A 7.ª edição do Frames Portuguese Film Festival lança a luz sobre o amor. O Frames Love Stories é, pela primeira vez, uma edição online em que se apresentam 29 filmes portugueses em território sueco, de 18 a 31 e Dezembro. 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 Maria de Matos e Gabriel Campos. Trevliga föreställningar!
The 7th edition of Frames Portuguese Film Festival casts the light on love. Frames Love Stories has, for the first time, an online edition that will screen 29 Portuguese films, from December 18th to the 31st, all accross Sweeden. 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 Maria de Matos and Gabriel Campos. Trevliga föreställningar!
Diamantino (2018) by Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt
Gabriel Abrantes is one of those unstoppable directors whose productivity is unmatched by any other Portuguese film director — only perhaps Salomé Lamas, whose short films have been screened last year. For this reason, his filmography has been re-shaped elegantly as he directs new films, at the rate of two films per year, more or less. Looking at Abrantes’ integral body of work, one can easily identify a turning point moment — not only in terms of narrative, but also, and above all, in aesthetic terms — marked by the film Ennui Ennui (2013). Although there is an oscillation between the two periods of his work, it is clear that a split, even if not complete, with respect to the first period of his work that was more pictorial and close to video art and performance art, is highlighted by several aspects: the introduction of digital effects, the appropriation of a North American mainstream aesthetic (and from popular culture as a whole, Abrantes often quotes the O.C., the Farrelly brothers’ comedies and Michael Bay’s action films), the clarity of his framing, and the introduction of satire and humour as instruments for reflection on the great issues of today (technology, instincts, sexuality and now gender identity and the refugee crisis). In addition to all this, there is also his exploration of cinematographic genres (documentary, horror, comedy, science fiction, period film, ethnographic film, etc.) that always appear mixed with each other and filtered by his pop understanding of culture as a whole. Diamantino is, in a way, the conclusion of this second period. In fact, the film begins as a parody or satire (depending on the degree of acidity you want to attribute to it) of the greatest living Portuguese football player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo.
One must admit that the portrait begins as a caricature, as in fact most of Abrantes’ previous works do: he has portrayed comically such historical figures as Manet, Brancusi, Luís Vaz de Camões, Obama, Justin Bieber or Werner Herzog. For this, the director has invited, once again, the actor Carloto Cotta to play the role of Diamantino, which is not very different from the characters he had already played in The Hunchback (2016), Freud und Friends (2015) or even Fratelli (2012). That is: the patsy, reminding a bit of the typical character played by Jerry Lewis. However, this patsy turns out to be something much more touching and sensitive than a first impression could conceive (as in Jerry Lewis’ films). As the director said in public presentations, “this is a film about a person so candid and so naive, that he allows himself to experience things to which none of us would be available”. And that is the core of Diamantino: giving time and space to allow a character to develop from the mere caricature (which is never fully achieved) into a full-bodied person, someone that turns out to be sweet and romantic (an emotional and narrative arch only possible in a feature length film). And this is where it is convenient to focus our attention: on the ambiguity with which the film works, between fooling around and taking it seriously, between political content and pure surrealist reverie, between parody and sincerity. It is exactly within these grey areas that the film seems to delight itself and the directors with it (the film is co-directed with Daniel Schmidt), leaving the spectator always unready and uncertain whether it will be in bad taste to make fun of the reaction to the refugees or to ridicule the Portuguese accent from the Madeira island. But here is where Abrantes and Schmidt find their space, working on the razor’s edge of the now so-called “politically correctness”. If one watches the film carefully, one rapidly understands that a large part of its humorous outputs have enormous disruptive power that always come from the spectator’s position. Our attitude as moralizing spectators is questioned successively by the directors and their candid character, until, in the end, there is only room for empathy and love.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
João Bénard da Costa: Outros Amarão as Coisas que eu Amei (João Bénard da Costa: Others Will Love The Things I Have Loved, 2014) by Manuel Mozos
Manuel Mozos’ films have been concerned with the history of (Portuguese) cinema itself and how it relates to the other arts. This is unsurprising when one finds out that Mozos works in film preservation at the National Moving Image Archive [ANIM] in Portugal and is also an occasional film programmer for the Cinemateca Portuguesa. In fact, several of his films reflect on what “Portuguese cinema” is or might be: its currents, the history of its modes of presentation, distribution and production, the history of its representations and its mythologies. For instance, just consider the following titles from his filmography: Lisboa No Cinema, Um Ponto De Vista (Lisbon on Cinema, a Point of View, 1994), Cinema Português? (Portuguese Cinema?, 1997), Cinema: Alguns Cortes I, II e III (Some Cuts I, II, and III, 1999, 2014, 2015) [found footage film composed by the censorship cuts made during the Estado Novo dictatorship to the commercial released features], Tóbis Portuguesa (2010) [on the most important film studio in Portugal], A Glória de Fazer Cinema em Portugal (The Glory of Filmmaking in Portugal, 2015) [a false documentary about a lost film directed by the writer José Régio] and João Bénard da Costa: Outros Amarão as Coisas que eu Amei. Mozos’ understanding of history and the past is perhaps what best defines his work. A gaze that has been materialized in his film-summary, Ruinas (Ruins, 2009), whose title is self-explanatory.
