terça-feira, 17 de outubro de 2006

Ana (Antonio Reis and Margarida Cordeiro)

Good film-makers abound in this little country (Portugal). Today, with Ana, Antonio Reis and Margarida Cordeiro offer us a sumptuous meditation.

All is not lost. Beyond the well-beaten paths of the media and the well-beaten drum of pre-canonised and Cannable films, there are still a few meteorites to be found. One a year, that’s not so bad. 1982 was the year of Paradjanov’s Colour of Pomegranates, and in terms of dazzling surprises 1983 could well be an Ana year. Antonio Reis’s and Margarida Cordeiro’s second feature is in a class of its own. This is a magnificent journey into the serenely punctured world of our perceptions, in between the precision of the dream and the imprecision of awakening, entirely in the dizzying present. Perhaps there are no longer enough films which prompt the wish to whisper in delight ‘where am I?’. Not so much from a fear of having strayed and being lost as so as to rediscover what the sleeper feels, when he wakes and no longer has a sense of which shot he’s emerging from, in which ‘bed’ shot he has been resting, to which world he is awakening. For the sake of gratitude towards this disoriented moment, and the pleasure of articulating the archaic formulation of an archaic emotion, ‘where am I?’. For the verb ‘to be’ which precedes this overvalued little word: I. For awakening.

So where are we in Ana? In Portugal, since the film makers are Portuguese. But this little country is still too big. In the north of Portugal, in the Miranda do Douro region, where Reis and Cordeiro some years ago shot that other magnificent and unclassifiable film titled Tras-os-Montes. There and nowhere else. There and everywhere else. For Ana’s power, and what pre-empts any lazy labelling, is precisely that. It’s a long time since a film has reminded us so flagrantly that cinema is simultaneously an art of the singular and of the universal, that images float all the better for having dropped anchor somewhere. Is Ana fiction? Ana-documentary? This distinction is really too crude. Documentary fiction? Not even that.

Fiction is placing oneself in the centre of the world to tell a story. Documentary is going to the ends of the earth to avoid telling it. But there is fiction in the document just as there are insects in fossilised rock, and there is document in the fiction for the good reason that the camera (it can’t help itself) records what’s put in front of it, everything that’s put in front of it. Ana-ends of the earth? Ana-centre of the world? There’s one strange scene in this film. In the family home where Ana lives (and where she’ll die), a man (her son) endlessly talks as would some university teacher on holiday trying out his start-of-term lectures on an informal audience. He talks about what he knows: peculiar affinities between his country (this part of Portugal) and ancient Mesopotamia, between two cultures of fisherfolk, two ways of moving in the water. ‘What’s Mesopotamia?’ a child asks. The father could say: it’s the house next door. The film-makers could say: it’s the next shot. The same question had already been asked (by another child) in Tras-os-Montes: ‘Where’s Germany?’ he asked his emigrant worker father. Over there, said the man. And you could tell that for the child ‘over there’ began next door, at the next bend in the river. It was at the ends of the earth and in the centre of the world. It was a child. And in Ana, when Reis reads off-screen a poem of Rilke’s over the shot of the sick little boy tossing about in his sleep this is no self-indulgence, it is the poet’s idea (Reis has written poetry which has been published) that there are things which rhyme down here below. Rhyming affinities, embraces, intertwinings. And that the cinema is still local enough (while not being provincial) and universal enough (while not being esperanto) to let them emerge. This is why Ana is likely to disorient us: by making the Euphrates flow into the Douro, it makes us lose the orient, in earnest.

A poet’s film, but also a geologist’s, anthropologist’s, a sociologist’s, a film of all the -ology’s you want. Reis and Cordeiro are Portuguese, but not from Lisbon (that’s an overly provincial capital), not even from Porto; they plant their film up in the north of Portugal where tourists never go (the morons sink down into the Algarve in droves). Magnificent deserted landscapes which should be seen as sumptuous ruins. Countryside filmed like a city. In Ana the trees and the tracks and the stones of the houses are almost given names. Everything is a crossroads, nothing is anonymous. The film is peaceful pandemonium, the sound of the wind swelling and abating in each shot like a sea. There is emptiness at the heart of its plenitude of sensations, just as there is emptiness in that of Portugal. The films of Reis and Cordeiro register a singular situation; the drift away from the land came first, then emigration: the men left, the children are absorbed in their games, and the old in being keepers of the place. The vigilance of parents is missing, there’s just the grandparents’ watchfulness, a play of looks that are furtive and tender, amazed and serious.

And the story? There is one if you want it. But you don’t have to want it. Ana is the name of an old woman who has stayed at home, upright as an emblem. Her face is lined and imperious, her body is heavy and dignified. Ana is something more than a symbol. Especially not the symbol of the earth or of roots or all that peasant claptrap. Ana is also a woman and she falls ill. Or rather, she doesn’t fall. There is a glorious moment when she traverses the countryside dressed in a broad ermine trimmed cloak, with the muffled elegance of a character out of Murnau. We hear Bach’s Magnificat, which perfectly matches the beauty of her progress. With her back to us the old woman shouts out a name: Miranda! It’s then that blood rushes to her mouth, and she looks at the redness on her hands and knows she’s going to die. Miranda is the name of the nearest town and also the name of a cow that’s got lost and is found in the following shot. There are always several things to give in answer to a word. You can die from shouting alone in the countryside ...

8 June 1983

Serge Daney

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