Neither straight-forward documentary nor openly fictional, Portuguese directors João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata's first joint feature is a melancholy, playful requiem about ghosts and memories that feeds on both its authors' personalities. Mr. Rodrigues, the Portuguese director of cult favourites O Fantasma and To Die Like a Man, is the one who  is recognised worldwide, but Mr. Guerra da Mata, who has but one short to his own name, has had an important creative role behind the scenes as his regular art director and co-writer. Their third jointly credited project as directors, The Last Time I Saw Macao is the first to truly combine into one whole the different sensibilities they bring to their projects: Mr. Guerra da Mata's more forcefully playful, exuberant pop-infused feel, and Mr. Rodrigues' more detached, precise, clinical eye.

     Originally, it was conceived as a loose documentary inspired by Mr. Guerra da Mata's childhood in the then-Portuguese colony as the son of a Portuguese officer; the end result uses his memories as a framework for something else entirely. It starts as an exotic schoolboy mystery inspired by 1950s film noir and golden-era Hollywood, involving a transvestite expatriate (real-life transexual Cindy Scrash, mostly present in voice only after a stunning lip-synced musical prologue) who calls for help after being caught up in a high-stakes conspiracy. That fictional tale, suggested by films such as Josef von Sternberg's Macao, is integrated into an observational walk through memory lane, coloured by the nostalgic awareness that the wide-eyed enchantment of staking out your childhood territory can no longer be revisited.

     From then on, The Last Time I Saw Macau disintegrates into an apocalyptic experimental fantasy with more in common with Mr. Rodrigues' solo work, losing some steam in its final stretch as the engine starts running on empty. Still, there is much to admire in this love letter to a lost sense of adventure and romanticism that can no longer be rekindled, a film that, for all its shortcomings, looks and feels like nothing else out there.

Cast: Cindy Scrash
Narrators: João Pedro Rodrigues, João Rui Guerra da Mata

Directors and writers: Mr. Rodrigues, Mr. Guerra da Mata
Cinematography: Mr. Rodrigues, Mr. Guerra da Mata, (prologue) Rui Poças (colour)
Art director (prologue): Mr. Guerra da Mata
Costumes (prologue): João Carlos Marques
Editors: Raphaël Lefèvre, Mr. Rodrigues, Mr. Guerra da Mata
Producers: João Figueiras, Daniel Chabannes de Sars, Corentin Dong-Jin Sénéchal (Blackmaria in co-production with Épicentre Films and Le Fresnoy - Studio National des Arts Contemporains)
Portugal/France, 2012, 82 minutes

Screened: producer advance screener/DocLisboa 2012 official competition, Lisbon, October 5th 2012

LA DERNIERE FOIS QUE J'AI VU MACAO de João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata (Trailer) from Epicentre Films on Vimeo.


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