Les États généraux du film documentaire 2012 Doc Route: Portugal

Doc Route: Portugal


In the nineties, the documentary scene was effervescent in Portugal with the appearance of a generation of filmmakers dedicated uniquely to the genre. Encouraged by technical change which made equipment more accessible, this movement was able to express a desire for a cinema much closer to things, "das coisas". This word is present twice in the titles of the films screened today, and evokes precisely this desire for a more "direct" cinema. Partaking of the same movement, directors and producers created the Association of Portuguese Documentary (Apordoc). This association was at the origin of the seminar Doc's Kingdom in 2000 (suspended last year because of lack of local support) and two years later the doclisboa festival that has achieved considerable public and international recognition. Then in 2006, it began the annual meeting, the Panorama of Portuguese Cinema.
In this Doc Route, first films brush with works by experienced directors, films by artists or technicians dialogue with school or amateur films. These filmmakers remind us that film is born of a way of looking and not from a professional status. The eclecticism of Portuguese documentary film is a sign of its resistance and vitality; its authors continue to direct their viewpoint on their surroundings and to imagine proposals, fragile or assured, that take the risk of inventive writing.
We have seen resonances vibrate among these films. Without seeking to name them, then playing on their proximity or the differences separating them, we have compiled a programme from which an unexpected common thread has emerged. That of a cinema precisely marked by a great attention to things, a cinema of little things one could say, made up of intimacy and encounters, perceptions and sensations, paying more attention to faces than to categories, to houses than to institutions. The films' titles are astonishingly explicit. They designate and name their objects without paraphrase or metaphor, like the titles for a natural history lesson. The little community in a snack bar, a day spent with an uncle, a childhood house, a landscape suffice to produce a narrative, often in a short form. A documentary cinema marked by its attentiveness, its fragility ˗ fundamentally a strength ˗ inscribed in a kinship of forms which comprise an entit, more than an identity, that of Portuguese cinema.
The films are also passageways, and perhaps sometimes incredulous at the idea of fixing the ephemeral of an instant, they try to conjugate past and present. Forgotten sites, abandoned as if before a catastrophe, seem eternally frozen. In Ruínas, stories from the past continue to haunt the broken walls. In The Time Mask, human presence vanishes from an abandoned site which in turn dissolves into a landscape. The past irradiates the filmed present, or vice versa, in a mingling which seems to suspend time so as to better avert its spell. Places, stories, characters become timeless, as in Lisbon-province or Imorredoira. A kind of serene disquiet crosses these films on the threshold, where one seems always about to leave a house, a period, a country, a person, a life... "The visible is memory, survival of the past. One can only see, and only film, ghosts" whispers to us Saguenail in L’Éternel Départ.
These films are in this way fictions of a present torn between nostalgia and suppression of the past, trying to hold together memory and forgetfulness, the two contiguous movements of a relation to history marked by dictatorship, colonial wars and the Carnation Revolution. 48, 1971-74 (I am in Mozambique) or Le Passeur risk facing history and inscribe the past in the present by a confrontation, or indeed a verification. Originally an installation, Le Passeur imagines a procedure confronting collective and individual memory and attempting to embody stories within the time of the landscape. In 48, the film questions what the victims of repression see on their own faces photographed the day of their arrest. The confrontation is difficult and painful. Looking at other images, those of a photo album from the 71-74 war, an ex-soldier comments today on these traces of the past. The violence is hidden and only appears that much more vividly. In the two films, today's bodies are not represented except by their voices, but if death appears formless, the wounds are revealed.
Elsewhere, death takes form violently, as in O que pode um rosto (literally "What can a face do") among these people facing a suspended sentence, with no other choice than to face the medical institution, coldly clinical and surgical. A life topples, the man and the woman find themselves powerless, dependent, deprived, naked. Life is placed off camera but it exists and resists on their faces and by their words, in its greatest fragility.
Unexpected stories can unfurl from this area or time of cinema, this off-camera space of the frame and the film. Starting with a simple idea, “Let me visit your home”, it reveals a side of the history of Portuguese immigration and exile. In The House I Want, a quasi-deserted holiday home holds the promise for these migrants of an imagined near-future return and, for their descendants, a possibly cumbersome inheritance.
In other films, where the past is more intimate, children ˗ having grown up and become filmmakers ˗ would like to get rid of some painful memories and settle accounts. If the trivial staging, the direction, the playful and sensitive approaches are evidently visible, it is because all these attempts to extract and expiate the past, these quests for reparation and soft invitations to revisit memory are more important by their process than by their result. It is important now to do with and to do without ˗ parents, images; a manner of becoming detached in order to better forge new ties, a cinema of reconciliation.
Film is a matter of transmission and João Bénard da Costa, long time director of the Lisbonne Cinémathèque is an incredible transmitter in Cinema português? The title paraphrases his book Le Cinéma portugais n'a jamais existé a provocative title that is also the announcement of a suppressed history. The director Manuel Mozos replies to the question in a jubilant montage connecting the films which founded Portuguese cinema. And if the film places us in such a strongly intimate relationship with these images, it is because this history is also his. A history which ignores genre and where we get precious glimpses of those films whose images continue to haunt us long after. In this history of Portuguese film, it was unimaginable not to project these three sumptuous films which still feed the country's cinema today.
Jaime by António Reis continues to resonate like a scream. In the circular prison of the asylum, the drawings of an interned man appear in the film like so many fractures in the Real. They suddenly populate this closed universe and become the passageway from one world to another, the possibility of flight. Two years later, the filmmaker completes with Margarida Cordeiro, Trás-os-Montes. In this forgotten region of Portugal they construct a landscape outside of time, outside all time. The inhabitants traverse eras without taking notice, children play, the adults are busy or about to leave, but all walk through and people this landscape. A memory sediments whose movements are printed in our own memory. Small movements, almost nothing like in O Movimento das Coisas. Manuella Serra was an editor before directing one single film, a unique gesture, a precious work. Over six years, she followed the life of this village with a view of rare delicacy. Each scene focuses on a detail, a moment, a banal movement of daily life. It is the flow of things. The inhabitants are embarrassed yet painstaking actors. This film is theirs and they adopt it with the same attention that the filmmaker displays to them. The smallest things.

Christophe Postic and Inês Sapeta Dias

With the collaboration of Apordoc and the precious help of Cinta Pelejà. Thanks to Alexandre Martins (Municipal Video Library of Lisbon).

Debates animated by Inês Sapeta Dias and Christophe Postic.

In the presence of Silvia das Fadas, Nuno Lisboa, Manuel Mozos, Susana Nobre, Susana de Sousa Dias, Saguenail.