Portuguese filmmaker Ricardo Costa contemplates his hometown, Peniche, by re-encountering his former nanny (Maria José), 50 years later, in Mists. Akin to Pedro Costa's meditations on affect and geography through the delicate probing of real people doing real things, this is a lovely essay film/documentary about the ruthlessness of time and the soothing power of remembrance.
There is a gentle lack of artificial intrusions in the frame. People's stories are etched on their faces unabashedly, their photographs nailed to the wall on the corners until they disintegrate. With their toy guns, sharp knives, video games, and jumping off cliffs into the ocean, boys play in the same space where adults work.
Costa is interested in capturing the invisible labor of the women who raise these boys through storytelling. They tat lace, they make jewelry and snow-white table cloths (without bleach), they encourage the grandkids to become soccer players, they shower them with kisses, and they fold napkins staring at the wall—half mourning the years gone by, half thankful for having survived.
The film's nonlinear structure never coheres into some grand cinematic logic the way Pedro Costa's Colossal Youth and In Vanda's Room might. Some of the shots can feel gratuitous, or unnecessary, as Mists doesn't allow us to fall in love with Maria José or anybody else. It keeps going back to images of the ocean, colorful fabrics hanging off clotheslines, girls juggling in the street, and fishing nets being repaired, as if to say: my muse is all this, nobody in particular.
At first, we think this is going to be a filmmaker/former-nanny affair, with them reminiscing and going through old photographs. But soon, perhaps too soon, the film turns into a neighborhood's portrait and Maria José becomes just another character among many nameless ones. Her mesmerizing face sutures the scenes together, but instead of gabbing with her about the good old times, the filmmaker detaches himself from the picture. Costa's refusal to become an on-screen subject for very long gives the film a froideur that might reveal something about the class chasm separating him from his former nanny. He can observe her, but it's her grandkids she will touch.