláudia Varejão, not unlike Salomé Lamas and Eldorado XXI (2016), is another female Portuguese director travelling all the way to the other side of the world to perpetuate the memory of a very singular community and to rescue it from forgetfulness. Starting with no context whatsoever, each small gesture becomes more meaningful this way, as we look for significance in every instance, in the light, gestures and images: we go in being blind but come out enlightened in the end. The film follows a group of sea women, the Ama-San, in a Japanese peninsula of small fishing villages. They are dedicated to an unusual form of fishing through diving in apnea, a method that has been in practice for centuries and is still very close to its original form, with rudimentary technology. The respect for this traditional form of fishing, from the use of the scarf wrapped around the head as protection to the refusal to use oxygen bottles, only reinforces the difficulty of the task to which these divers are routinely dedicated to. For them it has always been this way, as it is exalted by the beautiful and serene underwater shots, where the Ama-San move freely.
At the same time, this isn’t only a film about tradition, but also about how these female divers take on a role, even if involuntarily, of feminist affirmation for their bravery, which represents a reversal of their traditional place in a very patriarchal society such as the Japanese. This is something that is portrayed as happening naturally, as if at least over here there is no alternative – the men very seldom appear in the film. The way Varejão accompanies the work method of the Ama-San underlines the natural way things take place, even if for the distant observer everything looks exotic. Part of the film’s merit comes from the proximity to the Ama-San that Varejão is able to achieve, from the way we are invited along the camera’s point of view and allowed into their intimacy – the moments of daily household routine that are shown, revealing how in such setting these women must still be tireless. As time passes and the strangeness of these lives fades into normality under our eyes, their way of taking on life changes into something beautiful. Since it has always been like this, a form of survival, in the end the film transforms the exceptional into normal, because for them it must be so.
É o Amor (2013) de João Canijo
João Canijo’s visual style is always shifting, but he maintains a thematic interest in the depiction of strong, independent women, be it the forlorn mother played by an unforgettable Rita Blanco in Ganhar a Vida (2011), the sisters and daughter of Sangue do Meu Sangue (2011), or the group of unflinching pilgrim women on their way to Fátima (2017). Following a trend that started to develop with Sangue do Meu Sangue, Canijo began to explore the border between fiction and reality, incorporating elements of everyday life to achieve a greater sense of authenticity. As shown in the documentary titled Trabalho de Actriz, Trabalho de Actor (2011) (which can be translated to “An Actor’s Work”) about the preparation for the aforementioned film, the actors would spend time living in the conditions that their characters are depicted in.For example, if the character is a cashier, the actor would actually work in a supermarket for research. In That’s Love (2013) we can testify that same approach as the actress Anabela Moreira, with whom Canijo shares the creative credit for this film, moves to a small fishing community in the north of Portugal.
Hence, the film is not only a depiction of that close-knitted community known for its perseverance and for the group of women who give their all to support their families, but also a depiction of another “actor’s work”, as Anabela Moreira tries to incorporate herself into that group, to become one of them. In fact, the film’s protagonism is divided between Moreira, with her efforts to belong while, simultaneously, registering the balance between the actor’s work and her new daily routine through small video-diaries, and Sónia, the head of this group of women whose husbands spend long spells of time away at sea. Sónia, a well-off but hard working and charismatic character, is the main voice of this group of women who must deal with a double life of keeping up the household while also assisting with the business side of selling the fish when the men come ashore. Watching the scenes of her preparing the food for her husband’s time at sea, the little love notes that she leaves in his supplies, the loneliness of raising her children, and the strength that she feels she must put on, the film breaches into true intimacy. Sónia and her female companions justify all their hardships as a test of love, and one can sense the feeling of admiration and wonder from both Canijo and Moreira.
Paula Rego, Secrets & Stories (2017) de Nick Willing
With this documentary, Nick Willing is paying a double homage to Paula Rego: a great artist and his mother. In that sense, this film is not only a way of rediscovering and appreciating the work of one of Portugal’s greatest contemporary artists, who thus has a way of reaching a broader audience (the film was a commercial success upon its release) but also presents the opportunity of a rare glimpse into the intimate life of a figure that has always prided herself on shielding away from the public eye. In that way, this is a documentary that can be compared to Miguel Gonçalves Mendes portrait of Saramago in José e Pilar (2010). As much as the film plays as a conventional documentary, with the usual mix between interview and use of archive footage and photography, Paula Rego’s story is anything but conventional. Her generosity with her testimony is remarkable, both to the film and to her son, here the first “spectator” of this story, who is even at times surprised by her revelations – as Nick Willing confesses in the beginning, “my mother was always a mystery to me”.
Early in the film, Paulo Rego states that “if you do pictures, they are about what’s inside you as much as what’s outside you, that you have secrets and stories that you want to put out there in the pictures”. If it’s true that most of an artist’s work is deeply autobiographical, here we have access to the context behind some of her paintings, that are explained or expanded with the stories that Rego tells about what was going on in her life at that time. It’s the film’s greatest attribute: the way, along with the remarkable archive material that is shown, it intertwines Rego’s body of work along with her testimony, using the paintings to illustrate her life’s story, adding layers to already complex works of art. Some of her revelations, such as the memories of her parents, her childhood of growing up in a conservative country under a fascist regime, her university years in London and how she met her husband, the first reactions to her paintings, or her married life back in Portugal, could almost be adapted into stand-alone films, such is their emotional and vertiginous impact. As much as Paula Rego’s work tries to reach a deeper emotional resonance of something that was until then off-limits or hidden, then this film also pays tribute to that spirit and represents a triumph of intimacy.
