The last in Oliveira’s Tetralogy of Frustrated Love is the third I’ve seen (Benilde, you’re next). Either this is the most eccentric of the bunch, or I’ve just forgotten how eccentric Past and Present and Doomed Love were. Each scene is a single-take diorama, and whole dialogue exchanges are repeated from different camera setups. Memorably in a late scene, the camera is between the characters, so each one speaks directly to us. Rigidly composed, more subtly dreamlike than Ruiz. Very writerly dialogue, “We live torn to pieces, in search of our bodies scattered all over the earth.” Also my second movie of the weekend with operatic singing, Balzac mentions and an unbalanced, punitive love triangle.

Camilo (Castelo Branco, the Doomed Love writer!) and Jose Agusto are both after “Fanny” Francisca. She is Teresa Menezes of the Non, Camilo is Mário Barroso with the thickest mustache (better known as a cinematographer, he’d shoot four of Oliveira’s 90’s films) and Jose Agusto is Diogo Dória with a droopy mustache (his first for MdO, he’d become a regular). Jose is with Fanny’s sister Maria, but he steals Fanny from his “friend,” eloping with her in the night (she falls off her horse immediately), then spends no time with her, leaving her alone in their new house. When Fanny dies, Jose thinks he’s to blame, becomes morose and obsessive, orders an autopsy and keeps her heart in a jar. Jose dies under suspicious circumstances soon after. Camilo was in his late twenties at this point – it’s set during the year he wrote Mysteries of Lisbon.

Doomed Lovers:

Dave Kehr:

In 19th-century Portugal, a rising young novelist falls in love with the daughter of an English army officer, provoking the obscure envy of an aristocratic friend, who resolves to marry the girl himself and make her suffer for her betrayal. The baroque plot is presented in a series of single-take tableaux, which do not attempt to embody the drama as much as allude to it, leaving the dense and passionate feelings to take shape entirely in the spectator’s mind. Oliveira limits himself to showing only what can truly be shown: not the story but a representation of the story, not the emotions but their material manifestations as they have crossed the decades.

Carson Lund in Slant:

Filming in immaculately dressed and lit rooms and separating his single-take sequences with matter-of-fact title cards that address, often with subtle wit, the actions about to take place, de Oliveira presents Francisca’s narrative progression as something of a foregone conclusion. The experience of watching the film feels akin to surveying a series of museum paintings and periodically pausing to digest the museum label beneath them; at times, de Oliveira will even play a scene twice, back-to-back, from two different angles, reinforcing the stuck-in-time nature of the storytelling. In the place of narrative transformation and suspense is a deadpan air of judgment that recalls the amused omniscience of Stanley Kubrick’s depiction of Enlightenment-era narcissism, Barry Lyndon, which charts another roguish gentleman trying to rise above his station via a marital engagement.

Glenn Heath Jr. called it “one of the greatest films about wasted time.”

Costa loves his very low-light digital cinematography (very cool, Lois Patiño-esque) with actors being extremely still, until he faces a challenge in the second half with a jittery Ventura – either the actor or his priest character is now afflicted with Parkinson’s. Everyone in this movie is desperate, all zombie-walking through spaces, only VV has any passion left. Her confrontation with Ventura is intense, and her big backstory monologue takes place on the toilet.

“It is really inelegant for a man to let himself grow old.” A late film to be sure, an old man looking back at his debut from 70 years ago, remembering his young life. How was anyone supposed to know that Oliveira, in his 90s, would make ten more features after this?

Sometimes it’s a fun story of artistic discovery, but there’s a rueful thread of disappointment since all these good times took place with his friends, all artists, exiled and dead. Some old film clips and photographs, as expected. The movie centers around a series of real-time scenes: an opening overture with the camera behind the conductor… a drive through the streets at night… a poem… a song.

Strata of the Image (2015, Lois Patino)

The backlit figure from the Phil Solomon shorts stands motionless before a monochrome waterfall, which gradually colorizes into a full rainbow. Peaceful, silent and short, but it feels more like an art-gallery screen-saver than a festival short – and indeed it was, originally.


Fajr (2017, Lois Patino)

Desert figure tableaus, this time with rumbling wind sound then a vocal song, but back to monochrome, each shot looking like the motionless standoff before a samurai battle begins. I dig how each shot is too dark when it begins, and gradually, imperceptibly brightens, but still getting a gallery vibe. When the figures in the final shot dissolve into spectral light then the ocean washes away the desert, this short jumps way ahead of Strata.


Night Without Distance (2015, Lois Patiño)

Technically, this film and Strata are LNKarno selections, having played the Fuori Concorso in Locarno 2015, and this one also appeared on the lists of experimental films I’m following, so I get to count it twice.

Dialogue! Color-inverted tableaus of motionless figures, but this time with dialogue. They’re gonna sneak over the mountains from Galicia with some sort of contraband. The scenario is tense and dangerous, but you wouldn’t know that without sound – the film visuals with their slow-moving figures betray no sense of urgency, even though some are holding rifles.


