TIFF 2012. Toronto Notes: Licinio Azevedo's "Virgin Margarida"

Many things in the history of Mozambique and Mozambican cinema are directly connected with the political and artistic aspirations of the 70s. In 1975, the last African country to win its independence after a 10 years struggle, ex-Portuguese colony Mozambique becomes a people's socialist republic with plans to create a national cinema production system. It is destined for education, propaganda and "fighting the remnants of colonial mentality." The young INC (National Film Institute) "imports" professionals, committed filmmakers willing to participate into the building of a people's cinema and television. Among them are Ruy Guerra, Mozambican born pioneer of Brazilian Cinema Novo, Cuban and Yugoslavian technicians, then joined by Jean Rouch and Jean-Luc Godard, both willing to experiment with new ways in filmmaking… In the 80s, president Machel's death coupled with guerrilla attacks launched by the apartheid governments of South Africa and Rhodesia destabilize Mozambique to the point of civil war. The cinema program dies. Peace will return only in 1992. And today, the once sole party FreLiMo is still ruling the country.

Brazilian born Licinio Azevedo has been and still is a witness and participant to this experience. Established in Mozambique in 1975, he has directed many dramas and documentaries, including The Last Prostitute (1999) a documentary about the "re-education" camps for sex workers created after the independence. His Virgin Margarida is more than a follow up to this former work. Starting with the revolutionary military raiding the city streets and deporting indiscriminately sex workers, cabaret singers and paperless girls (as young country girl Margarida), it describes the brutal treatment inflicted upon the "to be re-educated" women in the name of revolutionary values, and the slow building of solidarity among women of various backgrounds. All along the film and until its tragic ending, men (male officers and leaders) prove how little the "revolutionary spirit" has changed their attitude towards women: cheated, manipulated, used or raped, women under the new regime remain little more than the servants and/or sexual objects they have always been. The implacably dedicated woman officer in charge of the camp is herself a victim who has to live through the collapse of her ideals. Azevedo's script may look somehow over the top, and his directing has to make the best of precarious production conditions, yet his sense of place and people and the energy and personality of his actresses, who visibly re-invent and live the story together with their director, leave no doubt: the film is not a period piece nor a late account of the past. It has been made for today. It is an uncompromised comment upon the men who are now ruling Mozambique. The film is an update to a chapter in the history of cinema that began in the 70s. Looking back at his own experience and severely assessing the present, Azevedo takes position for the people whose political and personal ideals are deceived, proving himself radically true to a certain idea of cinema.

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