First-person movie with barely-seen narrator/protagonist. It’s kind of an essay film about revisiting the city where he grew up after being gone thirty years, noting the changes. But it’s also an interesting new thing – a noirish murder/mystery played out mostly in audio, with the visuals in the same style as the essay-documentary sections, almost as if the footage was shot and then the filmmakers belatedly decided to make a completely different kind of movie.

Guerra da Mata:

We do have several references, like from Josef von Sternberg’s film Macao … One of the first shots of our film is a travelling shot by boat, like in the beginning of the Sternberg film. We liked the idea of having documentary images introducing a plot that was actually shot in a Hollywood studio.

Rodrigues: “And we decided to do the opposite: inventing a plot mostly shot with documentary images.”

A couple of lipsync musical performances (one in the opening, presumably performed by noir-figure Candy, another in the middle by a canal boater) help tie the threads together. Unexpectedly, the noir story ends up involving a bird cage containing a Kiss Me Deadly-style glowing secret (it turns people into animals). So I followed the movie with pleasure, though after the fact I think I admire it more than love it.

Things I didn’t get because I don’t know my film history: Candy was performing Jane Russell’s song from the movie Macao in the introduction. This gets discussed in the film itself for us clueless types, as does some Macao history – it was occupied by the Portuguese for centuries then handed over to China in 1999.

Second appearance of Astro Boy today, after spotting him in Yi Yi. First movie I’ve seen by either of these Joãos, who also made To Die Like a Man and The Ornithologist together.

Great interview in Cinema Scope. They got funding for a Macao documentary then decided to make something else based on Guerra da Mata’s memories of living there, but they still only had the budget of a documentary.

“We wanted our film to be playful, and I think that this is a really wide range: Chris Marker, James Bond, film noir … sci-fi.”

Alvorada Vermelha / Red Dawn (2011)

I think the directors mentioned that making this short led to Macao, so I had the bright idea of watching them together. No spoken words, opens with a shot of a high-heeled shoe on the road, which could easily be from the other film (which also opens with a shoe close-up), and both movies share a glimpsed mermaid character… but for the most part, this is a documentary set inside a slaughterhouse where lots of fishes and chickens are killed and cut up, thus it’s kinda no fun to watch.

Rented this just a couple weeks ago on a night I knew damn well I wouldn’t have time to watch it. It’s just as good a few weeks later.


During the first half I wasn’t enjoying it so much because I was looking for the wrong things. The characters seemed to have no names or individual traits – just a group of guys who are always in the same scenes together, defined by their commitment to friendship (the backstory consists of one old photo of them together as kids) over loyalty to their mob boss (and therefore their personal safety). I didn’t know the actors (recognized a couple as Chi Wai’s multiple personalities from Mad Detective) and was waiting for the story/character scenes to kick in. But they never do, and now I can appreciate that. The photo is the backstory: these guys are friends… what more do we need for an action flick?


So without character development, we’re left with dark, shadowy cinematography on awesomely-staged action sequences. The one below is a favorite. The fifth friend, whom the other four were supposed to kill on orders from their boss which led them all to revolt, is wounded and being treated by the gang’s private doctor, when the boss himself, also wounded, shows up. He’s being treated, surrounded by bodyguards, while the friends hide behind curtains and furniture, the lead-up to the shoot-out being deliciously more thrilling than the shoot-out itself.


The fifth guy dies, and his wife goes on a shooting rampage against our heroes. They fail to kill their boss, who is now hunting them. They’re on the run and it looks like the movie is gonna break out an existential loneliness dialogue when they stumble upon a heist, a truck full of gold being defended by a cigarette-smoking super-soldier. The movie wasn’t what I’d call realistic to this point, but now it flies off the rails, and they join up with this guy to steal the gold. But narratively it’s not gonna work for the four remaining gunmen to live rich in hiding while their former boss stays in power and their dead friend’s wife raises her new baby alone, so they go back for one more suicidal fight, leaving the gold to the wife and the soldier.


You have to think that guys wearing sunglasses and shooting guns in slow-motion is cool to properly enjoy the movie, and I do, so I loved it by the end. Set in Macau, a former Portuguese colony now in the same political situation as Hong Kong. Nice comic touch: a cop with only a couple days left on the force keeps driving by, getting shot at, and running off unharmed… he lives to see retirement.