For her second fictional feature in ten years after the well-remembered A Costa dos Murmúrios (2004), Portuguese director Margarida Cardoso is yet again rummaging through the memories of mid-20th century Portugal and its colonial involvements in Africa.
Whereas the previous film had the advantage of adapting an acclaimed novel by Lídia Jorge about a young woman's introduction to the colonial world during the 1960s African wars, here Ms. Cardoso moves ahead in time to present-day Mozambique (though the country itself is actually never named in the film). Yvone Kane is an original script, more meandering and less narratively streamlined, but shot in a fascinatingly moody and atmospheric way that makes clear what the director is actually trying to get at.
At heart, it's a film haunted by what was, what could have been and what never will be, using the past as a jumping-off point to deal with the present. Reeling from the accidental death of her young daughter, the grieving writer Rita (Beatriz Batarda) returns to the African country where she spent her childhood with two things on her mind.
One is to reconnect with her mother Sara (Irene Ravache), a European who was involved with the revolutionary movements of the colonial period and who stayed on as a doctor after independence. The other is to find out the truth about what really happened to Yvone Kane (Mina Andala), a revolutionary leader whose mysterious death in London was never truly solved but has since become a founding truth of the independence movement; Yvone just happened to be a friend and colleague of her mother in those days.
What's truly interesting about Yvone Kane, as already in A Costa dos Murmúrios, is how much the director shifts the balance and burden of the colonial tales to women - whereas in the previous film men were noted by the absence to go out and fight, here they're pretty much lateral figures unable or unwilling to deal with the issues women have to face. Ms. Cardoso's approach has the traditional warmth and sunshine we associate with Africa be subsumed into a stifling, grey, overcast fog that is more than just the fog of war and history (it's certainly not casual that it's only towards the ending that sunlight returns to the film's landscape).
Rita's investigation, patiently piecing together loose strands from the past, is not just about Yvone but also about the world she lived in, the world Sara lived in and the world she herself lives in; and it's about the way these women navigated and still navigate a world where they're supposedly the "weak ones". Keepers of secrets caught in historical events that pretty much stopped them from leading the lives they had dreamed of, they're a sort of living - or even dead - conscience of the demands of the world around them. Haunted by the ghosts who aren't present but still seem to be visible at every turn of the way, Yvone Kane is a film refracted, seen as if through glass panes, windows, mirrored surfaces, a mystery that unfolds as slowly as it unravels and one that is never truly solved to anyone's content.
As so often, Ms. Cardoso is more interested in the journey rather than the destination, even though it also seems as if she wants to follow all of the possible ramifications underlying the plot. This means Yvone Kane becomes somewhat unfocussed, a bit unwieldy, too diffuse and undecided. And yet there's so much about its attention to actors and quiet confidence that is so enticing and involving that it's hard to ignore it or dismiss it. It takes hold of you in a way that makes you want to see more and understand more.
Portugal, Brasil 2014
Cast Beatriz Batarda, Irene Ravache, Gonçalo Waddington, Samuel Malumbe
Director and screenwriter Margarida Cardoso; cinematographer João Ribeiro (colour, widescreen); art director Ana Vaz; wardrobe Nádia Henriques; editor João Braz; producers Maria João Mayer, François d'Artemare, Luciana Boal Marinho and Alberto Graça; production companies Filmes do Tejo II in co-production with MPC & Associados and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian - Programa Próximo Futuro
Screened February 10th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)
YVONE KANE de Margarida Cardoso TRAILER from Midas Filmes on Vimeo.