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2005

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About the  2005 edition

Rural life, landscape, memory: we offer them as the subject matter(s) of cinema – and we therefore suggest that they also be translated, right from the start, through themes such as gaze, interaction (confronting the camera), movement, work upon space, and work upon time.

Along the way we will open doors upon other worlds, both large and small, which offer prospects for future debates: initiation to images, archival images, and the territory of cinema within the territory of images.

As a conclusion, before our final assessment, we would also encourage a return to some of the themes which extend throughout a number of the brightest examples of Portuguese cinema.
2005 edition

Transcription of the debates

Seventh debate, after the films by Catarina Mourão and by Mercedes Álvarez



18th JUNE, SATURDAY

Films shown before the debate:
A minha aldeia já não mora aqui, Catarina Mourão
El cielo gira, Mercedes Álvarez

Panel:
Catarina Alves Costa (CAC)
Mercedes Álvarez  (MA)
Victor Erice (VE)
Catarina Mourão (CM)


CATARINA ALVES COSTA: The idea was to start with Catarina’s film, given that the projection in Aldeia da Luz was at night, it finished late and there wasn’t room for questions or comments on the film from whoever wanted to make them. I would suggest that we open the conversation to the room early on. Afterwards we will speak a little about Mercedes’ film and people can benefit from the presence of the director. Regina would like to speak.


REGINA GUIMARÃES: I thought that Aldeia da Luz wasn’t going to be commented on anymore, but the trip there was a touching moment. One arrives at a place and discovers a marsh that seems to be placed in the middle of the desert, it looks like a trap for birds. I immediately remembered a trip that I took to Abou Simbel. While in Abou Simbel the museum portrays the work of men for salvation, the temple, what I visited in Aldeia da Luz was a museum that was... Folkloricizing, that is, full of inanimate objects that represent the work of men.
There are two very important things for me. First, the question of the voice-over of a child. I think it’s impossible and unthinkable, with a subject like Aldeia da Luz, to aim to be naïve, or rather, to again take up a speech that, while written by Catarina Mourão drawing on a few things that were said by the children, is obviously the speech by Catarina Mourão and not that of the children. No child would have had this reflection on the destruction of the church. The way in which it is formulated is obviously a filmmaker’s problem and not that of a child.
Well, this naivety is a kind of general justification of everything that happened in Aldeia da Luz. And this is most strange, because if any subject has been given media coverage in Portugal, it’s that one. Another thing that greatly bothered me was that the houses were spoken of a lot and... it would seem like a village is houses! Villages aren’t houses, they are houses that have fields attached to them, because this is what people in the villages lived off, unless they didn’t live in the villages, and in this case some information is also lacking about whether there are people in that village who don’t reside there. At the end of the film, there is talk of a promise that was supposedly made to the people, one of those marvellous promises like, “There will be a lot of tourism in this spot,” but this isn’t out in question either. Neither in the sense of it being something positive, nor in the sense of it being something negative, nor in the sense of it being something mythical.
Rather, the question I want to ask is: how is it that you end up with a film so little committed to the place where, despite everything, Catarina spent six years of her life, and with ninety hours – NINETY hours! – of footage?

CATARINA MOURÃO: Hello. It was excellent that Regina asked about this because it’s worth explaining a little about the methodology of the film, which is a little sui generis compared to the others that I’ve made. Speaking about Mercedes’ film, and maybe this is a stupid metaphor, but, for example, when a beautiful meal is prepared. Mercedes sought out all of the ingredients, she was the one who thought about the film from the beginning. Here, I won’t say that it was a meal made with leftovers, it isn’t anything like that, but it’s important to understand that these ninety hours of material are ninety hours with a point of view that doesn’t have anything to do with the making of this film, because they were recorded by several crews. For almost 70% of the material in this film, I wasn’t present at the time when it was filmed. I think the construction of time takes place very much in the moment of the filming, and I wasn’t there. Therefore, it’s important to understand that there is a more ethnographic view, which was the criterion selected for the shooting of the various sequences of the museum, where there was an enormous crew with scientific coordination from anthropologists and an ethnographer. And the truth is that at the end, having all this material, I could perfectly say, “OK, my cinematographic point of view isn’t here, I will give the material to the museum and not make the film.” Maybe it isn’t a film that I entirely identify myself with, but I also think that it’s a question of humility. There was enough material for me to be able to tell a story, and above all, to be able to document a moment that still hadn’t been documented, and in this sense I sought refuge in a narrative. The film is, maybe, a little linear, it has a narrative from the beginning to the end. Probably it doesn’t have all of the textures and dimensions that Mercedes’ film has, but I think that it was important to explain the origin of this film and how it was that this came about.