Others Will Love the Things I Have Loved is dedicated to João Bénard da Costa, the most important figure in Portuguese cinephile culture, who was the director of Cinemateca Portuguesa for over two decades (Mozos was his friend and his colleague). But more than a film about a man, this is a film about a man’s passions, which, in this case, naturally include several films, but also extend far beyond that, to poetry, opera, gastronomy, nature and religion. And it is exactly through that point of view that one should watch Manuel Mozos’ film, in the way he elevates, to the religious level — as Bénard da Costa often did in his texts about his favourite films —, the experience of “going to the movies” and the films one discovers there. The ritual of waiting in line, buying the ticket, finding the right chair, the experience of collective transmutation during the projection, the rattling of the projector, the images that assault us, in short, all that makes watching a film in a theatre an exhilarating (and sometimes transcendent) experience. And for this very reason what is most moving in this homage-film is the way whereby the director embodies Bénard’s loves, by showing us (in the moviola) large portions of Minnelli’s Gigi (1958), Ray’s Bitter Victory (1957) and Johnny Guitar (1954), Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) or Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Mozos presents the films in their materiality (in their reels, at the National Archive), as if the objects themselves were containers of love. In this way, it is no longer possible to watch these films without feeling what Bénard da Costa left in them: his love. The films of Manuel Mozos always seem interested in this: what has been deposited on material things so that they are freed from their purely objectual nature. And that veil of Verónica that covers the world with presences of the past seems to become visible – in his films – when things are materially degraded. It is in decadence that Mozos’ gaze discovers the bloom of memory, and his films have accomplished, repeatedly the capacity to transmute the loss into a gain, to make the irreparable into an infinite lesson, to sing one last act without a final chord.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
John From (2015) by João Nicolau
The title comes from an old story that is told about a pacific island: upon receiving supply crates by air, dropped by the American planes during the Second World War, the islanders thought this meant God would come from the sky — so when an American soldier that landed in the island introduced himself as “John From…”, that is what the islanders named their deity. That is also the codename for the mysterious neighbor (Filipe) of a teenage girl named Rita, who is at the center of the film and tells the tale of the island God, with that neighbor of hers being a summer, fleeting, impossible but inevitable crush. This might be the summer when time moves slower and the days seem to overlap and are difficult to distinguish, and a general laziness takes over where anything other than reading a book or listening to music seems to be worthless, but for this girl, it’s the most important time of her life. What starts off as a gentle rumination of how a couple of teenagers, Rita and Sara (Rita’s best friend and also a neighbor), conspire lightheartedly to make their days more interesting by making playlists, trading secretive messages, or catching some sun, gradually starts to shift its focus to Rita’s obsession with her neighbor Filipe, and the film starts to leak in some elements of fantasy.
Belonging to the Portuguese generation of filmmakers who started their careers by working on several short films (like Miguel Gomes), João Nicolau has developed a captivating body of work that reveals an interest in depicting a reality that is slowly infiltrated and taken over by fantasy and an overactive imagination. Experimenting with how different genres combine, Nicolau has a keen eye for sharp visual humor (like Wes Anderson, setting up visual compositions that deliver a punchline), often showing the characters lost in a world of their own. This universe is filled with references to other forms of art, like literature, photography and especially music, which expand not only the characters’ interest, but also the director’s. At some point, Rita visits an exhibition about the southern pacific islands of Melanesia, which has some photographs taken by Filipe, and she takes up an interest in the subjects depicted in those pictures, immersing herself in facts, sights and sounds from that culture — while building up her relationship with him, mainly in her head. At the same time, the film does something similar, by following Rita’s new interests with a couple of tweaks and twists: at one point, a meeting is invaded by a mysterious fog, which gradually takes over the whole apartment complex, and there is even, at some point, a driverless car. It’s a nod to Carpenter that above all reveals a love for cinema, for music and arts, in their ability to take over regular life with their imaginative powers and to disrupt it. The proposal seems to be that this is where the solution for our emotional troubles resides in, with art and imagination as an emotional support for daily life, an endearing undertaking-proposition, much like Rita’s infatuations.
