94 minutes

"What if?..." is one of the central tenets of most narrative fiction. However, applied to what should have been estimable Portuguese director Manuel Mozos' debut theatrical feature, the possibilities of "what if" gain an entirely different understanding: "what if" Xavier had been finished and opened in due time? Because it didn't, and only a few films carry their production troubles with them like Xavier does: it was shot in 1991 but only completed eleven years later, by which time Mr. Mozos had already finished and premiered his second film, Quando Troveja. The story of Xavier Alves, a twenty-something aimlessly wandering through Lisbon looking for something to change in his life, was written for the poised presence of its lead Pedro Hestnes, and the fact that practically everything important that befalls him takes place off-screen is, more than a sign of production troubles, the theme itself of the picture: the passive stasis that even the simplest change in Xavier's life is unable to alter, as if he is fated to always be waiting for something to happen.

     Photographed by José António Loureiro with a deliberate, coloured artificiality that suggests a morality play about modern-day Portugal, the film seems to have waited as long as its hero for something to change. When the original producer ran out of money in 1991 on the very last day of shooting, with the final scenes yet to film, Xavier was shelved, waiting for the funds to come in to finish it. It was only in 2002 that veteran Paulo Rocha stepped in to finance all the post-production work (Mr. Mozos usually describes the film as "possible" rather than "definitive"). That explains the film's odd, halting rhythms but also its peculiar feeling of a time capsule that captures the moment it was made in, in ways that were probably unforeseen during the filming; a snapshot of a country still waiting, still unable to make the most of what it had - and also of a generation of actors that would mostly find their work on television in the following years, while Mr. Hestnes ended up retiring from acting.

     It's obvious that, had the picture been completed on schedule and released in the early 1990s, its portrait of a disenfranchised generation might have been received differently, though by then Portuguese films were facing dwindling public interest; as is, unavailable on DVD and seldom seen in the nearly ten years after its brief 2003 theatrical release, Xavier became one of the great lost films of a cinema that is sadly not short on them.

Starring Pedro Hestnes; Cristina Carvalhal, Sandra Faleiro, José Meireles, Canto e Castro, Isabel de Castro, Isabel Ruth, Rogério Samora, José Pedro Gomes, Alexandra Lencastre, David Cotter, Celeste Rodrigues; and with Manuela de Freitas.
     Directed by Manuel Mozos; produced by Paulo Rocha; written by Jorge Silva Melo, Mr. Mozos, Manuela Viegas; music by Mariana Ricardo; director of photography (colour, processing by Tóbis), José António Loureiro; art director, Jeanne Waltz; costume designer, Ms. Viegas; film editors, Mr. Mozos, Nuno Carvalho, Pedro Marques.
     A Paulo Rocha presentation of a Suma Filmes/Portuguese Radio Television co-production, with financial support from the Portuguese Institute for Film, Audiovisual and Multimedia. (Portuguese distributor, FBF Filmes.)
     Screened: Cinemateca Portuguesa - Félix Ribeiro Theatre (Lisbon), September 22nd 2011. 


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