PIERRE-MARIE GOULET: One thing that I don’t understand: you say that there is cinematographic point of view and an ethnographic point of view. How is it possible to distinguish between these two kinds of looking, and hide yourself behind this?

CM: I don’t see a contradiction between a cinematographic view and an ethnographic view. I make a distinction between a singular point of view and a dispersed point of view. That is the distinction, Pierre-Marie.

PIERRE-MARIE GOULET: Yes, but this doesn’t stop it from being the case that each image should have it’s own point of view!

CM: Yes, evidently, but maybe it is different to put together a film like this, that’s all I’m saying, that the point of departure is completely different... For me it was a unique experience.

WOITEK ZIEMILSKI: I noticed that the film was made with the financial support of EDIA. I would like to know how this came about and how you dealt with this, as much on the ideological level as on the practical level.

CM: It’s very simple; EDIA more or less built a replica village. In parallel, EDIA opened a call for applications from architects to build a cemetery, a church and a museum, but contents for that museum, were lacking. So the team of historians and anthropologists appeared, supported by EDIA. Therefore, it’s an exceptional situation; EDIA sponsored that event, that village, all of that. The film ends up being supported by EDIA, in the sense that the footage was shot under the auspices of that project. Now, to what extent did this compromise us ideologically? I think that we didn’t compromise ourselves; there was total freedom. I had to be ca little careful, because as everybody knows, the village received a lot of media coverage, and many films were already made about Aldeia da Luz; some touched on the question of the negotiation of the houses, others the initial question of the trauma, as is the case with the film by Fernando Matos Silva [A Luz Submersa, 1999]. I had to propose something different, especially on a chronological level. There was the moment of the move that still hadn’t been documented; I thought that this was what I had there, and that it made sense to recover it. Now, of course there are many questions. The very tense issue of the negotiations with EDIA had already been dealt with, and in my opinion very well, in the film by Eduardo Saraiva Pereira and Muriel Jacquerod [Entre Duas Terras, 2003].

SÉRGIO TRÉFAUT: This isn’t for Catarina, or for Mercedes, it’s just for Zé Manel. I think it’s a shame to have this discussion here and now. I think that it’s bad organization, this should have been discussed in Aldeia da Luz. We just saw another extremely interesting film and this rhythm is wrong. I’m sorry.

HELENA LOPES: I would like to thank the organization for us having been able to go and see the film in Aldeia da Luz. For me it was a very beautiful experience. And there was something in the film that I liked a lot: the great contrast between that yellow landscape and the village, placed there in the middle of that desert. Looking at the old Aldeia da Luz in the footage from Catarina’s film and seeing those vegetable gardens and that oasis. In fact, I didn’t just see houses in the film.

JOÃO ROSAS: In hearing you speak, I don’t really understand why you decided to edit that footage, since it wasn’t you who filmed the majority of it. You weren’t there during the filming! That material had been filmed with the aim of being in the museum as a memory for the people who lived in the old village and for those who will come to live in the new one. What was the pertinence of editing that footage, of creating a narrative? I didn’t manage to find a point of view, I didn’t manage to understand what you wanted to arrive at. It all seemed completely dispersed to me.
Moving on to Mercedes’ film, what I felt there was the construction of time. But in yours, Catarina, how much time did it take to move the people from one village to the other? How was time experienced in the old village? For example, they say, “In the old village people spent much more time together.” But we don’t see any of this, we don’t see any people spending time with each other. We see people leaving a house and going to another. People crying, but not... I didn’t manage to understand the pertinence of that film very well, if it was footage for a museum. It’s just that.