Cartas da Guerra (Letters from War, 2016) by Ivo Ferreira
Between 1971 and 1973, the Portuguese writer António Lobo Antunes, then a medical doctor in Angola during colonial war time, wrote several letters to his wife in Portugal, Maria José. These letters were compiled in the book D’Este Viver Aqui Neste Papel Descripto (“Of This Living Here on This Paper Described”, 2005), that turned out to be the inspiration for Ivo Ferreira’s third fiction feature film, Letters from War. About these writings, Antunes confessed: “What I feel about these letters is ambivalence (…) I never thought of publishing them and I don’t know if they have any literary value, because it’s in my novels that I risk my life in. But who knows these will serve for people to understand the horror of war and the destruction of a generation.” This ambivalence is also in Ferreira’s film. Sometimes we feel there’s much too intimacy being revealed for our own pleasure and consequently giving us a romantic atmosphere to guide us through violent times. As if Letters from War was using Lobo Antunes’ writing as a sort of illuminating diamond, activating a recognizable place in Portuguese collective memory, through feelings of “saudade” (the Portuguese word for longing for someone or something), but also loss, desire, and love. But, at the same time, there is the feeling that maybe the true key to understand and exorcise colonial war might be through violent blows of intimacy.
Given that Lobo Antunes is one of the most important Portuguese writers still living, what was Ferreira’s strategy in using his words in Letters from War? First, we must say that images don’t illustrate literature here. These letters, although they can be read as an epistolary novel, they lack linear dramatic lines. That is why the director skillfully maintained many literal passages (using a voice over that is truly a “visible voice”), while contextualizing in images key situations that gave origin to these letters: the desperate passage of time that seems still when you love someone that is distant; the patrols in the forest; moments when António (played by the actor Miguel Nunes) is observing and writing; the chess games with the captain (played by João Pedro Vaz); the wounded torn to pieces by grenades; times of weakness and fear… The influential Portuguese thinker Eduardo Prado Coelho, writing about Antunes’ letters, highlighted that while he was discreet in terms of political opinions, he gave us terrible images of war. And here we find the most difficult problem of Ivo’s film. How to create images that could collaborate and not compete or devour the ones created by the writer himself? In some cases, Ferreira is stimulated by Antunes’ images and is tempted to create a poetic mechanism of composition that aestheticizes some details: flashes in the sky in moments of despair or the face of the girl Antonio finds in the jungle as opposed to the faces of the soldiers on Christmas Eve. Other times we are directly attracted to the depiction of colonial atmosphere by Portuguese cinema itself, as in the cases of Miguel Gomes’ Tabu (2012) or João Botelho’s A Portuguese Farewell (1985). What is most difficult to understand is that the author of these letters (and its images) was a man that was in love. Just as Ivo Ferreira was, when he saw his ex-wife, Margarida Vila Nova, at the time pregnant with his son, reading D’Este Viver Aqui Neste Papel Descripto and was “activated” by love. More than a battle between literature and cinema (a battle for the creation of the purest images), Letters from War faces the challenge to instill love within despair, grace within destruction.
Até que o Porno nos Separe (Until Porn Do Us Part, 2018) by Jorge Pelicano
Jorge Pelicano studied communication and graduated in journalism. He has worked as a video journalist for many television reports, telling stories with social, human and political impact. In 2005, he started directing feature length documentaries, namely Ainda Há Pastores? (Are There Still Any Shepherds?, 2006) and Pare, Escute, Olhe (Stop, Listen, Look, 2009), whose subject focused on the hard living of the people from the Portuguese interior regions, and were strong political statements about the desertification of rural areas. With Pára-me de Repente o Pensamento (Suddenly My Thoughts Halt, 2014) he started introducing, more openly than in his previous works, fictional elements in his documentaries by following an actor, Miguel Borges, who entered a psychiatric hospital in order to better develop the character he intends to play in a future stage production. One may state that Pelicano’s relationship with reality has changed, from a direct approach (news report) to a more nuanced approach. Then everything changed with his latest film.
