By Ivonne Sheen
Susana de Sousa Dias’ Luz Obscura (Obscure Light) is a sensitive essay about memory and time through the juxtaposition of images (archive photos) from the political dissidents and audios of their children’s memories. These testimonies of former Portuguese communists’ children that were imprisoned by the PIDE (Portuguese police) during the years of the Antonio de Oliveira’s regime are now voices of aching adults whose memories we listen to.
The way de Sousa Dias integrates still photography with slow-motion video and audio testimonies serves as a metaphorical experience of the way this children had to learn about their parent’s luck. Those children are now adults who live in democracy, but have been nevertheless affected by the dictatorship in their intimate world and their raising. The appearance of images in slow motion gives the spectator the chance to focus on the stories, but also in the individuals whose stories are told. This process of appearance is analogue to the process of developing a photograph in a dark room, a process that takes time and sometimes doesn’t have a good result. As kids, some experiences which don’t affect us too much, begin to grow in complexity, relating to our feelings and our rapport within our context. In this way, de Sousa Dias digs alongside this people into their deepest memories: Most of them painfully remember and try to understand the emptiness they inherited from their country’s regime.
The film reflects on the power of photography as a weapon of control, surveillance, and its power to create empathy. The PIDE had an enormous archive of mug shots so they could identify their possible opponents. Those pictures still remain with us in a different context, acquiring new meaning. They now have become proof that is akin to the process of reconciliation. For the victims’ relatives, these pictures provoke reminiscences of a past they barely remember, and we have the chance to hear them in this process of clearing their heads. Their pain is obvious, and our empathy is connected to a present that can’t be compared to the obscure past they had to live. Their short present videos contrast with the archive photographs, because while the latter are stills of a dark past, the present (in video) evidences the permanence of damage.
Black and white, luminous and dark, Luz Obscura affects us visually and empathetically. The words we hear are the testimonial device that knocks down our memory doors, but also the ones of this complex history of mankind. A black sea is presented as a metaphor of the way our subconscious mind saves a dense mass (our memory) that builds us as complex social individuals. Nevertheless, there are aspects that escape empathy, like moments when innocence is lost and a big emptiness is found. By the end, de Sousa leaves us in the middle of this black nothingness where we can’t explain, or even visually approach, a resemblance or reference. The film becomes a time travel to the past, then the present, backwards and forwards, through still photographs that have the power to remain intact as images and confront us with the context they came from.
CINEMA DU REEL: INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION
Directed by: Susana de Sousa Dias
Film editors: Susana de Sousa Dias
Producer: Ansgar Schäfer
Direction of Photography: Joao Ribeiro, AIP
Sound: Armanda Carvalho
Production Company: Kintop