CM: I completely agree with you. The great contrast between my film and Mercedes’ film is the question of time. There is a less cerebral dimension to this construction of time, and that takes place in the filming, in the act of filming. And my film has this enormous fragility, which is the absence of a singular point of view, of a relationship with the people. Early on, in the first scene of Mercedes’ film, there is a conversation where we even have time to see a dog fall asleep. It’s just an example. This doesn’t exist in my film, I am completely aware of that.
Your question is very pertinent: why not just leave the footage there, why make the film? Maybe because I felt a certain frustration in the people who would go to the museum and see that footage without a story. Maybe, even if only for the session that took place on Tuesday, it was worthwhile. I think that films have different reasons for existing, not all are important films, visceral films. They don’t all have the same place in our career. I think that this shouldn’t stop us from experimenting and making them. Maybe we feel a certain frustration in some ways, above all cinematically. Cinema is lacking there but, at the same time, there is a dimension of history that maybe didn’t reach you, but that reached other people. I am absolutely aware that it’s far from the cinema that has a purer discourse. Or maybe one can even question if it is cinema at all. To the contrary of other films of mine, in which one of the criticisms that could be made is, “You work with time, but you don’t have a story.” Here my desire was the opposite, because this is what the material had to offer; the material allowed for a story to be told with some linearity, and for me this made sense. For the people it was completely different to see it edited in this way. So for me it was already a winning bet.

JOÃO ROSAS: But this confers a wailing wall effect to the film!

CM: No, no, no.

JOÃO ROSAS: I understand what you are saying, but this thing of the linear story doesn’t seem very obvious to me. There was the temporal linearity, very well, but the story... In the end, what was the story that you wanted to tell? It’s precisely because it was filmed by many people, because it was material for an archive, a museum, that everything seemed very dispersed to me. There were several shots in which I wanted to see more, and I had the feeling that you cut precisely at the moment when it was beginning to breath.
The film can be edited to be shown on that specific night and never be seen again by anybody? Or then it remains on a basic emotional level! People were crying because they were watching their own village disappear but... then what? The film was made for this reason, to make people cry? For them to say, “Poor us, we had such a beautiful village that is now underwater?” So why then did they have to move villages? Why was that dam build? Why is that village under water? And why did those people suffer so much? These were questions that weren’t even asked! It’s like seeing a film with a dead relative in it. Your grandfather with you on his lap as a baby... Great, it’s beautiful, but...

CM: Well, I don’t see it as a tragic film. I didn’t want it to be a film of the dead. I don’t think that it’s a film just for people from Aldeia da Luz. Ironically perhaps, it’s my first film for television! It’s a film that works on television.

MARIA ANTUNES: I understand perfectly that it was a little unfair to make a film with footage that wasn’t shot intentionally for a documentary, but what raised some questions for me was the editing of this footage, namely the moment in which we watch a conversation with the children’s teacher and he says that, for the children, there is no drama at all in moving house. Many of them don’t even have a bedroom and feel happy to move to a new house that has one. I would like you to explain why you chose to make that voice-over, of children telling us about how they feel some sadness in relation to the disappearance of the village.

CM: I didn’t make that voice-over. I thought that the way children appropriate the discourses of their parents nowadays was ironic, that is, with a certain remove; there is a certain folklore in this reaction. These were compositions that they wrote in school. I spoke to the teachers and explained to them that I had this material and that I thought it would be interesting to put in the perspective of the children. This is what they gave back to me. For me it was important to understand how there is enormous media coverage in that village and the influence it has on people’s behaviour. People crying when I put the man from SIC interviewing the crying couple... I am also a victim of this media process. I am part of the crews that went there, I don’t place myself in a different position. But I thought this contradiction was interesting.