“I’m not interested in reality. The reality is the starting point to make a documentary, to make cinema.” This is what the director has answered in an interview about Até que o Porno Nos Separe. This film portrays the relationship between a Portuguese conservative and religious 65-year-old mother and her son, Sydney, better known as Fostter Riviera, an awarded gay porn star based in Berlin. The director further explained, “narratively, this conflict was my starting point”, but since their relationship had finally come to terms after a turbulent period between 2011 and 2016 (after the mother had discovered her son was both gay and a sex worker, through a neighbour that made her watch some of his films), the director had to re-enact part of the struggle. For this he chose the modern archaeological practice: excavating all the Facebook messages exchanged between the two during that difficult moment. “Since the film is told from the mother’s point of view, I decided to ask her to re-read the ones she sent to her son.” This “totally” fictional approach to documentary is new in Jorge Pelicano’s body of work, and it is a detachment tool that allows us to create a distance between the audience and the intimacy of this particular family. Understanding the staged nature of most of what we are seeing puts us in a more comfortable position and justifies the close approach the director has achieved towards his two main characters. If in previous documentaries his method was to film hours and hours (and the film would emerge from the editing room), in this documentary he decided to build the narrative structure before shooting, as in a fictional film. The purpose: to create a strong and effective emotional bond with the spectators, that allows them to experience the complete arch of the mother’s character (it is hard not to be touched when she speaks, in the end, at the Oporto LGBT Pride Parade). Or as she has explained: “Telling my story was a way of freeing myself from some fears and prejudices I still had about my son. I think my testimony may be important to other parents who might be in the same situation.” The emotional effectiveness of Until Porn Do Us Part is its boldest political statement.
Ricardo Vieira Lisboa
Variações (Variações: Guardian Angel, 2019) by João Maia
One of the most difficult genres to direct is certainly the biopic. Among many possible reasons, there are two which are most common. The first is the temptation of the tribute. When creating a film around the life of a well-known character, the intention to render an homage to someone can divert a shot, a scene, a sequence, from its most creative and interesting places. The same can happen with the narrative efficiency. And this is the second reason. Most of the time, the directors feel the pressure to be clear; this means that each shot, scene or sequence, should be developed to convey the most vital moments of a character’s biography. That way, the film becomes much more subjugated to the instrumental logic of communication, than to the freedom of creation. João Maia somehow managed to dodge these two biopic “traps” in Variações: Guardian Angel. Of course, people will be able to know more about the life of the Portuguese nineteen-eighties’ pop singer António Variações by watching the film, as well as accessing a portrait of the cultural Lisbon landscape of that time, with mythical places like Alunos de Apolo, Imaviz or Trumps Bar. However, most often, Maia is interested in giving us moments where Variações (Sérgio Praia) is practicing his music at home or in a studio. Learning to control his voice, to manage the rhythm, to exercise his body. In terms of the efficiency mentioned early on, these moments seem less important. However, they have the power to make a more subtle and corporeal connection between the character and the viewer.
In the data provided by the Portuguese Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual (ICA), Variações: Guardian Angel comes in fifth in the list of the most watched Portuguese films in the last fifteen years. It got around 280.000 admissions in Portugal. However, it can be regarded as a film in the middle, in the sense that it is not a pure auteur piece, nor is it just a popular vehicle for cheap entertainment. And the reasons for that? João Maia, a director that already worked for cinema, television and publicity, has stated several times that the actor Sérgio Praia was a miracle, as he almost didn’t need to be directed: he learned how to sing with the tone and physicality of the singer, playing live in most of the takes. Is this a case of a strange possession? Was it possible that Variações could “reincarnate” in the body and soul of an actor several years later to produce such a vivid portrait? Or is it just pure talent? These were some musings that circulated in various conversations with João Maia. Sérgio Praia said that he could relate very well to the life story of Variações, especially the coming from a small village and the pursuit of art. This leads us to the success of the film. Obviously, the work can be contextualized in a recent stream of films around popular music icons. Remember Mamma Mia, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, etc. And in that sense Variações: Guardian Angel is an opportunity to re-listen and revive the work of the Portuguese singer. But it’s more than that: there is the crucial element of identification. Maia’s film is about not being accepted for who you are by those around you and in the place where you were born at; it’s about fighting for your artistic beliefs; it’s about having the right to be in love and live that love freely; ultimately, it’s about humility and happiness. Express those universal feelings – while not compromising your artistic integrity and your vision – and you got yourself a good popular film. If that is not the case, will you be able to forget that last moment, that sort of death while singing?