(second of three, continued from Os Verdes Anos)
Fast-forward, to three years later. Paulo Rocha's sophomore feature, Mudar de Vida, was also photographed in black and white, but now by Elso Roque (who had assisted Luc Mirot in Os Verdes Anos), but unlike its brightly defined, high-contrast predecessor, the new film shifts into foggier, smokier, greyer tones.
We're in the seaside, in the Northern fisherman's village of Furadouro, near Ovar, and the presence of the water's edge, the foam from the ebbing waves, the fog rolling in from the sea, suggests something of the undefined. It's a tale that could be a loose sequel to Os Verdes Anos, about a man returning to his hometown after time spent in the city. But the slow-seething Adelino (Brazilian actor Geraldo d'el Rey, from Glauber Rocha's Black God, White Devil) is not Júlio.
He's not back from the city, but from the colonial war and from time spent as a fisherman in Africa, with little to show of his own, even less awaiting him, with his fiancée Júlia (Maria Barroso), tired of waiting for him, having ended up marrying his own brother. If the urban settings of Os Verdes Anos suggested both Nouvelle Vague and Antonioni, then Mudar de Vida marries the Italian director's expression of character through space in its dramatic developments with Rossellini's documentary impulse, the fishing sequences shot on location strongly reminiscent of Stromboli.
Reeling from losing both the woman he loved (and still loves) and from the near absence of work for fishermen, with his war wounds barring him from heavier jobs, Adelino is a literally broken down man who has truly nowhere to go until he meets the insouciant, rebel Albertina (Isabel Ruth, recurring from Os Verdes Anos and consolidating her role as Mr. Rocha's muse and égérie, present in nearly all of his films). She is the sister of the local landowner who's hired Adelino as a jack-of-all-trades, and she is known for her independence, all the more defiant for the small-minded mentality of these superstitious rural places.
Though Albertina does not enter the story until the film is two-thirds of the way through, it's her arrival that introduces into Mudar de Vida the notion of a noir melodrama that was merely hinted at in Os Verdes Anos, while highlighting the possibility that this could be a reverse-Stromboli - a tale of redemption seen from a male point of view. Adelino is, like Júlio or like Karin in Rossellini's film, chafing at the shackles society wants to put on him, and he has seen a better life than what his hometown can offer him. Albertina becomes his mirage, or the light at the end of his tunnel; whereas in his previous work Mr. Rocha paints a picture of a man heading down a claustrophobic spiral with no way out, here he builds towards a tentative hope, a possibility of starting anew and escaping the atavisms of a claustrophobic society.
Mudar de Vida is a more successfully and conventionally narrative effort, less entropic than Os Verdes Anos, but also a work every bit the equal of that stunning debut. It also brings more clearly to the fore the themes of rural traditions and everyday tragedy that would reappear regularly towards the end of the director's thin, infrequent corpus of features. It also underlines the importance of location for Mr. Rocha's work - but it's safe to say that it also marks the end of one phase of his career: there would be a 15 year break between the release of Mudar de Vida and the Cannes reveal of the follow-up, the ambitious biography of poet Wenceslau de Moraes A Ilha dos Amores, by which time a lot had changed around him in Portugal.
(second of three, to be continued)
MUDAR DE VIDA
Cast Geraldo d'el Rey, Isabel Ruth, Maria Barroso, João Guedes, Nunes Vidal, Mário Santos, Constança Navarro, José Braz
Director Paulo Rocha; screenwriters Mr. Rocha and António Reis; cinematographer Elso Roque (b&w); composer Carlos Paredes; art director Zéni d'Ovar; editors Margareta Mangs, Mr. Rocha and Noémia Delgado; producers Fernando Matos Silva, Manuel Bento and Helena Vasconcelos; production company Produções Cunha Telles
Screened May 6th 2015, Ideal, Lisbon (distributor press screening)
PAULO ROCHA : 50 ANOS DE CINEMA - teaser 2 from Midas Filmes on Vimeo.