REGINA GUIMARÃES: What annoys me most is that this catharsis is a form of political justification for something that shouldn’t be justified that way.
I think, and now moving to Mercedes’ film, that films, before being carnal material, are mental material. Films are dreamed of and this is why there are directors. They aren’t made by crews of anonymous people. And that’s why there is someone who directs, who has the initiative, because films are dream matter before becoming films. In this sense, cinema isn’t very different from the other arts: the edited, finished film, what you see in a theatre, is something that has the quality of being a state. The film has to acknowledge its own incompleteness. The fact that it infinitely progresses towards the past, which is the only eternity to which we have access.
For me, the difference between the two films is that Mercedes’ film is a state. Which is completely foreign to me; Mercedes shows me faces I don’t know, speaks to me of a past that isn’t mine. She makes me meet characters that perhaps I wouldn’t have spoken to in reality, which wouldn’t matter to me. The film is an infinite state. And it’s infinite because each person will understand it in a different way. This is the hope of writing, and also the hope of cinema. There isn’t any difference between the poet Homer and a filmmaker who makes a film today. It’s the hope that another person can understand us better than we ourselves can, and that’s why it’s a state. Or rather, it’s necessary that a film is incomplete, imperfect, and that it moves, in its development, towards the past.

MERCEDES ÁLVAREZ : Thank you. Firstly, I think you were saying that the film is like a mental state. I wanted to explain. I am the youngest daughter of a family that left a village, Aldealseñor, for the city, and I didn’t have any memory at all of this village. This segregation of the rural world that my family lived, I lived it through my imagination. In a certain way, all the memories of my family were memories of the village. The film is an attempt to penetrate this imaginary.
On the other hand, I wanted to show a state of mind, to show what I felt in this moment in which a culture, a people, were disappearing. The memory vanishes. And it was a mixture of feelings: of disquiet, of anguish, of presentiments and also of happiness in being there, to be able to film this. I had the feeling, with the crew there, of trying to hold back time, of trying to record it, of trying to stop it so that these images would remain as documents of life. A little like a family album in which the images give that feeling of reflecting past lives and loved ones. It was with this emotional baggage that I made the film. But I liked your comment very much.

CAC: We could perhaps focus the discussion on time, because we are also going to speak about that in the afternoon. In your film it’s as if three times coexist: that of the people (biographical), the collective one (that of a village which is going to disappear) and yet another, the time that isn’t spoken about, of everything that already happened and that will end. Was this an idea from the beginning, that time was a theme of the film?

MA: The film is a result of almost a year of filming. Of a year of reflection on the footage, about time spent living with it. I had the luck to, in eight months of editing – where in some way I could become conscious and distance myself from the experience – pull out stories that were in the footage, label the memory that was in the footage.
About time. There is something very special there, a physical experience that anybody can have, like when we climb the mountain at the beginning of the film. What we can see there on a clear day, and it’s normal to have clear days there, are examples of historical times very distant from one another, but which coexist; they are now on the surface as if frozen in time. And these footprints of history, dinosaur footprints, speak a little of the childhood of the world, from the dolmens to Arabic towers, the ruins of Numantia – and now there is also the image of progress with the windmills that move towards the north, definitively changing a landscape that always maintained itself this way. It’s an experience that you feel, to be there, the experience of deep time, which goes further. I tried to translate this experience in the editing. When I went to Numantia and saw the ruins from two thousand years ago, the layout of the city, the interiors of the houses, I saw that there was continuity in these two thousand years. It was practically the same. And the people don’t have any trouble making these jumps in time, because they live with all of these footprints of history. In a certain way, they see the origins of things, and they also see the end.
On the other hand, it was the experience of cyclic time, common in rural life. People there don’t live with the idea of progress, of linear time, the time of the city; that idea is inappropriate. They don’t think of progress: they think about improving their lives, but they don’t think that they can make progress. They think that they are going to die because in some way they have the traces of that on everything: of what begins, of what finishes, of the beginning and of the end. It’s like each spring, a generation appears, a new life appears, everything begins again. Everything dies and is reborn. In a certain way the film tries to pass this on, this feeling of the delirium of time, of distinct historical times living together.

JOSÉ CARLOS ABRANTES: I would like to say that I liked today’s film very much. And one of the reasons was the way in which Mercedes worked with time. It could be said that there are millions of years in her work, in the sense that there are references to the dinosaurs. The fictional time of the documentary goes from that point to our present, and to our future. Another thing that I liked very much was a certain intertextuality, if it can be put that way, between the images of painting and film images. There is a passage, maybe, from the history of the present – which is, for example, that woman from the war in Iraq – to Spanish history, with the problem of the civil war. And also the sound. There is a scene in which someone is playing a game and afterwards the sound of the iron that hits the ground is maintained, as if supporting the images of the photos from the previous moment. That connection between things is very well accomplished. But the question I would like to ask you is the following: how did you manage to get people to speak in such a natural way?

