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Joao Pedro Rodrigues (#110 of 3)

Locarno Film Festival 2016 Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

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Locarno Film Festival 2016: Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

Trapecio Cine

Locarno Film Festival 2016: Hermia & Helena, The Ornithologist, The Human Surge, and Scarred Hearts

Perhaps the ultimate measure of a film festival’s success is how its program looks not just before and during the event, but also after its culmination, once the swirl of hype, expectation, and kneejerk reactions has subsided and the films must speak for themselves. Though it’s too early to talk of the true test of time, a look back at Locarno’s lineups over the last few years reveals a collection of films that have pushed cinema in new directions, brought established directors their due and put emerging ones on the map, and provided hope that experimentation can be rewarded. With Cannes having turned its back on the challenging or potentially confounding in favor of more immediate, market-friendly fare, Locarno has swiftly taken up the slack, offering an increasingly unique platform where the likes of Chantal Akerman, Pedro Costa, and Hong Sang-soo can still happily thrive. While its lineups aren’t without more predictable festival fare and its risk-taking automatically means that some gambles work better than others, the sheer height of Locarno’s peaks does more than enough to distract from its valleys.

Art of the Real 2015 Iec Long, I Forgot, & More

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Art of the Real 2015: Iec Long, Take What You Can Carry, & I Forgot

Film Society of Lincoln Center

Art of the Real 2015: Iec Long, Take What You Can Carry, & I Forgot

João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata’s faux-doc The Last Time I Saw Macao, which played two years ago at the New York Film Festival, led viewers on a mysterious first-person murder trail, mixing documentary elements with sci-fi and noir. Their new film, Iec Long, part of the opening-night shorts program at this year’s Art of the Real, also delves into Macao’s colonial past. This time, though, their approach is more delicate, less unreliable-narrator romp than sustained meditation. Yet as before, the past is illusive and in constant flux. The filmmakers juxtapose footage old and new to show us how places decay over time, evoking only a faint aura of their former grandeur.

The short opens in the now, with a celebration featuring popular music and firecrackers. After an upbeat musical number with bouncy dancers and random celebrants enjoying the infernal racket, the audience is transported in time to when the fire-cracking business had a more sinister dimension. In a device they repeat continuously throughout, the filmmakers cut to grainy footage of children against firecracker-factory ruins, juxtaposing these images with what the landscape looks like today. Rodrigues and da Mata tackle both child labor and colonialism, but they reveal their story patiently, almost coyly, via archival footage of working children and a voiceover by one such child, Teng Man Cheang. Born and raised in Macao, Cheang, now 79, is the self-appointed “keeper of the [lec Long factory] ruins,” suggesting a protective stance toward the past, no matter how thorny it may be. And even though the film’s overall mood is melancholic, something akin to hope amid the ruins flickers here and there, the factory’s decrepit, stained walls overtaken by verdant nature.

Toronto International Film Festival 2012: The Last Time I Saw Macao

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Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>
Toronto International Film Festival 2012: <em>The Last Time I Saw Macao</em>

Between Miguel Gomes’s dialectically structured Tabu and, even more radically, João Pedro Rodrigues’s thoroughly elliptical docudrama, The Last Time I Saw Macao, it would seem that hardlined formal rigor is alive and well in Portugal. Rodrigues, like his universally well-regarded national compatriot Pedro Costa before him, is rapidly establishing himself as one of the country’s most progressive, challenging filmmakers and cultural critics, and his latest effort should further his repute in a manner befitting its obliqueness; it follows its own clearly defined rules so closely that its theoretical appeal is precisely what will turn most audiences off. What one might described as an “observational drama” vaguely reminiscent of Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, The Last Time I Saw Macoa distinguishes itself stylistically in two key regards. The first, inspired at least distantly by late-period Bresson, is to isolate both benign and propulsive action—from a conversation on the phone to a murder by the docks—and place it just outside the screen, so that what we see at any given moment is permanently removed from what’s actually happening, if only by a few degrees. And the second is that the protagonist of the story, and our direct surrogate in the environment, is never actually shown; because the camera alternates between explicit point-of-view shots and what are essentially travelogue-style snapshots of Macao, we see what he sees and what surrounds him, but never the man himself (his voiceover narration provides the film’s through line and very often serves an important explanatory as well as expository function).