Friday, October 09, 2015

JOÃO BÉNARD DA COSTA - OUTROS AMARÃO AS COISAS QUE EU AMEI
João Bénard da Costa - Others Will Love the Things that I Loved

My self-evident love for Manuel Mozos' enveloping essayistic homage to the late João Bénard da Costa (1935-2009), cinephile extraordinaire and one of the most important figures in the history of the Portuguese Cinematheque, goes hand in hand with a strange, uneasy malaise about it. Basically, João Bénard da Costa - Outros Amarão as Coisas Que Eu Amei is a cinephile love letter that will make all the sense in the world if you know who its subject is. But if you don't know, will you still allow yourself to be enveloped by its lovingly assembled trip through memory lane?

     My doubts arise from the film itself, and from its avowed anchoring in the life and personality of Bénard da Costa, prolific writer, columnist and critic, as well as occasional actor in films by his longtime friend Manoel de Oliveira, rather than just director and programmer at the Cinematheque for over 25 years. Mr. Mozos' film is an exquisite, golden-hued collage built around a voiceover narration patiently compiled from Bénard da Costa's myriad writings on film, art and life (the voice reading them belongs to his son João Pedro); it studiously avoids any and all traditional biographical timelines to chart a impressionistic flyover of his life and artistic worldview, in a loosely chronological way.

     Outros Amarão as Coisas Que Eu Amei is also an inscrutably poignant requiem for a time and a culture that is now gone. In a progressively fragmented, atomised visual culture like the one we live in right now, the sort of "monomania" that the film presents can come off as quaint and old-fashioned. Bénard da Costa was very distrustful of the digital revolution, and thought it was a 35mm projection on a big screen of the theatre that gave cinema its true raison d'être; Mr. Mozos underscores his fetishisation of 35mm film through its use in moviolas used to view material from the programmer's favourite films (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Ordet, Portrait of Jennie, Johnny Guitar).

     "Welcome into his world", the film seems to say, before letting you loose inside it with scant regard for anchor points (no contextualization, not even identification of the film and music extracts used until the end credits). It's the sort of "inside job" that will be immediately identifiable by those who knew him or of him. If you don't, chances are you'll either be interested enough to want to know more about him, or be left bewildered and asking what all the fuss is about.

     Still, it is a stunningly realized evocation/invocation of its subject - and how lovely would it be for all great cinephiles to be remembered with such a tribute! - by a director who has found his groove as a sensitive assembler of filmic essays on the passage of time (with the great, mid-length Ruínas as the lodestar by which everything else is measured), with an uncanny ability to get "under the skin" of his subjects.


JOÃO BÉNARD DA COSTA - OUTROS AMARÃO AS COISAS QUE EU AMEI
Portugal, 2014, 76 minutes
Directed by Manuel Mozos; archival research by Mr. Mozos and Luís Nunes; voiceover spoken by João Pedro Bénard; cinematographer Inês Duarte (colour); editor Mr. Nunes; produced by Rui Alexandre Santos, for Rosa Filmes
Screened October 17th 2014, Lisbon (DocLisboa 2014 screener) and October 3rd 2015, Lisbon (distributor advance screener)


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