MA: I already had a relationship with them. There was an intimacy with the people that we filmed, they were almost family-members to me. It was a question of mantaining this intimacy when the crew arrived. On one hand, the film was like a series of private confessions, confessions they made to me, and confessions I made to them, of how I saw them, how I felt about them. I believe that they became used to it; as they already knew me it was easy for them, they had already seen me with a camera, taking photographs. When we began, it was with a crew of seven people, and in the end there were three of us, for almost six months. Often, there were more of us behind the camera than in front of it, and we tried, above all, to preserve the intimacy and make it so that the equipment didn’t disturb reality. What we did was to be there, to follow life, and wait for things to happen.

SÉRGIO TRÉFAUT: I just wanted to ask you something concerning the most mysterious part of the film, which is the presence of the painter. Can you speak a little about that?

MA: I had known the painter for a long time and I admired his work. The idea of a painter being there in the village, in an isolated place (because he lives in the city) came up while I was thinking about the project: of a painter who would arrive there to paint a portrait of the region, the imagined landscapes of childhood and things that are going to disappear. This painter had to be Pello Azketa, especially because of his collections of paintings with landscapes covered in mist, in which there is almost a feeling of the instability of things; you don’t know if they are coming out of the mist or being brought by the mist. There was already a similarity between an image I had no memory of, and the way in which Pello painted, because he also had to draw the image from his imagination, from his memory, from his past, because now he couldn’t see it.
On the other hand, there was a crepuscular relationship between Pello’s artistic life, because he was already practically blind, and the terminal situation of the village. So I thought that within this metaphor there was a lot of concentrated energy that was worthwhile exploring. In the end, the film kept a little of this metaphor. If the painter had been more present, I believe that the film would have been more about artistic experience. And what interested me more and more during the filming was what was happening in the village.

MOHAMAD AL ROUMI: When we film someone that we know, especially something that concerns us, the life of our parents, trust is established. At first they are proud to talk upfront, even in front of the camera, they almost disregard it. So the difficulty is to achieve an intimacy. I don’t know if this was the case with Mercedes. I would say that it’s a matter of technical things, that aren’t in the fabric of the film, but that will immediately be there if there is an intimacy between the director and what she films.

ERIC BURTHERET: I have been very pleasantly surprised by a choice in the mise-en-scène that I thought was really incredible, because it was necessary to make it, it was necessary to use it. It’s the choice of the shot-countershot, which is very rare in a documentary. How did this come about, how did you handle this?

MA: I thought from the beginning that in the dialogue scenes I would need two cameras, especially to be able to edit, to select the words; but the scene of the pardon, for example, was done with only one camera. I believe that what’s of interest isn’t what is spoken, but rather that the situation, and the time that goes by should be truthful. I would have liked it more if things had happened in only one shot, because the emotion grows with this passage of time.
With respect to the shot-countershot, I didn’t put it in to do violence to the documentary. In the documentary tradition there are many films that work with a grammar that is from before mine. For example, Victor Erice’s The Quince Tree of the Sun [1992], which, in Spanish cinema, had a very strong appeal to many filmmakers, and which was also capable of founding a path over which we travelled. I didn’t put it there as a problem; what I really put there as a problem from the beginning of the film was the framing, how to present a landscape that had never been framed, that had never been told of, in an open shot, and I realized that it couldn’t be with a hand-held camera, that I couldn’t use tracking shots. The houses are there sitting still, they don’t move, and the camera had to be static and to observe. In this sense, I felt close to painters – this is why many times it’s said off-screen that this is the painting of a portrait and not photography. I believe that in many moments the film, with the static camera, gives the feeling that things are close to freezing, as if they were immobilized in time. And this was done consciously.