Quem é Bárbara Virgínia? (Who is Bárbara Virgínia, 2017) by Luísa Sequeira
Luisa Sequeira’s film has a question for a title, Quem é Bárbara Virgínia? (Who is Bárbara Virgínia?, 2017), which is symptomatic of her intentions as a director: to both produce a pedagogic document that unearths a seldom forgotten figure from shadowy Portuguese cinema history, and also to work a historical reparation towards this pioneer filmmaker whose importance only recently has started to be recognized (in part due to Sequeira’s investigation). Virgínia was the first woman in Portugal to ever direct a sound fiction feature-length film (there were some women before her who directed and produced films, but mainly documentaries or silent pictures). Her debut film was Três Dias sem Deus (Three Days without God, 1946) which she directed and starred. She was, at the time, only 22 years old – the youngest female director of that period. In addition, the film was presented at the first Cannes Film Festival, as part of the Portuguese entourage, being among the first female directors whose work was presented at Cannes. But more importantly, her film – which is partially lost, only two reels of soundless material remain – can be seen, from today’s standpoint, as an aesthetically disruptive object in the 1940s Portuguese film production. In fact, her film has more to do with the Hollywood gothic cycle from that decade – Rebecca (1940), Wuthering Heights (1939), etc – than with whatever was being shot in Portugal.
Sequeira’s documentary paints a portrait of Bárbara Virgínia and, at the same time, reflects on the process of portraying historically distant characters. In order to achieve that, Sequeira conjures up a diverse set of film strategies. A large portion of the film is narrated by her own voice-over, which is interrupted by a fictionalized interview with Virgínia (based, in part, on interviews and essays written by her), voiced by an actress who also embodies Virgínia, walking around in Oporto’s empty rooms. The film also includes rare archival footage ( Virgínia’s interviews, poetry albums and films) and interviews with family, friends and specialists. But the main dramatic element is the personal road-movie-investigation that leads Sequeira towards Brazil just to arrive a few days before Virgínia’s death. This fusion of historical and personal accounts, factual and fictional evidences, produces a complex image of who this woman was. An image which is as complex as History itself – there is one expression in the film that reflects this perfectly, “the memories of cinema history”. History as something as troublesome as memory, something that needs to be revived from time to time. Who is Bárbara Virginia? is an exercise in memory, so that we can all remember, for a very long time, who Bárbara Virgínia was.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
A Comunidade (The Community, 2012), Encounter with Landscape – x3 (2012) and Coup de Grace (2017) by Salomé Lamas
Salomé Lamas’s body of work is one of the most startling artistic journeys in contemporary Portuguese cinema. Only thirty years old, she has directed more than ten short films and two feature films (with a third on the way) in less than a decade. This prolific production that also includes video-installations, theatre and a Phd investigation, ends up taking the form of character-driven narrative in which Lamas is the protagonist. In a way, each of her films adds to the previous in a continuous conversation, sometimes challenging what was said, other times deepening past experiments. Watching these three shorts, one starts having flashbacks (and flashforwards) from her filmography. For instance, the fixed landscape shots and the slow movement of people through it, as the sunlight disappears in Encounters with Landscape (3x) (2012), foreshadow the open shot in Eldorado XXI (2016), the final shot from A Torre (The Tower, 2016) and some of the performance pieces in Ubi Sunt (2017). On the other hand, the way Salomé films and edits interviews in A Comunidade (The Community, 2012) anticipates the almost conceptual use of the talking head in Terra de Ninguém (No Man’s Land, 2012), Le Boudin (2014) and the coral soundtrack of Eldorado XXI.
Lamas’ most recent, Coup de Grâce (2017), also reveals something implicit in almost all her work: humor. Her cinema of duration, of fixed shots that span for 57 minutes (!) in Eldorado XXI, of complex portraits and the interdisciplinarity between artistic and scientific approaches (video, performance, ethnography, politics, history, etc.) seemed serious and stern (the so called slow cinema was never something very graceful). However, a provocative taste was already perceived in the ways she stretched, to the edge of the unbearable (like all great provocateurs), the filmic structures (a kind of formal humor based on the destruction of working narrative and aesthetic formulas). In 2017, with Ubi Sunt and Coup de Grâce, her humor became clear (although always done with a serious face, like Buster Keaton), exactly when her work dwells into fictional spaces. Not coincidentally, just at the end of Coup de Grâce a surprise disrupts the drama: as if, suddenly, Lamas had been taken by Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999), in exotic-karaoke mode – it is certainly not by chance that Gabriel Abrantes (a Portuguese film director better known for his comedies) appears in the film as an extra. Nevertheless, there is a continuation of the director’s productive obsessions: the attention given to spaces, the relationship between human and landscape, minimal choreography, the use of scope, the idea of life as a stage performance and the fantastical portrayal of the real. A complex oeuvre that gets denser with each iteration.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa