Our Beloved Month of August (2008, Miguel Gomes)

A semi-documentary that eventually focuses on scraps of stories: Paolo, who jumps into the river every year during carnival, and a couple of young lovers (actually cousins). Other pieces of the movie include the filming of the movie itself, camera turned upon its own crew, Gomes tryin to explain why he’s not making the film he was supposed to make, and a series of concerts, letting awful pop songs half play out before abruptly cutting away.

I’m so in favor of the semi-doc, fiction/doc blend, experimental narrative, etc, but couldn’t get into this one, not nearly as much as Tabu. It’s kinda beloved though, and won a prize in Vienna.

M. Peranson:

Organically constructed and impressively humble, Our Beloved Month of August shows the fantastic, mythic elements present in everyday life, and the mundane realities present in filmmaking, presenting the two as links in a neverending chain of dominoes.

Gomes:

The Strange Case of Angelica (2010, Manoel de Oliveira)

Isaac (Ricardo Trepa, star of Eccentricities) is called to a rich estate in the middle of the night to take final photographs of a just-deceased girl (Pilar Lopez de Ayala, star of In the City of Sylvia), whose image he falls in love with, then it starts coming to life in his photographs (if MdO can embrace digital sfx then anybody can). Isaac spends his days photographing field laborers and his nights dreaming of Angelica, to the concern of his meddling landlady Justina. Excellent shot at the end: sick Isaac rises trance-like from bed, pushes the doctor aside then collapses, as his spirit continues out to the balcony and flies away with Angelica.

Mouse-over to hallucinate like Isaac does:

There are few indications that the movie is set in any recent decade until we see cars in the last half hour. This is by design: old-fashioned, simple-living photographer Isaac seems overly interested in old-fashioned things. I’m not sure of the significance of his being Jewish, but it’s mentioned a lot.

Film Quarterly explains:

As a Jew, Isaac is a stranger to the community, but he’s fascinated by Portugal’s religion, dying agricultural traditions, and quasi-mystical, late-romantic literature. (The Strange Case of Angelica grew out of a film Oliveira wanted to make in the 1950s, dealing with Jews who migrated to Portugal after World War II.)

I didn’t spot Leonor Silveira, but trusty ol’ Luis Miguel Cintra (Inquietude, Non) stays at the same boarding house. That’s him above with Ana Maria Magalhães of The Age of the Earth.

Mouse-over to awaken Isaac from his dream:

Douro, Faina Fluvial (1931, Oliveira)

The DVD guys have kindly included Oliveira’s first short, documenting workers on the river (as Isaac documents them in the fields – but not precisely). He pulls shots in and out of focus, gets in every striking angle he can muster, edits still and motion shots together in jarring ways. Definitely some staged situations. A truck driver, distracted by a passing plane, bumps an ox cart which then runs over a young man. The man is okay, but starts beating the oxen in anger until a policeman shows up, and he and the beasts make up.

I only played a few minutes of the very good (so far) commentary, instead watched an Oliveira monologue. He is against television, pornography and violence. He is for fantasy, Melies and Avatar. He methodically lists all the well-known great filmmakers, saying they’re the ones who maintain proper separation between the private and public spheres – an ethical discussion that I didn’t follow, then methodically lists the exact same filmmakers a few minutes later as if we didn’t just go over this. Cinema as an art should be “a reflection of the more critical, richer, graver and higher aspects of the human condition.”

Tabu (2012, Miguel Gomes)

A prologue, long first section, long second section – with only the middle part having sync sound. Bookend segments have spoken narration and certain (probably dubbed/foleyed) sound effects from the scene and seem better/more magical than the talkie half of the movie.

1. In Africa, depressed widower colonialist hurls himself into the crocodile-infested river. “You may run as far as you can, for as long as you like, but you will not escape your heart.”

Ghost of the colonialist’s dead wife:

2. In Lisbon, aging activist Pilar (Teresa Madruga of Silvestre) would seem to be our main character, but the possibly-senile gambling-addicted woman next door takes up much of her attention and curiosity. Aurora isn’t so nice to her maid Santa, is never visited by her children, who support her via a monthly check. Aurora takes a bad turn and sends Pilar to find a man called Ventura (Henrique Espirito Santo, a producer of Doomed Love and Magic Mirror) who arrives too late. After the funeral, he has lunch with Pilar and Santa, begins to tell them his story, after which we never see anyone from the movie’s first half again.

Aurora and Ventura:

3. We spend a year in Mozambique, with month-by-month title cards. Young Aurora (Ana Moreira of Teresa Villaverde’s films) was a famed hunter, a lone wolf who finally married, but soon started an affair with neighbor Ventura (Carloto Cotta, who played Father Dinis’s father as a young man in Mysteries of Lisbon).

Aurora and Ventura:

Their affair gets more passionate and reckless, until finally they run away and she kills the man who discovers them together. She’s dragged back to her husband. Ventura tries to claim that he shot the man, but an anti-colonialist movement takes credit for the murder, so they’re both off the hook – but they never see each other again.

Reverse Shot:

Gomes, even from his earliest shorts (which he’s dubbed musical comedies, though the music is generally piped in rather than sung, the humor dry as a bone, rather than broad) has evinced a willingness to prioritize images over dialogue, songs over the spoken word, and, above all, has maintained a sense of play entirely his own. … Tabu steals its name and chapter titles from the mystical South Pacific feature directed by F.W. Murnau, another filmmaker in thrall to the magic of movies, and produced by Robert Flaherty, the other guiding pole of Gomes’s cinema. That he’s reversed the trajectory of that earlier film, moving from “Paradise Lost” to “Found” suggests that this new Tabu is up to more than just simple homage.

He plays in a band, she listens on the radio, both crying

Slant:

This is a film in which a sullen colonialist transforms into a reptile in a tone-setting prelude. This is a film that answers its hour’s worth of affectingly humdrum urban drama with a lulling, marvelous, deeply dreamy backend. Yet Tabu’s surrealism—like its romance, its comedy, its historicism, its everything—is retained with a light touch. For all its wistfulness, Tabu never feels like a formalist, postmodern, post-cinema put-on. Gomes never feels like he’s trying to pull anything off. And so, in turn, he manages to pull everything off.

Pilar and Santa:

Gomes:

I think I make films to play music. For instance, Tabu starts with Pilar watching a movie. But that sequence was only put at the beginning in the editing room. That story of the explorer and the ghost was like a radio soap that Aurora was doing. I shot her in the studio doing Foley effects (sounds synched to the action) and the sequence was supposed to come in the second part of the film. I didn’t know where, because we didn’t have a script for the second part. I shot many sequences not knowing if they would fit in the film or which part they would fit into. In fact, when Pilar was going to the cinema—and in the script, she went three times, in the film only two—it was intended that you would never see the screen but would hear a song. Maybe this is my emotional link with cinema, that I wanted to materialize it by not showing whatever Pilar is seeing, only portraying it as a song. For me as a viewer of cinema and a listener to music, I wanted to have the same response to the sequence as I would if I were hearing a great song, not being moved by the lyrics but by a more abstract feeling one has in response to music.

Inquietude (1998, Manoel de Oliveira)

“Men were vulgar. They wanted to forget their history. Only funerals seemed true, as they passed streets of dirty houses, like tombs for the living.”

Almost an anthology film – three stories with no overlapping characters, set maybe in the 1920’s or 30’s. An adaptation of three separate works – a fact I didn’t catch in the opening credits. Very strange, but as magnetic and thrilling as Non.

The Immortals

A burst of music over the opening, then the first line, from a father to his son, is “Kill yourself.” Both father (Jose Pinto of Abraham’s Valley) and son (Luis Miguel Cintra, star of Non) are the most famous scientists of their respective generation. But the father is feeling washed-up and forgotten, and urges his son to die at the height of his fame.

Time out for a picnic with Marta (Isabel Ruth of The Uncertainty Principle), an old student/flame of the father’s, then back to the apartment. The son won’t be convinced, refuses to swallow cyanide, but agrees to fix his father’s curtain rod over the back door, at which time his dad pushes him over the balcony, then jumps after, yelling about immortality.

I’d noted that the movie felt like theater, the old man playing towards an imagined crowd instead of his son, in a single location except for the cutaways to the picnic and a downstairs neighbor’s place as the men fell to their deaths – and it was theater after all. A half hour into the movie, a curtain raises, and we begin to follow a couple groups of friends who have been watching the play, never to return to the scientist family.

Suzy

Square-jawed Diogo Doria of Non and his friend David Cardoso are paying as much attention to a pair of courtesans/prostitutes in another box as to the play. Cardoso meets the girls and reports back, having claimed Gabi (Rita Blanco) as his own, and later, Doria starts spending much time with Suzy (the ever-present Leonor Silveira), though he remains rational when he sees her out with other men.

All along, I’m suspicious that this will be another play, even though the atmosphere has changed – it’s more realistic, mostly shot in long takes (as was the first episode), but still held at a strange remove, with ellipses of undetermined lengths between scenes.

Suzy: “I have wealthy lovers, dresses by the best seamstresses, everything, except happiness.” Eventually she’s seeing Doria less often, though they exchange letters. In the end, Suzy has died in hospital during an operation (“she said: it’s a small thing”), but he keeps writing the letters. Cardoso stops by to visit his pathetic friend, and tells him a story.

Mother of the River

Young Fisalina (Leonor Baldaque, star of The Portuguese Nun) is in love with Ricardo Trepa (who played her husband in Christopher Columbus, The Enigma). But it’s not that simple: there are customs, rules, meddling parents and a small, stifling village. So she sneaks off to see the Mother of the River (Irene Papas, greek singer in A Talking Picture, also star of Z). “I love a boy with pretty teeth. I do not know how to marry him… curse me, but set me free.” So the mother takes Fisalina through a candlelit cavern to the edge of the water.

The next day Fisalina notices her fingertips are golden. She hides them from everyone, but no longer feels urgent towards her boy, and seems at peace with the village. During a candlelight festival, the light shines off her fingers and she is discovered, a witch! “Fisalina, reckless, fated, has chosen to live beside the deep water, where she will wait a thousand years before swapping lives with someone else.”

Goldfinger:

Trepa, despondent:

Oliveira has returned to these writers: his A Caixa was a play by Prista Monteiro (The Immortals), and he’s done at least four major films based on stories by Agustina Bessa-Luis (Mother of the River).

D. Kehr says the segments are “all centered on themes of death and eternity and presented sequentially as social comedy, existential tragedy and lyrical epic,” but Rosenbaum, more correctly I think, says it’s “the theme of existential identity” that unites the stories.

NON, or the Vainglory of Command (1990, Manoel de Oliveira)

“A terrible word is the NON”

A film with a stagy, heightened atmosphere in which you plainly see things happening though you somehow come to believe that these things are not happening. It’s a feeling I’ve had before with Oliveira, and with some of my favorites by Ruiz, Bunuel and Resnais, a slippery strangeness which I suppose most critics call surrealism.

Obvious predecessor to A Talking Picture, a movie full of narrated history lessons ending with a moment of violence, history’s revenge on the present. Portuguese soldiers on a troop truck, out defending the colonies, chat about politics. Lt. Cabrita (Luis Miguel Cintra, scary uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue) tells them stories of their country’s past defeats, which are played out for us in full costume using the same actors as in the truck.

Two of my fave soldiers: at left is Manuel, Diogo Doria of Manoel on the Island of Wonders

Flashback, B.C. 130’s: Viriato, a successful defender of Portugal (then Lusitania) against the Romans, an icon of Portuguese independence, killed by his own Roman-bribed men while he slept.

Flashback, early 1470’s: Portugal fights Spain on two fronts. King Afonso V is defeated in a chaotic battle, while his son Prince John fought and won a battle that was apparently tactically brilliant but seemed strange to me. So, “There were neither victors nor vanquished.” Symbol of the battle was “The Mangled Man, who, in his chivalrous ardour, refuses to let the nation’s symbol fall” – a flag-bearer who kept holding the flag after having both hands cut off by the enemy. “King Afonso V’s image is belittled compared to The Mangled Man’s, whose courage the king himself didn’t deserve.”

Flashback, late 1470’s: John of the previous battle is now king, and his son Afonso is married to daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, so the children would have united the Iberian kingdoms, had Afonso not died during a horse race. Zodiac-like, this episode adds up the details of the suspicious/tragic event without drawing clear conclusions.

Time out for Cabrita to speak of Portugal’s discoveries and art, how they are more meaningful than any military achievements. This features a song, baby angels, much nudity, and Leonor Silveira.

Flashback, 1578, Alcazar-Quibir, the War of the Three Kings, a disastrous battle fought in northern Morocco. Cintra/Cabrita plays Alexandre Moreira, head of the adventurers’ regiment, who attacked first, to no avail. Three kings were killed, the nobility slaughtered, the army defeated, and Portugal was taken over by the Spanish government for the next sixty years.

Cintra/Cabrita/Moreira:

The next day, out on patrol, they’re caught in Portugal’s latest military defeat – Cabrita is shot, taken to a military hospital populated by mutilated men. He dies in the hospital on April 25, 1974, the day of the Carnation Revolution which ended the colonial war.

Acquarello: “By juxtaposing history-based fiction with historical non-fiction, Oliveira illustrates the process of mythologization, where history becomes refracted and idealized in times of crisis and upheaval. However, rather than engendering a romanticism for the past glory, Oliveira dismantles the myth of conquest, reframing history as an elusive (and delusive) quest for fleeting victories and unsustainable empires.”

Oliveira quoted and took inspiration from Portuguese poet Camoes and his Lusiades. When asked to think back on the film: “The NON. . . you don’t have to go back, because the NON goes forward many years, therefore we are late compared to the NON.”

Past and Present (1972, Manoel de Oliveira)

The earliest Oliveira movie I’ve seen by three decades – and he was making movies three decades earlier than this. That would explain why this already feels like the work of an old master, even though I was considering it “early Oliveira.” The camera’s not as exactingly positioned as in Resnais films like Melo and Love Unto Death, but it has a similar feeling to those, the masterful European period dramas that seem at time to be filmed plays but with a mysterious sense that there’s always something more going on.

The Silent Gardener:

According to the wikipedia, Oliveira fell afoul of the government in the mid-60’s, accused of surrealism, then was silent for years until this film’s release. More: “With its lyrical surrealism and farcical situations, the film was a shift from his earlier work about lower class people. Based on a play by Joao Cesar Monteiro . . . Past and Present was the first of what has become known as Oliveira’s “Tetralogy of frustrated loves”. It was followed by Benilde or the Virgin Mother, Doomed Love and Francisca. Each of these films share the theme of unfulfilled love, the backdrop of a repressive society, and the beginning of Oliveira’s unique cinematic style.” It’s got that mannered surrealism typical of Bunuel’s late career – you can see how the two filmmakers got tangled together. Couldn’t tell if Oliveira was abusing the film’s soundtrack in various ways or (most likely) if the broadcast source of my video copy was a bit wonky. Second movie I’ve seen recently to use music by Mendelssohn. There’s not much written about the film online – even my most reliable Oliveira-advocate Rosenbaum had not seen this one, as of his writings circa Christopher Columbus, The Enigma.

First scene is a gathering of friends attending the funeral of Vanda’s ex-husband Ricardo. She abuses current husband Firmino, forbids him from attending. I don’t think Ricardo has just died – this is “the burial of his remains” two years later? “A year after his death, she married Firmino, and a year later, she fell in love with the former husband. An unhealthy passion for the deceased husband, the same that bothered her in life, and, at the same time, what an anger for poor Firmino!”

Firmino with hateful wife Vanda:

Also at the party: Fernando (sideburns, glasses) and Noemia (light hair, pulled back), a divorced couple with a better, more loving relationship than when they were married. Honorio (balding) and Angelica (reddish hair) are married, but slightly-shaggy, Depardieu-looking Mauricio is in love with Angelica. And finally there’s Daniel, the deceased Ricardo’s identical twin brother. Firmino is caught considering stabbing his wife to death, but holds back.

A year later, Firmino writes a suicide note then leaps from the window (comically avoiding being caught by the silent gardener). It takes him days to die, days his wife Vanda spends cursing his name and ordering a coffin – and the friends all gather at the house again. Angelica has been living with Mauricio, but he tells her to return to her husband (“This adultery will make you appreciate more the virtues of fidelity, just as a trip abroad reveals the sweetness of the homeland”) because he’s now in love with Noemia.

Cheaters Mauricio and Angelica:

Moments before her husband dies, Daniel reveals to Vanda that he’s really Ricardo, that the brothers had swapped clothes before the fatal car accident and he swapped his wedding ring afterwards.

“Vanda, your husband is dead”
L-R: Noemia (Manuela de Freitas of some Joao Cesar Monteiro films), Honorio (Duarte de Almeida of Magic Mirror, The Convent), Fernando, Angelica.

Another year – A judge has declared that Vanda and Ricardo are still married, so she’s now in love with the dead Firmino. Angelica is back with Mauricio and getting dumped again.

Ricardo spies Vanda hanging pictures of deceased Firmino around the house:

Daniel/Ricardo:

A friend is getting married, so the friends gather again, and the movie ends with the exchanging of wedding vows and Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.

Mysteries of Lisbon (2010, Raoul Ruiz)

Every year I look forward to the Atlanta Film Festival, getting increasingly excited until some offensive act causes me to sit out the second half. This time I was thrilled to see Ruiz’s five-hour Mysteries of Lisbon on the program, but pissed once it started that they were projecting it from DVD. What kind of rinky-dink festival thinks that is an acceptable practice, and without even an apology or excuse? Picture was muddy and macro-blocky, the color desaturated compared even to DVD screenshots I found online. When I complained about the same issue two years ago after a screening of Beket, an AFF official left a comment counterintuitively stating “screening 35mm prints is cheaper for us to do than any other format we use.” I hope he returns this year to explain the Lisbon situation. Also, the dude from Turner who introduced the film called Ruiz, the seventy year old director of over a hundred films “up and coming,” with no knowing wink or chuckle to imply he wasn’t serious.

The movie was very good, worth taking the time off at 1:00pm on a weekday to see in its entirety, but not my favorite Ruiz movie by a long shot, lacking the anarchist humor of That Day and the shorts I’ve seen. If not for a well-placed deep focus shot here, an anamorphic lens-twisting there, I could’ve believe that any of a handful of dedicated European art directors had adapted the 150-year-old novel into this massive period costume miniseries.

Young Joao is having a fit, deathly ill, dreams he sees his mother, whom he’s never met. When he awakens, Father Dinis of the orphanage begins to tell him about his mother, Countess Angela who lives nearby, forbidden by her domineering husband from even seeing her illicit son. The movie takes on a flashback structure that reminds me slightly of The Saragossa Manuscript, even with the storytellers interrupting themselves to go to sleep, then resuming the next day. It seems Angela was in love with a young man (Don Pedro) whom her father wouldn’t let her marry, she got pregnant, and the baby was to be killed – but the assassin (Knife Eater) cut a deal with a passing gypsy (the priest in disguise) and sold the child.

Mysterious gypsy, left, with Knife Eater:

Back in the present, an outspoken Brazilian (Alberto de Magalhaes, formerly known as Knife Eater) is entering high society. Awesome scene when some guy demands a duel and Alberto straight kicks his ass, the fight shot through the window of the priest’s passing carriage. Angela’s husband, who’d married her despite the priest’s ghostly warning that he would be marrying “a dead slave” since her heart was lost to the murdered father of her stolen child, had become a tyrant who openly carried on an affair with Eugenia the maid and locked Angela in a single room. But the husband gets sick and dies, repenting first to the priest. Oh, and priest, while you’re here, an old monk named Alvaro wants to talk to you, reveal that he’s your father and give you the skull of his wife Silvina, your mother, to take home with you. Flashing back to a scene of the priest’s birth (and mother’s death), we get an excellent long take, following the nervous father from room to room. Knife Eater, in an unexplained coincidence (probably detailed in the miniseries version), marries the housekeeper who once tormented Angela.

I can’t remember who this is – found the screenshots online:

Another sidetrack story, as Elise de Montfort (Clotilde Hesme of Regular Lovers and Love Songs) arrives, and the meddling priest visits to tell her about her mother Blanche, who was adored by the priest, and also Benoit (son of the nobleman who watched over the priest) and a colonel whose life the other two men had saved, Ernest Lacroze (Ruiz regular Melvil Poupaud) – Benoit wins, marries the girl and they have two kids – Elise and her brother who died recently in a duel. A grown Joao, now called Pedro da Silva, loves Elise, but she says to earn her love he needs to avenge her brother’s death, caused by the wicked Alberto de Magalhaes. He returns to Lisbon from France after hearing of his mother’s death in the convent where she’d been living since her husband died. Joao/Pedro challenges Alberto, who won’t fight, tells Pedro that Alberto was the would-be assassin the day Pedro was born, who reformed and turned the money the gypsy/priest had paid for the boy’s life into a fortune, says Elise is always sending infatuated young men to kill him.

Poor Joao’s mother, with priest in the background:

Anyway, probably some other stuff happens, and Pedro gives up and sets sail for Tangiers – seems to be dying at the end, dictating his life story, the movie looping back to his illness at the beginning, making me think perhaps he died in the orphanage never meeting his mother, imagining the whole rest of the movie in a five-hour fever dream. Also in both bookend scenes is his puppet theater, which the movie uses to illustrate the scenes or to set up new ones, and a painting that comes to life in a weird Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting tableau moment.

One of my favorite recurring events in the movie is that during many of the major scenes, the lead characters’ servants are shown blatantly listening in, sometimes in the foreground while the conversations are distant from the camera. I’m not sure what it added up to, all the shifting identities and vendettas and love affairs and parental secrets, besides being an entertaining bunch of stories. And for a movie with Mysteries in the title, everything is pretty well explained by the end.

Lots of writing on this online. More than one mention of Great Expectations, which occurred to me too. M. Koresky’s article is my favorite:

The nun who was a countess. The priest who was a soldier. The nobleman who was a thief. The poet who was a bastard. Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon is a costume drama in more ways than one. … Though it may seem daunting, the size of the film is its chief pleasure. There’s so much room to parry and maneuver, so many doors (some literal) to unlock, secrets and coincidences to be in thrall to. … Whether we’re seeing a death or a regeneration, a dream or a remembrance, the final images of Mysteries of Lisbon, filtered through an amber haze of memory, unites all of the film’s disparate strands in one delirious, cinematic consciousness.

Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl (2009, Manoel de Oliveira)

“Commerce shuns a sentimental accountant”

I don’t know what to expect from an Oliveira movie. This one is only an hour long, but not because it’s in any great hurry to tell its story, a fairly simple one which moves at a leisurely pace. Definitely a well-made film, with a respectable look to it, not a work of madcap genius, not tired or haphazard. Mildly enjoyable throughout, then at the end I’m not sure what it all meant.
Adapted from a story by famous novelist Eça de Queirós but set in modern day, so there’s a scene at a literary society with a bust of the author among other displays of his work. Narrated by the lead character to a stranger on a train, played by Leonor Silveira, star of A Talking Picture.

Macario (Ricardo Trepa, the bartender who chats with Piccoli in Belle Toujours) is an accountant for his uncle, sees beautiful Luisa (Catarina Wallenstein of Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon) across the street and falls in love. Conspires to marry her, but his uncle will have none of it, so he sets out on his own, makes a small fortune working in Cape Verde then returns, only to lose it all by vouching for a friend who leaves town with another man’s wife. So he’s about to go back to Cape Verde but his uncle decides to take him back, says he can marry the girl. So they go out ring shopping, she is caught stealing a ring, he tells her to go away, roll credits. In an earlier scene, he lost a poker chip (during a poetry reading by Luis Miguel Cintra, who played the malignant uncle in Pedro Costa’s O Sangue, as himself) which rolled towards Luisa and disappeared, so he must realize she’s a habitual thief. Still, it’s an odd little story.

Trepa and Silveira:

J. Reichert

[The story] occupies the filmmaker’s by-now familiar nether-Lisbon, in which lives are lived simultaneously in 1609, 1909, and 2009. Oliveira’s a filmmaker at which the adjective urbane could be lobbed equally as praise or slight depending on your tolerance for his scarily coherent (especially of late) body of work. …If this tale weren’t so endearing and well told, it’d be more akin to one of those lengthy jokes told by aged uncles lacking in point or punchline.

Luis Miguel Cintra:

NY Times searches for clues:

As his story begins, the landscape outside the train window is snow covered; by the time it ends, it is green. Other tiny mysteries deepen the film’s enigmatic, gently surreal mood. … Macário encounters a strange, agitated man looking for his hat, left at the spot where Macário is standing. Periodically the movie returns to the same long shot of Lisbon but always filmed in a different light. At various points chimes ring from a tower whose clock has no hands. Everything is framed. Macário’s story is framed by the train trip. His dream girl, a full-lipped sensual beauty whose ash-blond hair tumbles over one eye, is glimpsed while standing at a window, seen through another window, waving a fringed Chinese fan. Even when she retreats behind a thin curtain, her silhouette is visible. Behind her is a framed portrait. Art not only seems to watch over life but to preserve it.

A blond-haired girl:

The DVD holds a press conference with the director and lead actors which is longer than the movie itself… might watch that another day.

Buy from Amazon:
Eccentricities of a Blonde-Haired Girl DVD

Colossal Youth (2006, Pedro Costa)

“It’s no use now. The letter will never reach Cape Verde.”

From the second scene it’s more theatrical/less documentary than In Vanda’s Room, which is a welcome change to me. Not coincidentally, I enjoyed it a hundred times more than Vanda. The Straubs would call me a stupid escapist, but I prefer having some sense of narrative and mystery over watching dudes shoot up and listening to Vanda cough for three hours.

“Bete, your mother’s gone. She doesn’t love me anymore.” Ventura’s wife has left him, after smashing up the house and wrecking all his clothes, and he wanders the neighborhood, forlorn, visiting his children and talking with friends, reminiscing and flashing-back, and worrying about the future, meeting with a realtor to select a new white apartment in the anonymous new complex. Or is any of that true? By the end we’re not sure if Ventura had any children – if the younger adults he talks with (including Vanda) are truly related or just friends and acquaintances.

Vanda is doing alright, on methadone and married to a very supportive man, with a young daughter, although her mother is dead and her sister Zita kills herself halfway through the film, so everything’s not rosy. In an eleven-minute shot she talks about giving birth and learning to turn her life around (and she doesn’t cough anymore), with references to suicide-by-gas since Costa loves to reference his earlier works. Ventura himself sports a white-bandaged head in the second half, seeming to parallel Isaach De Bankolé in Casa de Lava.