REGINA GUIMARÃES: I would like to speak a little about time in the film, and also about the sense of humour. There is something that cinema shares with humankind, probably because it was invented by men: it’s that each man is, at the same time, disappearance and trace. Cinema is the same thing. And it’s very, very beautiful to see this represented in the film through this fascination with ruins, or through the passage of beings that have been there for a long time, because it’s a very selfish fascination. It’s the sharing of a state, a state of passage, and at the same time there is all of the irony relating to the fact that we are in passage – with that fantastic scene of the cemetery where there is the skull whose hair is going to fall out, and that’s not a problem. One can touch the bones, the bones don’t do anything bad. The fantastic dialogue, “Soon we are going to die, but perhaps not right away” – which is absolutely Beckettian and it’s a mockery of death – has the exact value of something that represents fear and humour. The fear of death. And the fact that they are old people makes things particularly moving, but also truculent in the mediaeval sense of the term.

MA: When I watched the film again, I realized that it tries to show that there is another way of being in time, that the perception of time is distinct in the city and in the village. I believe that in watching the film many people think about tranquillity, absence of stress. But what is lost, when you lose the rural world, is this. It’s another perception of time, in which the idea of progress doesn’t exist. People are installed in time in a different way.
Something else that seems important, and that the city doesn’t have, is the experience of death. People experience the death of loved ones in the houses where they live. I believe that this also affects the knowledge that is at the origin of things, and also at the end. They know that they are going to die. I believe that these were things that affected their personalities. And on the other hand the landscape. It’s a landscape where everything speaks about a splendour that has passed: the castles, the palaces. But the sensation is that a whirlwind swept through taking everything away, and leaving only traces – in Athens or in Rome the traces of history are also there. They are full of ruins, but afterwards there was life, life continued. Here it didn’t. There is this feeling that everything evaporated.

CAC: You use the devices of fiction, and I would like you to talk a little about two things. First, the sound: often there isn’t a relationship between the scale of the shot and the volume of the sound. The other is the scene in which the second car arrives, everybody stops and observes, and there is a man who was sleeping and who goes to see. For me this was very constructed and works very well in the edit, it’s a very beautiful scene. I would like you to talk a little about these devices that you used in the edit and in the sound. Did you think about them, did you write them, or did you build them in the edit?

MA: First there is an observation of things, being there with the camera for a long time. The scene of the politicians came about in the following way: when the first Socialist Party cars arrived, we were in the church, and in that moment we filmed the people who were arriving. In the case of the Popular Party it was the same, we really didn’t know they were coming. We were there in the square and we filmed them, and then afterwards we saw what had happened in the surrounding space, how the animals had woken up, and that nobody had come out to speak to them. The important thing is that the edit reconstructed the truth of what happened.
As for sound: I used a lapel microphone a lot to keep a distance, so as not to be on top of them with the camera, and so that they could feel more relaxed.

ALICE ROHRWACHER: I liked very much that you have managed to insert death in natural time, I think that this is something very urgent, because nowadays we have a tendency to hide death, to say that it’s far away, on television or in hospitals. I think that it’s really this presence of death as something natural that stops it from being a nostalgic film.

VICTOR ERICE: At the moment I am here as a spectator, and I had many questions to ask Catarina. Forgive me my curiosity, but why was it necessary to destroy the church of Aldeia da Luz?

CM: Actually, it’s a mystery. Apparently they destroyed the church and also the village because of the contamination of the water. There are therefore ecological reasons, so that the water wouldn’t retain rubbish, etc., but also psychological ones: it was thought that people could overcome the trauma in this way. There is a case that the Portuguese know very well, Vilarinho das Furnas in the north, where the village was left submerged in the water – and the process was very traumatizing, people go there all the time to see it. Now why didn’t I say that? There is a moment when one of the children talks about it a little, but in a confusing way. I would say that it’s a question I’ll develop.

VE: For me this was a moment of incredible violence. Even because I know many small villages in Spain that were submerged, but no larger buildings were destroyed, not even the church. I would question whether the reasons are really psychological – you have spoken of the trauma – or ecological.

CM: Yes, I have doubts. There is another story that I find interesting. The architect who built the museum and the cemetery also did the church. Differently to what he did with the rest of the original village, for the church he decided to keep the door, certain traces of the church, and, particularly, the method of construction. This is another film that has to be made, there are many films to be made there. So they really made a replica of the old church, but the old one had a small stair to climb, that this one didn’t. And even today – it was in the newspaper – people who go there still make the motion of climbing. But I think that it’s rather for ecological reasons, because they really didn’t do the studies to see to what extent it would be more traumatizing to demolish or not; but it was also forbidden to watch the demolition.
For me it was a very difficult decision, whether to show that or not. I decided to show it. At the same time, those experiences... Maybe this doesn’t work at all, the film is very recent, and I decided to show the demolition and afterwards the reconstruction too – so as not to obliterate, but also to put all of that into perspective... But it’s a doubt.

JOSÉ MANUEL COSTA: About what was said about sound, I think that it’s really something very important in the film. I should say that in general I like natural sound very much, but never when there isn’t a sound space, that is, when people are far away and one hears them as if they were nearby. It’s as if there wasn’t a density to the space, the presence of space. In your film, I believe that it’s the first time that this works for me completely, and I think it’s precisely because it’s not a violation of a principle, it’s another principle, which becomes systematic in the film, especially when people move away. This movement is repeated several times: people going away and continuing to be present, as if there was an inner voice. Above all, the perfect movement in which the two men disappear exactly behind the tree that had always been there in the landscape, from the beginning. I think it’s a very special case in which the system has meaning, because it’s so clear that there isn’t a problem with the sound, it’s a matter of a system, a method that the film constructs.
I am always surprised to see how, in films like this, where the method is so appropriate, what one sees is the construction of the film, which at the same time is very simple, very concrete, and where everything becomes metaphorical. And of course the thing with the tree; it’s a fantastic moment. When there is the specialist who explains how an elm tree begins to die, and how that happens from the inside, there is a kind of return to the origins. One questions whether at that moment he is really only talking about a process, about a scientific explanation or, on the contrary, if he himself is already aware that this works as a metaphor for the death of the village – and it’s the film that gives this metaphorical aspect. And most surprising for me was the machine for wind power, and the shot where the men are swallowed up by the machine. If I understood properly, they certainly have space to get out of the way.

MA: It’s in the edit, with all of the material, that you begin to see the associations between images, possible metaphors. Some are made consciously in the filming, but others come up in the studio, from the material, in the search for relationships between the images, to find the story within them. About the elm, I’m not sure I understood it.

VE: Once I recommended a title to Mercedes for the film, not The Sky Turns, but another one, that is said off-screen in the film: “like an elm tree”. Because that tree is a condensation of history. The real life of the village was around that tree. I believe that Catarina’s and Mercedes’ films are very interesting to watch together. They are two completely different films, but that deal with a world that is disappearing, or with a life that finishes and begins. But Mercedes’ film comes from an internal need to reconstruct her own story – not her identity, she doesn’t look for the traces of identity in that little village, because she left it when she was three years old, that’s to say, without any memory of it. Her memories are elaborated through her parents, and the painter is the explanation she chose as an intermediary, but a painter about to go blind. I have known of this project for some years already, and in its initial stage the painter didn’t exist. But because painting has to touch things – and his relationship with reality moves through the sense of touch, his eyes are in the mist, like the landscape – I think this is where the origin of the great metaphor lies, as José Manuel said, which is the whole film. The contrast is also very significant; how to make a film – a film like that of Mercedes’, where one starts from a very strong internal need – that is a documentary film, but also with the method of a novel of memories. The first person singular is quite special.

JOSÉ CARLOS ABRANTES: I would like to know if Mercedes agrees. Where is it that you situate yourself, more on the side of documentary?

MA: I believe that the film, and reality, is documentary, because the subject is concrete persons, a concrete people. The painter is a real character, but he is the one most on the side of fiction, because he doesn’t belong to the plot of the life of the people. He is there because, in some way, he is a medium. I believe that, as in all documentary films, the raw material is reality, it’s a record of things that happened. But when we try to organize them, select them, we find lines of meaning, this is more on the side of fiction – because these lines are projected in time. Things don’t happen like that. We are searching, and we try to give logic to things that reality in the rough doesn’t have. This view is that of fiction. Not fiction in the sense of invention, because I am not inventing, but in the sense that memory is selected and organized in an account.


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