80 minutes

The first few minutes of A Arca do Éden make you fear the worst: consisting mainly of a reasonably lengthy shot of a camera being set up and focusing on a tree in a garden, they suggest we may be about to enter the rarefied area of experimental cinema. But once these initial moments pass, though, Marcelo Félix's thoughtful debut slowly unfolds its ambition as a sort of film essay or tone poem on memory and forgetting, alternatingly reminding the viewer of the works of directors as different as Werner Herzog, Sandro Aguilar, José Luis Guerín or Christoph Hochhäusler.

     Isabel Machado's enveloping voiceover initially narrates the fictional tale of a ship escaping some sort of cataclysm, carrying inside one specimen each of all the world's plant species - a narrative that, revealed as such at one point, is used as a springboard to create an interlinked series of meditations about the persistence of memory, the importance of history and the structure of remembrance and forgetting, drawing on real-life places and situations such as the genetic seed archive in Svalbård or the discovery of an original copy of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc in the ruins of an Oslo psychiatric hospital.

     But while Mr. Félix's aim and methodology may seem both high-minded and ponderous, the film is anything but: it's constructed very carefully as a sort of metaphysical mystery bent on seducing its viewers into going along with the questions it asks. It doesn't offer any proper answers of its own, and that didn't seem to be the original aim anyway; it is to the director's credit that the myriad source materials (period and archival footage, both real and false, as well as a number of purposefully-shot images), influences and concepts are seamlessly integrated into one hypnotic, comfortable whole, set at just the right length. It is unlikely that A Arca do Éden will receive a full-fledged theatrical release - it seems tailor-made for the festival and arthouse circuit - but it's a surprising and very rewarding debut.

Narrated by Isabel Machado.
     Directed, written and edited by Marcelo Félix; produced by Christine Reeh, Isabel Machado, Joana Ferreira; camera (colour), Miguel Amaral; sound design and editing, Ricardo Sequeira.
     A CRIM production, in co-production with Refinaria Filmes and Kine' - Home Movies, with funding from the Portuguese Culture Ministry/Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual and Radio and Television of Portugal.
     Screened: DocLisboa 2011 advance screener, Lisbon, October 20th 2011. 


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