The Glory of Filmmaking in Portugal (2015 Manuel Mozos) 720p 17min

While we’re in Portugal, here’s a cool little movie, mostly edited from archival materials, investigating four minutes of mysterious footage which seem to prove that a group of poets in 1930 teamed with a French cinematographer to attempt to launch a Portuguese cinema. It seems their attempt was aborted, and Manoel de Oliveira came along the following year anyway, so the country just pinned all its hopes on him.


The Girl Chewing Gum (1976, John Smith)

Something completely different: a street scene with traffic noise and a ringing alarm in the distance, the director shouting out orders to the extras and the cameraman telling them when to make each move… but it’s really ordinary documentary footage with the voiceover added afterwards. Towards the end he speculates that a man in a raincoat just robbed a bank, which explains the alarm. This movie presenting doc footage as planned orchestration has funny timing, since when the collector brought out his reels of mysterious film in the previous short I wondered if this was true or a Forgotten Silver situation. “Art Basel” seems to be a Locarno program of shorts brought over from the same year’s Gässli fest.

The Village Voice, as excerpted on Smith’s website: “Smith takes the piss out of mainstream auteurist ego, but provides proof of the underground ethos: Even with meagre mechanical means, the artist can command the universe.”

The first twenty minutes of this alternates documentary segments about a shipyard with scenes about murder hornets, then in a reference to the last very long movie I watched this year, the film director runs away (“because I’m stupid and abstraction gives me vertigo”). I remember reading that this project was full of criticisms of Portugal’s economic policies, and that it’s divided into three movies in order to get triple the funding. It has its moments (the rooster legal drama, love triangle portrayed by kids and told through text messages, a naked slap party, a tribute to Ghost Dog, some very good birds), but it’s less fun than the Pasolini – there’s one movie’s worth of stories here stretched over six hours.

The film crew, in trouble:

Rooster on trial for crowing too early:

Text Triangle:

No-Bowels, a woman murderer who becomes a local hero for fooling the cops:

Outdoor trial is crashed by a genie:

The dog Dixie sees its shadow-self:

Pretty finches:

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (Giacconi & Pennuti & Fabbri)

Does different things with colored stage lights, including flashing fullscreen in a mesmeric flicker, story of a musician’s vision loss added at the end to explain the visual scheme.

Secret Screening Short 1

Passing strangely through space and process, works popping into empty spaces, contextual history at the end.

The Sea, The Stars, A Landscape (Alison O’Daniel)

L.A. smog, small groups around the hideous city. Mostly I was engaged by wondering how this short work ties into the filmmaker’s larger project about tuba theft.

Lost Three Make One Found (Atsushi Kuwayama)

Quirky guy drives through Portugal looking for a mythical fountain that can bring peace after a breakup. Funny movie, good translation humor in the subtitles. They interview a hitchhiker about his own life and outlook, then play the interview back for him the next day while filming his reaction – this turns out to have been a genius idea, one of the best scenes of the fest.

Three-hour diary films about getting HIV treatment aren’t my bag, but I got interested in this because of my The Territory / The State of Things double-feature since Pinto was a crew member on The Territory and includes set footage in this doc. The Ruiz connection accounts for an extremely small percentage of this movie’s long runtime, but it turned out to be worth watching on its own merits, not all the illness-misery I was expecting.

Pinto, a career soundman and a swell photographer as well, is taking experimental medical treatments for a year, staying home with his partner Nuno and their dogs, going through his archives. Unlike, say, the Jonas Mekas diary films that expect you to recognize all his famous friends, Pinto gives us a primer on his career and interests. He’s from Portugal, and the year after the 1974 revolution he watched all the previously banned films and decided he needed to work in cinema.

The first half seems more diary-like, then he seems to be trying to make sense of the world. Focused on his own health, he discusses the histories of different diseases, also his life with Nuno, and friends past and present. They live on farmland, and he cuts in footage of frogs, dragonflies, slugs, spiders and dogs whenever possible.

Rufus and Nuno:

Francisco Ferreira in Cinema Scope:

There’s clearly an emotional and melancholic feel in the film through Pinto’s voiceover, but that melancholy becomes political when he points out during his treatment the shortcomings of a current health service still full of absurd, bureaucratic rules. Avoiding strict social realism and constructing its political message in a much more subtle way, it seems to me that What Now? Remind Me doesn’t have the pretension to speak in the name of a generation, nor does it desire to raise a flag in the fight against AIDS. It is also inconsistent to approach this film as some kind of terminal-care experience, in the manner of such powerful first-person testimonies as Hervé Guibert’s La pudeur ou l’impudeur or Jarman’s Blue, because Pinto’s point of view is luckily coming from that of a survivor. At the same time, a sense of irony necessarily pops up. One of the funniest moments of the film comes when we see Pinto writing on his laptop, exchanging clinical symptoms and prescriptions by mail with Jo Santos, an old friend based in Paris whom he has not seen for over ten years. (She underwent the same treatment as the director and accompanied him to Locarno, where the film was awarded the Special Jury Prize.) It’s difficult to express the beauty of the fact that one reason Pinto made his movie was to reconnect with a longtime friend, to make him feel less alone in his adventure—I’ll only risk saying that if all films were made like this, surely cinema would not be as miserable as it is today.


Bonus: two animated shorts codirected with Nuno Leonel:

Porca Miséria (2007)

Routine of a homeless kid who sleeps under a city bridge and has easy access to the beach, and his friend piggybank. A few variations on daily life, then one evening the kid is missing and pig is busted.


The Keeper of Herds (2013)

Filmed illustration of a poem about finding God in nature, by António Caeiro, I think, but when I search online I find a Joaquim Pinto blog with an article about an António Caeiro, but both men are hairdressers, and I feel like I’ve fallen into another dimension.

Devout priests Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver convince Ciaran Hinds to send them to Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed, to covertly spread the good word and to locate their teacher Liam Neeson. I’ve seen this story told before, in Masahiro Shinoda’s film, so I knew the general outline and some of the characters. I liked Scorsese’s three-hour remake (with a new epilogue) a hell of a lot better – even if I still can’t comprehend some of the characters’ actions, it’s an intense, awe-inspiring film. Would’ve been cool if it had hung around in theaters, since I would’ve liked to watch again after a few weeks or a month, but I guess America wasn’t interested in sacrifice and devotion this holiday season because it only lasted a week.

I couldn’t resist stealing a couple of screenshots from Film Comment:

In Japan, our white saviors meet interpreter Tadanobu Asano (lead ghost in Journey to the Shore), Shinya Tsukamoto himself (tortured to death by being tied to a cross and pounded by the surf for days), drunken traitor Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka of Tokyo Tribe), and eventually, toothy torturer Issei Ogata (extremely different from his gentle software developer in Yi Yi and twitchy emperor in The Sun).

J. Cabrita:

There is an essential balance to Silence, subverting a colonizer’s prejudices while also considering the prospect that Rodrigues’ missionary work is disseminating objective truth; one does not reduce the other, but enlivens it, makes it meaningful, potent and mysterious. Adapted from a novel by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic persecuted for his religious values at home and discriminated against for his race abroad, Scorsese’s film also occupies the novel’s ambiguous middle ground.

N. Bahadur, who also makes good connections with The Age of Innocence:

In terms of the film’s critical distance from Rodrigues, what is important is that it is not Christianity which is being critiqued but rather perspective. The moral fundamentals of both religions in the film do not include concepts of pride and glory which both Rodrigues & the Inquisitor demonstrate. Both men are completely invested in their way of viewing the world – fully formed yet opposing views which make sense – and by watching their debates we can already see Scorsese’s perspective: does moral righteousness negate a moral perspective? A colleague mentioned: “they talk about faith needing to take root, but it only becomes faith after becoming rootless.” Perhaps on a moral and ideological level, Rodrigues and the Christians are right: advocation for a Universal truth, yet they fail on a political level because of the failure to see the colonial implications of their actions. While the Japanese in the film prove to be far more selfless and with rather more reason or martyrdom, yet on a moral level the Inquisitor is despicable and inhumane.

G. Kenny:

The opening title, with its sounds of nature followed by absence of sound, constitutes an arguably almost literal-minded demonstration of the movie’s theme, but that plainness is purposeful … And of course the most virtuoso filmmaking of the piece, the scene where Rodrigues comes to his most crucial decision. It’s just crushing, not least for the way it’s set up. Liam Neeson’s Ferreira, speaking to his former student of “a suffering only you can end,” tells Rodrigues his sacrifice will be “the greatest act of love ever performed,” and Rodrigues’ Japanese interpreter (Tadanobu Asano, great) tells the priest, “It’s just a formality.” Which is it, for God’s sake? And then the soundtrack drops out for the second time.

Bilge, from his great Voice article about Scorsese’s holy trilogy:

There’s a vanity behind Rodrigues’s sense of responsibility, too, and Silence slowly interrogates this earnest man of the cloth. Once he gets separated from fellow priest Garrpe (Adam Driver), Rodrigues is accompanied through the film by … the unchanging, ever-present face of Jesus, about whom he dreams at night. The priest even sees Christ’s visage replacing his own reflection in a pool of water, and he giggles maniacally at the thought that he might be headed for a fate similar to his messiah’s; he exults in the glory of a martyr’s death … Rodrigues will not die a martyr. He will not become a saint. His sacrifice will not be written about in the annals of his faith; if anything, he will be a shameful footnote. But he will, finally, achieve true compassion for another man [Kichijiro], the two of them united in their weakness. And in this, who’s to say that he has not found the divine?

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.

Rodrigues:
“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.