Speaking of which, Ventura recites a letter featured in Casa de Lava many times throughout the movie, uses it as a personal mantra and tries to get his friend Lento to memorize it. Lento, it turns out, is probably dead, making me wonder just how much of the story is only in Ventura’s head. This unreliable story and character made me so much more interested and invested in the movie than I was in Vanda, or even Ossos. Similar camera work to those, although the camera does move in this one, more of Costa’s strict rules disappearing.

My birds liked the movie too, or at least they noticed it. The pet birds (finches?), heard but not seen in Vanda’s house, drove them nuts.

The original title was Juventude Em Marcha (“Youth on the March”, a revolutionary slogan and once the title of a 1950’s televangelist program), and the English title is Colossal Youth (once the title of a Young Marble Giants album). Funny, all the “youth” since there’s barely any youth in the movie (Vanda’s daughter). You could count the housing development – it’s “colossal” and new – but that’s not what the original title would be referencing. I listened to the Y.M.G. album for clues but I wasn’t smart enough to draw any connections, except that the title similarity was probably intentional. If Costa enjoys early Wire, he surely likes this too.

Ventura in Vanda’s room:

T. Gallagher:

Costa’s lines are sometimes flat, delivered in short bursts, and often elliptical and inscrutable, like the dialogue in Antonioni’s English-language movies – another challenge to the spectator. Yet, nonetheless, we can feel a Straub-like sensuality of people infusing the space around them deeply, overwhelming it with their vibes, even when they are merely visiting somewhere. Indeed, in Colossal Youth, even when Ventura leaves a shot, he is still there, somehow.

Ventura lives partly in fantasy, which Costa makes real: past and present co-exist, the dead live, Lento dies twice, walls have creatures on them, things don’t connect. Ventura’s wife, he says, “had Clothide’s face but it wasn’t her”. Nor, in Colossal Youth, do doors always connect, for neither the Housing Agent nor Ventura. “I’ve been having this nightmare for more than thirty years”, says Ventura. “Anxiety tormented me night after night. I used to get [the door] wrong all the time. I’d come back drunk from work and collapse into a strange bed. All doors looked the same back then.”

Costa: “One can imagine that Ventura is a double character. On one hand, we see him looking at young people, and on the other there is someone who isn’t he, who lives in the past, who could be a brother or someone else, his double. Ventura’s companion who plays cards, Lento, is Ventura when young. The same, with a bit of past, a bit of future.”

Watching the ghosts in the walls:

I can’t find Mark Peranson’s long interview with Costa regarding Colossal Youth anywhere in my pile of Cinema Scope issues, but in an earlier article he calls it a “Rivettian narrative, with possible unmotivated flashbacks, probable ghosts, and drawn-out scenes that appear improvised (some may be, but considering that Costa rehearsed and re-rehearsed, then shot a total of 320 hours over 15 months, with each scene having as many as 30 takes, I expect that the words were carefully chosen). … Ventura’s haunted mien is that of the living dead; the zombies are walking again.”

Also watched two related shorts, although I couldn’t psych myself into watching the third.

Tarrafal
Faster editing than the last three features, but it tricks you since the first half of the movie is all one shot (interrupted once by a title card). Jose talks with his mom about returning to Cape Verde for a long time, then he runs into Ventura. Ventura takes over the movie, conversing with dead friend Alfredo. Movie ends with an official notice saying Jose is to be deported, pinned to a wooden post with a knife.

The Rabbit Hunters
Ventura and Alfredo each wake up on the streets in the new housing projects, which are already covered with graffiti. They go about having some of the same conversations as in Tarrafal (it’s re-edited from some of the same footage), running into Jose and again ending on the deportation notice. Guess it was overkill to watch both of these the same day.

Jose in Tarrafal:

Ventura and Alfredo in The Rabbit Hunters:

Alfredo in both: