6. After Vanda? New Directions
Weekend 6 - March 7 - 9
The films explored over the course of the past five Harvard-Gulbenkian programs have boldly, brilliantly anticipated and defined new directions explored by 21st century world cinema. Aesthetically, politically and formally, the films of Reis-Cordeiro, Rocha, Dias, Viegas and Mozos have each in their own way pioneered new modes of narrative cinema, at times radically intermingling of fiction and non-fiction while always searching always for a new relationship between sound and image, between poetry and politics. In Tras-os-montes and Mudar de vida, we see clearly anticipated the brand of “docu-fiction” so important in world cinema today. In Dias 48, nuanced meta-cinema becomes a way to interrogate the political meaning of the image at its most profoundly level. In Viegas’ Gloria and Mozos Xavier, meanwhile, we discover a new kind of cinematic sensorium—an emotional tactility—as well as an alternate concept of film history told through Viegas and Mozos' fable-like stories, each guided by a new constellation of cinema's past: Bresson, Murnau, Dreyer, Cassavetes, Laughton.
The sixth Harvard-Gulbenkian program opens with the latest and, to this date, greatest film by the Catalan visionary Albert Serra, an artist whose work have defined a radical mode of adaptation, a minimalist distillation of canonical and socio-culturally overdetermined texts: Don Quixote in Honor de Cavalleria (2006), the tale of the Magi in El cant dels ocells (2008) and now Casanova’s autobiographical epic, The Story of My Life, merged unexpectedly with Bram Stocker’s Dracula. Each of Serra’s films reimagines venerated stories as pure, almost trance-like, cinematic events, blowing off the dust of veneration to awakening hidden meanings and poetry. A radical classicist, Serra reinvents iconic texts by focusing upon those interstitial, quotidian moments lost to most versions—Quixote’s free-form musings to Sancho Panza, the quiet, melancholy idylls in the kings’ lonely voyage, Casanova’s joyous, private exaltations to his faithful manservant. Serra’s boldest adaptation, The Story of My Death fuses Casanova and Stocker to render a feverish, fatal and philosophically heady meeting of Romanticism and the Enlightenment. A missing, postmodern link between the Hammer Studios brooding genre films and Manoel de Oliveira’s admixture of theater, painting and cinema, Serra’s “Dracula meets Casanova” simultaneously gives lusty, robust corporality and a fragility to these mythical figures, rendering them both solidly corporeal and poignantly ethereal, haunting visions glimpsed through a darkening glass. Advancing and extended Serra’s unique aesthetic, The Story of My Death draws its rare energy from the resonant performances of its non-professional cast and the rough, shimmering beauty of its patient use of digital video which carefully refuses artificial lighting in order to invent new kinds of cinematic light, shadow and landscape.
A rising star of contemporary Mexican cinema, the remarkably prolific Nicolás Pereda has forged a mode of careful, often enigmatic, minimalism in eight films made over the course of a mere six years. In a similar manner as Costa’s Fontaínhas trilogy, Pereda’s work intertwines elements of narrative and documentary cinema to radically confuse and reinvigorate the traditional categories of fiction and non-fiction. Pereda’s meticulously controlled aesthetic lends his films an austere beauty while giving his stories a ritualistic quality and resonance. The stylistic restraint of Pedera’s films extends from their careful refusal of cinematic effects and their embrace of stripped down, fable-like stories and notably subdued performances, showcased beautifully in Juntos, in which gestures and bodies “speak” more than the restrained dialogue. Pereda’s deeply nuanced films demand and reward a more patient and engaged mode of spectatorship attentive to the emotions and meaning contained within the smallest gestures of his actors, and floating between the elliptical stories that always seem to be fragments of a larger unfinished film. Openly declaring the culmination and end of the loose cycle carried across his feature films to date, Greatest Hits crystallizes and takes to another level Pereda’s simultaneously laid-back and rigorous interrogation of narrative and performance, poignantly capturing domestic time’s uniquely slow unwinding and using this expanded yet intimate stage to explore the performative dimensions underlying family and cinematic roles alike. Indeed, the bold, almost Buñuelian, diptych-mirror at the center of Greatest Hits dynamically emblematizes the subtle theatricality which gives Pereda’s cinema its, at times, almost uncanny ability to give equal presence to the performer as to the scripted roles they both confirm and transform.
Woefully underappreciated outside of his native Japan, the films of Tomita Katsuya together trace the emergence of a major artist steadfastly dedicated to the stories and experiences of the marginalized classes and societal underworld. Capturing the daily rhythms and textures of the in-between, rootless worlds inhabited and invented by the petty gangsters in Off Highway 20 and by Saudade’s construction workers and Brazilian immigrants, Katsuya’s films are charged with a documentary ambition, yet tempered by a poetic sensibility and wry sense of humor that gently captures the vernacular language and ritualized gestures that help define these drifting communities. Katsuya’s own experience working grueling hours in his day job as a commercial truck driver clearly informs his sensitivity to the plight of the working class and the dignity and rough grace which he gives to his characters. From his earliest films made within guerilla film collectives, Katsuya has continued to champion a mode of undiluted independent cinema, using minimal budgets and limited production schedules to forge uncompromised and defiantly unconventional films whose loose, liquid narratives evoke the deeper shared stories of a community.
Belonging to the generation of French filmmakers who began filming in the late 90s, Serge Bozon stands as original artist when it comes to developing a lyricism shaped by the relationship between pop culture and cinephilia. His films are very close to the idea of film genre, rising above that however thanks to its formal daring and enriching crossing universes. With a degree in philosophy and a former film critic (writing for “Lettres du Cinèma”), author of four feature films, Bozon released the remarkable “military road-movie” La France in 2007. Developed around the story of a woman who joins the army in search of her husband, with the backdrop of World War I, stands as an astonishing work of historical-sentimental setting. Its melancholy tone is juxtaposed to an idea of action, marked by roaming group of soldiers, a work composed almost exclusively of exteriors. The centrality of the landscape is the subject of an aesthetic based on a discrete artificiality of cinematic elements in the tradition of classic series B, like in the films of Allan Dwan. It's just as baffling the nature of the relationship with music, where pop songs performed by the characters and recorded live have a structural importance, especially in a work marked by great exuberance, formal and thematic, within a narrative framework characterized by the oneiric and the romantic.
In order to close the first series of transnational dialogues staged by the Harvard-Gulbenkian while also extending their experimental élan, we bring together Albert Serra, Nicolás Pereda, Tomita Katsuya and Serge Bozon as four different, yet deeply complementary visions of the twenty first century cinema defined across the work of the Portuguese masters explored in the Harvard-Gulbenkian programs to date. To be perfectly clear, Serra, Pereda, Katsuya and Bozon are gathered here not as heirs apparent of the Portuguese cinema, but as artists who have fulfilled the promise of the constant and always urgent renewal of cinema which has been the signature of the modern Portuguese cinema. Taking advantage of the presence of three international and adventurous critics with a special interest in Portuguese cinema—Agnès Wildenstein, Julien Gester and David Phelps—we are thrilled to offer a different kind of inspired dialogue between Portuguese cinema and the cinema of the world.