So I managed to catch three of the four films in the Monteiro series that just passed through Cleveland: Recollections of the Yellow House; God’s Comedy; and Come and Go. Director Monteiro stars in each of them, playing a guant-looking fellow whose sexual escapades consistently transcend our comfort zone. He is Humbert Humbert’s forbidden lust crossed with Chaplin’s tramp’s casual irreverence, a shocking combination. It all plays out in long (durationally), static shots, and—especially in God’s Comedy—Monteiro’s use of that particular aesthetic is among the most effective I have seen. Not only is it the perfect style with which to communicate Monteiro’s subtle brand of physical comedy, but it creates a universe in which the laws of cause and effect seem to slow down, in which Monteiro’s character is fearless because no punishment can befall him, and when it does, it will not keep him down.
I’m going to say upon some reflection that God’s Comedy is one of the few pitch-perfect films I’ve had the opportunity to see, one that had me laughing ashamedly and squirming gleefully, one that makes frighteningly little sense for a film that reaches such a logical conclusion, and one of which nearly every frame is memorable.
Any thoughts on his work?
His most controversial film is branca de neve, you can’t imagine how people felt leaving the cinema after watching long takes in black, I assume it was a joke.
I’m looking foward to know his work better, I saw only veredas and à flor do mar.
In veredas he captured beautiful landscapes, he portraited well some old cultural and mystical traditions of portuguese villagers and did a political/poetic reflection, sort of iliad and satire about repressive authorities.
À flor do mar is filmed in Tavira (south Portugal – Algarve), also beautiful scenario, the perfect athmosphere to relax and spend your holidays, the most exciting thing imo is the mix of languages, with dialogues in portuguese, italian and english. You can see Teresa Villaverde acting.
JCM appeared in both films doing comic characters.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and bringing up this thread
Branca de neve sounds pretty radical, a far cry from the more aesthetically conventional mise-en-scene of the films of his that I’ve seen. Thanks for your response.
Monteiro is popular on mubi, won the last Directors Cup. Elegant, melancholic, dry humour. He takes his time , easy to savour. Is he a dirty old man? I couldn’t help wondering that when watching God’s Comedy- a director himself playing a fastidious, hygiene-obsessed, ice cream maker (no ordinary vulgar commercial salesman but a true artist and connoisseur, his parlour a paradisal temple) who delights in the bodies of his young female staff even as he takes a patriarchal role, and collects pubic hairs- including Queen Victoria’s. “God shave the Queen!”
On the one hand i’m all for sensuality and appreciation of female beauty, but i was a little uncomfortable (was this adoration respectful or exploitative, their willingness to participate merely the fantasy of an almost cadaverous ageing man, surprisingly only in his 50s?). Then a 14 year old offers to come and see him late one evening when her butcher dad is away for the night. He doesn’t need much persuading to accept, and soon it’s candles, a milky bath for her, with him doing the washing, and delighting in her divine urine. There may be something of a lugubrious Dracula about his ritual and a young virigin as a potential prey. To the girl’s father and no doubt some viewers, he is a repulsive paedophile pervert who deserves a cut and a vicious beating, in no way deserving any admiration or sympathy. To some he should be applauded for courage, artistry, proper appreciation of women and beauty, and those quick to criticise may be as hypocritically judgmental as the parlour manageress .
In Portugal the age of consent is 14, only 13 in Spain, 15 in several European countries, 16 in UK, 18 in most of the US, older still in a few countries i think. In 1895 it was still 7 in Delaware. I remember seeing a programme when a 30-something British explorer in the Amazon was offered a 12 year old girl by her father. He awkwardly declined.
The girls’ butcher dad is pleased with the freshness of his produce as we are confronted close up with a lamb’s face covered in blood. Agnus Dei. Is it worse to kill a young lamb for our taste buds than to bathe, pamper and talk “kinkily” (worshipfully) to a girl of 14 going on 15?
Monteiro and God’s Comedy raise questions most directors would avoid. I found child protection a hard and stressful job, and met some nasties along the way (some moments to shudder at), but i don’t like lynch mobs, hypocritical moral standards or the media’s vengeful attitudes. And i don’t think a lad on his 18th birthday who has sex with a girl of 17 should be considered a sex offender, tarred for life. On the one hand, protect kids, avoid exploitation of older teens too, on the other should teenagers’ strong sexual feelings be stifled? And at what age, or age gap, should we think of someone as a dirty-old-man?
Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee features a 30 year old acting quite seductively towards a girl who only looks 14 (as well as her teenage half-sister). I pointed out to someone complaining Rohmer is a pervert that the actress was 18. And 18 is not the age of consent everywhere.
It seems safe to say that on some level João de Deus (and João Vuvu, from Monteiro’s last film, Come and Go) is a dirty old men, though whether this extends to Monteiro himself is a bit more complicated. The four films that feature this character (I’ll treat them as essentially the same) are the only four in Monteiro’s body of work that depict preying upon the bodies of women, whether teenagers as in God’s Comedy, or women in their 20s, as in the other three films.
Monteiro doesn’t ever provide a significant amount of camera movement; there’s nothing overly choreographed in any of his films. However, Recollections of the Yellow House, when João de Deus first appears, presents a nearly static camera. The only shot I can recall with a moving camera is almost at the end of the film, when it follows him jogging in the circular courtyard of the Miguel Bombarda Psychiatric Hospital. (This shot appears again in God’s Weddings.) The cinematography would seem to connect in a deliberate way both director and character–if the director appears within the frame, then there isn’t anyone to take over the camera direction. (Sure, there’s ostensibly a director of photography, but I’m not sure we’re supposed to consider that.)
So in the end, Monteiro and João de Deus are deliberately conflated, and the character’s choices cannot be entirely divorced from the director’s desires. The pursuit of women isn’t always predatory, though. In Come and Go, Vuvu has a stream of attractive women passing through his home serving as maids, doing relatively little work, generally doing it poorly, and at times offering to remove their clothing (which he tastefully declines). As the director, he is all-powerful, so if he wants women doting on him, then it’s not too difficult to make it work. And in God’s Weddings he gets taken advantage of by a women, and is placed in a position of relative weakness.
The butcher in God’s Comedy does problematize things, as Kenji mentions, through his pleasure with the meat he prepares and sells. He treasures this commodity perhaps as much as his daughter, who is in the end treated as a piece of flesh that he “owns” and wants to control. João de Deus in part wants to bathe her in milk (and have her urinate in it) to prepare his paradiso ice cream; she serves a purpose to him beyond simply physical pleasure, though that’s part of it as well. For the butcher, she is his property, and he wishes to control her regardless of her seeming desire for João. It seems to be a question of commoditized desire (the butcher) against transcendent desire of some form (João de Deus), and of course the more physical of these two figures, the large, stocky, corporeal butcher, gets the best of the gaunt, lank, wisp of a protagonist, only for the transcendent figure to rise up in the end.
If God’s Comedy raises uncomfortable questions for the viewer, then perhaps the other three João de Deus/João Vuvu films would be a better way to work through his films, as they don’t present anything hinting at pedophilia.
where else but monteiro can you see a communist maid on her monthly red that makes you do all the work?
i like films that eschew obvious sentimentality without becoming cold.
Come and Go gets one single vote so far in the 2003 poll. Not his best horse, I suppose.
it’s getting my vote too! i’m just still deciding on some other films. it’s my second favourite monteiro after god’s comedy.
Cesar Monteiro is one of the dirtiest men in the world because he uncannily true, without fear of showing what he thinks.
is clearly a genius. the problem is that foreigners understand this better than Portuguese people. :(
“he problem is that foreigners understand this better than Portuguese people. :(” ahah true true.
“Dirty old man” is certainly a phrase highly related to César Monteiro and i always wondered if João de Deus it’s just an alter-ego/pseudonym of César Monteiro and he actually is a normal person – at his own way, of course – or if he really is exactly like that and he created a pseudo-alter-ego so that he could be his own self at his movies without being judged by people that lives with him daily – although that i think that he don’t give a single fuck about what other people think about him, but it’s a way to avoid certain things because there are people that could easily do the same thing that the little girl’s father did without being their business.
I think César Monteiro was misunderstood his all life and he could have done so much more if he had someone that believed on his talent; or if he have moved to another country. I remember when in a cinemateca’s interview, about Branca de Neve, he was saying that now the youngers are the ones that do what they want and he demands them to edit it in that way and they edit in another way. But also would have never been the same thing if his movies were on another language; he explores portuguese like no one else – either in a dirty and piggish way or in a poetic way, or even combined – and he’s too highly influenced by his lusitanians origins.
resuming, César Monteiro is an absolute and insuperable genius; he’s just a provocateur, like all the nouvelle vague’s directors from all over the world.
Above, it’s a very well-known César Monteiro’s interview to national TV at the Branca de Neve’s premiere, where i’ll try to do my best to translate it to the foreign appreciators.