Warmly received upon its premiere at the 2013 IndieLisboa festival, where it took home the prize for best Portuguese feature, João Vladimiro's sophomore feature Lacrau is a radical object meant to divide opinions and start off heated arguments. Little wonder: a labour of love shot over a number of years, this defiantly non-narrative project, juxtaposing the warmth and conviviality or community-based rural living and the ugly, industrial, artificially-lighted modern urbanism, belongs to a lineage of austere, quasi-experimental filmmaking, where documentary footage is transformed by its contextual editing and soundtracking. It's film intended as art, as meditation and process at the same time, striving for higher, deeper meanings, for an experience that is not merely passive but seeks to engage the viewer.

     More power to it, but the problem with Lacrau is not that it belongs to that lineage alongside directors such as Sergei Paradjanov, Michelangelo Frammartino or James Benning; it's that there's a chasm between ambition and realisation. The film's devotion to the countryside seems to have been learnt at the altar of the forgotten master António Reis; its construction through wordless, non-linear blocks of images intercut with quotes from Edmund Spenser and Stig Dagerman and soundtracked by a selection of contemporary and classical music suggests an experiment in pure sensorialism, an attempt at audiovisual transcendence. But in the process it becomes clear Mr. Vladimiro may have bitten off more than he could chew; Lacrau feels like a puzzle whose key may be far too personal or too well hidden for viewers to find. Luxuriating in a rigorous but occasionally hermetic juxtaposition of images and sounds, it becomes a quasi-abstract essay-film whose point is either obscure or lost in the process, pushing at times the limits of the viewer's availability in search of something it never quite reaches.

     It's very much a young man's film, one that wishes at the same time to show how far its director has grown and to encompass the entire universe, but hasn't yet been able to make sense of the map. For all that, there is an evident talent at work here and a worthy ambition of doing more than just "business as usual"; Lacrau is just a halfway point in that journey, but hardly an unanimous one.

Director and writer: João Vladimiro
Cinematography: Mr. Vladimiro, Pedro Pinho (colour)
Editors: Mr. Vladimiro, Luísa Homem
Sound: Mr. Vladimiro, Frederico Lobo, Miguel Martins
Producers: Mr. Vladimiro, João Matos (Terratreme Filmes in association with RTP)
Portugal, 2013, 102 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Film Festival 2013 official competition advance press screening, Culturgest, Lisbon, April 17th 2013



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