Making it through the looking-glass
by Bénédicte Prot
- Catarina Ruivo poetically evokes a difficult moment in childhood, the realisation that adults live in a world of their own
Catarina Ruivo’s André Valente [+see also:
interview: Catarina Ruivo
interview: Paulo Branco
film profile] is the poetic evocation of a difficult moment of childhood, the moment when you realise how lonely adults are and experiment that loneliness. The main protagonist, André, lives alone with his mother who has been depressed since his father left. He has a friend called Susana, but one day she moves away. He makes friends with his intriguing neighbour, a Russian guy who goes on strange errands every evening, carrying a big sports bag, but he, too, eventually goes away.
However, each time something sad happens, Andre rebuilds a world of his own. Instead of taking some distance, and since no one helps him understand, he gives events his own interpretation, suffusing them with the magic of innocence. Catarina Ruivo wanted to show that ‘even when daily life is a struggle, it is possible to create your own blissful space.’
To turn this vision into a film, a little melancholy is needed. Thus, the images are always in chiaroscuro, and bright sky is rarely seen, since the picture is low-framed so as to imitate a child’s perspective. The bleak winter landscape and the general silence reflect the adults’ despair, and the increased isolation of little André, who is always told off when he interferes with grown-up things. Dialogues between André and the adults around him —especially his mother who never speaks but to utter order or half-truths—, real dialogues that is, almost never happen.
Nevertheless, as the gamut of insults in his vocabulary show, André knows more than one would think. As a matter of fact, it is he who guides us into the movie; it is with him that the spectator empathizes since the other characters are selfish adults who make the child bear their sadness without explaining it, people shut in on themselves, in other words, inaccessible.
The film can be seen as a parabole: we follow a Little Red Riding Hood (André in his red coat) making his way from one encounter to another, as on an initiatory journey with no white rabbit, for unlike Alice’s, his journey is anchored in reality. André chooses by himself his partners and protectors. It is no coincidence if André has the same name as the hero of his comic books, Michel Vaillant. In fact, if it is true that in the beginning, André escapes reality by dreaming of other things, at the end he has learnt to live real life as an exciting adventure where he is the hero, that is, far from escaping them, Andre takes in all sad events, and manages to fit them into his life pattern and be happy anyway.
Despite the general nostalgic atmosphere, André Valente is an optimistic movie which shows that a child actually knows how to stand up again when he falls. He even has this advantage over adults that he remains aware of the world around him, because he understands that happiness is based on love and friendship, and that acceptance is necessary to be at peace with and therefore in control of his destiny.
(Translated from French)