It's one thing to see a director's first effort "in its own time" - that is, when it's first completed and released - and another to catch up with it later, after seeing everything that came afterwards. What's striking about Portuguese documentarian Sérgio Tréfaut's work is just how much of what he would do later is already fully present in his feature debut, 1998's Outro País, finally gaining a limited commercial release: his interest in going after what is there in plain sight but that not many people bothered to look into in depth.
Outro País looks at the Portuguese revolution of 1974 that brought down a totalitarian regime that ran for nearly 50 years not through the eyes of the locals who lived through it - as most documentaries tend to do - but through the lenses of foreign photographers and filmmakers who came to cover it for international media. Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado or American filmmaker Robert Kramer explain to Mr. Tréfaut's camera what attracted them to Portugal in the heady post-revolutionary days of 1974 and 1975 and what their work meant to them then and now, hence the title, meaning "another country" - this is the country as seen and depicted by those who were unencumbered by the weight of history.
Mixing interviews shot specifically for the film (some of the interviewees are sadly no longer with us by now) with footage or stills they shot in 1974/75, Outro País carries the same sense of fragmentation, of incompleteness, that is visible in all of Mr. Tréfaut's work: not so much a finished film but a mere fragment of a longer, continuing film. This could have gone on longer, started and ended elsewhere, and yet it would still tell this story and frame it this way.
This "variable geometry" that nearly all of the documentarian's work adheres to remains one of his most endearing traits, underlining his ability to connect what he's doing to a larger picture, a wider frame of which his work is a mere detail that opens up other and equally fascinating avenues for inquiry. That Outro País seems slight and halting is not so much a problem as it is shown to be part and parcel of the director's method, a course he has stubbornly, and successfully, adhered to.
Director Sérgio Tréfaut; camera João Ribeiro, Rui Poças and Jon Jost (colour); editors José Nascimento and Pedro Duarte; production companies SP Filmes in co-production with RTP
Screened April 12th 2015, Lisbon (DVD)
Outro País / Another Country (trailer) from Faux on Vimeo.