73 minutes

For his first fiction feature, acclaimed filmmaker Sérgio Tréfaut works within the thematic strands of the documentary but wraps them up in a strikingly stylized, formalist aesthetic certain to surprise and probably alienate viewers. Inspired by the true story of a Ukrainian woman (Maria de Medeiros) trapped in the Kafkian nightmare of an immigration arrest when arriving in Portugal to spend New Year's with her immigrant husband, mr. Tréfaut aims to denounce the inexcusable behaviour of immigration officials whose mere suspicions (possibly unfounded) are enough to destroy a life. It is the sort of tale you would expect an activist documentary filmmaker to shoot as a debut fiction feature in an impassionate, outraged Ken Loach kind of way - but that's not what you get here.
    Instead, mr. Tréfaut wraps it in an almost experimental form: Viagem a Portugal was filmed in heavily stylized, digital black and white on studio sets neutral to the point of blandness or theatrical suggestion, subverting the classic shot/reverse shot two-hander by first showing a scene from one point of view then repeating it in reverse shot instead of crosscutting it. The director thus constructs the film as a battle of wills between the lost Ukrainian tourist who doesn't speak a word of Portuguese and the punctilious immigration official who is quick to jump to conclusions (Isabel Ruth). The visuals suggest an aspect of video art at work, but the intelligence of using the style as a mean to focus on the story and the performances cleverly ejects all possibility of indignant grandstanding and schmaltzy melodrama the story could take on. The result is a smart and significantly more affecting film than if it had been done in the traditional narrative way.

Starring Maria de Medeiros, Isabel Ruth, Makena Diop.
     Directed, produced and written by Sérgio Tréfaut; director of photography (black & white, Tóbis processing), Edgar Moura; production and costume designer, Ana Direito; film editors, mr. Tréfaut, Gonçalo Soares, Pedro Marques, Mariana Gaivão.
     A Faux presentation/production, with support from the Portuguese Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual, Radio and Television of Portugal, Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon City Hall and Serpa City Hall. (Portuguese distributor and world sales, Faux.)
     Screened: IndieLisboa Festival 2011, Observatório sidebar advance press screening, São Jorge 3 (Lisbon), April 21st 2011. 


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