Moving confidently into the long form, Portuguese filmmaker and video artist Salomé Lamas proposes with Terra de Ninguém a curious, intriguing investigation on the nature and limits of documentary film. Divided into a series of chapters punctuated by interludes where the director reads from her shooting notes, Terra de Ninguém sees Portuguese mercenary Paulo de Figueiredo talk about his life in front of a camera. His tale sees him move from an elite commando in Portugal's late 1960s/early 1970s colonial wars in Africa to becoming a gun for hire across the world but especially in the terrorism-ravaged 1970s/1980s Spain, for which he was actually tried and convicted.

     But what seems at first to be a parallel history of Portugal during its post-revolutionary period of the mid- to late 1970s becomes shiftier by the minute, as the minimalistic approach of Ms. Lamas - carefully lighted, fixed set-ups framing Mr. Figueiredo interspersed by black-card chapter headings, the questioning always off-camera and unheard, the total lack of sound illustration as music - heightens the fragility and reliance on a single interviewee as the only source for much of this story. In the notes she reads from, Ms. Lamas says that a lot of what is said by Mr. Figueiredo cannot be confirmed - so is it unconfirmable truth, fantasy or half-and-half?

     By training the standard mode of filming documentary on a narrator who may not be fully reliable, Terra de Ninguém reveals its conceptual nature that justifies its title - not a single "no man's land", but many: the limbo occupied by Mr. Figueiredo after his return from the war, the place his tale holds within the traditional narrative structures of cinema, Ms. Lamas' own position as a filmmaker (not part of the traditional film world, where she trained and studied, but neither entirely absent of it), the way the film seems to shift almost imperceptibly between these many levels of thought and reality.

Director: Salomé Lamas
Cinematography: Takashi Sugimoto  (colour)
Editor: Telmo Churro
Producers: Luís Urbano, Sandro Aguilar (O Som e a Fúria)
Portugal, 2012, 72 minutes

Screened: DocLisboa 2012 official competition advance screener DVD, Lisbon, October 20th 2012



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