2 March 2013 | chaos-rampant
The internal intrepid explorer (sans soleil)
This is pretty astounding stuff. How apt and special, that so soon after the untimely passing of Raoul Ruiz, another director in the Hispanic world (that includes Portugal and the colonies) announces himself as a bright new voice with this great work? And in the same vein of multilateral realities blurring memory with storytelling as Ruiz. It's almost perfectly metaphysical, and in line with the phenomenon of recent interesting Hispanic filmmakers. Medem, Martel, and now this guy.
Before we get to that, I'd like to say about this that it achieves by far one of the most important aspects in a film—it takes place in a profoundly characteristic world of its own, I expect I will be haunted for months by its sultry, languorous Africa. The atmosphere is one of mysterious beauty, waiting and sexual lassitude. The film has textures, smells. The sound work is perfectly sculpted. The camera is sometimes in Antonioni's turf of spatial meditation, sometimes in Herzog's found ecstasy, sometimes in Chris Marker's visual letters from memory.
So the fabric of the film is exceptional, that alone would be enough to earn an enthusiastic recommendation from me, but that is the basis for some pretty cool narrative threads, all pointing to storytelling as maps to the life behind the fabric of illusions.
The typical reading of the film is that split in two segments, 'Lost Paradise' and 'Paradise', we have an emotionally shattered old woman, and her backstory of much erotic exploration and tragic heartbreak in faraway Mozambique that explains who she was.
It is more interesting than that. The second part which is by far the most captivating, is a story an old friend tells of her, and as he tells it, he tells a million other stories, about friends, rock'n'roll frolicking, crocodiles as passion, boxing invisible enemies, jungle monsters and anticolonial revolution. As he tells it, some of the puzzling obsessions of the delusional old woman we've known begin to make sense, her worry for a loose crocodile, apprehension of witchcraft and impassioned plea of having blood on her hands. Her ravings had basis after all, it matters that they are illusory images transmuted from actual events.
Now if you go back to the first segment, you will see that a recurring notion is how something may be imagined-imaginary, but the images can perturb or affect reality—see this in the old woman's dream of gambling that propels her to gamble the next day, in the catacomb imagined to be Roman, in the co-worker's talk of mass susceptibility.
Isn't this why cinema can work at all? Love?
The framing device is a film that Pilar is watching in the cinema, the film is about an 'intrepid and melancholic explorer' in the African savanna who is haunted by visions of his dead wife. They all are intrepid explorers of course, bringing images to life, as are we venturing in the shared journey of exploring the old woman.
This device comes first in the film, but it could be taking place at any time. Pilar is the main character of the first segment, but we know close to nothing of her, except that she is melancholic, lonely and wants to be of help—we learn she is an activist, she arranges for a Polish girl to stay with her but the girl never shows up. To emphasize her solitude, it's the New Year's Eve in Lisbon which she spends crying in a theater.
And she is staying next to an old woman (she is not getting younger herself), who is losing it and near the end, 'dying'. So who is imagining from the old woman's ravings a life of excitement and escape into scorching faraway heat?
Martel has even more submerged narrative in this mode. But this is too good to pass—this guy shows mastery in creating a cinematic aura and he gets how a story can be about blowing glass into the air of story to give us reflective shapes about the urges.
(if readers can help with contact info for the filmmaker let me know)