By Tiago Freitas
So, to start this round up of some of the films I’ve seen at IndieLisboa 2018 so far, I’ve chosen two features that couldn’t be more different at first sight: Adieu Philippine by Jacques Rozier and Drvo by André Gil Mata.
Adieu Philippine (1962) is a film from the Nouvelle Vague époque which is not as well known as many of its other contemporary films. A film between the pure joy of summer, the inexhaustible energy of youth and the sadness and melancholy associated with the imminent end of all good things.
Although the film is in its nature very lively and even funny sometimes, we can’t help but watch all of with the notion that this kind of summer dream that the trio of the boy and two girls are living has an eminent end. The guy has to go to the army to fight in the Algeria war so there is this idea of departure with uncertain return hoovering over the film. In typical Nouvelle Vague fashion, Rozier inserts this social comment in the film’s setting although not in a way as pronounced as in some of his Nouvelle Vague counterparts’ films (Adieu Philippine was released in 1962, the year in which the Algerian War ended so it was very actual, socially speaking, at the time of its release).
Also in similar fashion to French Nouvelle Vague, there are some reflections about the cinema’s device inserted in the film with gags relating to the many times futile hierarchy of cinema/television shootings. Nevertheless, I believe that the best aspects of Rozier’s film are not the ones which connect it directly with the Nouvelle Vague. The main triumph of Adieu Philippine is its success in capturing the languid melancholy of summer and the joyful but also unstable nature of this love trio. Rozier creates a structure that’s playful, full of unexpected turns and with music coming from everywhere.
Music plays a big part in creating the mood of the film. There is music at parties, music punctuating their adventures and there is even a fisherman who they found on side of the street who can’t stop singing. The loose structure the film adopts is also very important, by not constraining the narrative but instead choosing to capture the energy of the characters, always moving from place to place, with scenes succeeding each other at a quick pace. It is in this constant search for the interaction between characters and in the energy that is created from their youthful way of living and this summer escapism before Michel’s departure to Algeria that lies the beauty of Adieu Philippine.
Drvo, on the other hand, felt the opposite to Rozier’s film in its rigidness compared to the looser structure of Adieu Philippine.
In Gil Mata’s film, time is the most important principle, thematically but also formally. Drvo revolves around the concept of time as a circular thing, in which present and past intertwine constantly. There are this two characters (the kid and the old man which represent past and present) who are connected since the first shot of the film by a panoramic movement of the camera. Kid and old man are the same person in different times, but they inhabit the space of the film at the same time, as if present and past are indistinguishable.
Formally, the film uses the sequence-shot as his mise-en-scene basic principle. Following mainly the old man’s character in long shots, we enter this hypnotic state watching this man’s path, without knowing where is he going to. For it there is a big contribution of sound, from the distant gunshots we hear without any physical index to it (creating the context of war, which is unknown if is still happening or if it is a product of the old man’s mind) to the repetitive sound of the bottles the man carries hitting each other, creating this sound trance. Also, the rigid mise-en-scene (which can feel very Béla Tarr-esque) creates a sense of heaviness that punctuates the film throughout, which in coordination with the beautiful cinematography, transmits this hopeless and dreadful sense to the ambiance of the film.
There is a strong funeral quality to this old man’s journey and the idea of the crossing of the river by boat, which reminded me of some ideas of Greek Mythology’s realm of the dead, could be seen as the last journey of a lost or dead soul, as his final path to another state/place/life.
On the other hand, the editing of the film could of added some variation to the repetitive frame in which the film works. Instead, most of the shots felt similar in value and even duration which makes the film somewhat feel monotonous in its initial idea and even though repetition is the medium of the film, subtle nuances in this pattern would have created a more balanced way of fulfilling that idea, I believe. There was a particular inspired moment in the film when the night suddenly is transformed into day and this felt instantly as it could mark a rupture in the film that could revitalize it but instead it was brought back to its first ideas very quickly.
While accomplished in its proposed setting and with some nice ideas about temporality, the cycle of life and how war shapes the individual physically and mentally, Drvo feels in a way a film that doesn’t succeed in bringing to the table much more than its initial proposition and it’s strongest ideas about mise-en-scène end up also being some of its faults as the film progresses.