Once upon a time in another Lisbon
by Vitor Pinto
- Marco Martins, 33 years old, tell us about his first film, to be distributed in France and Portugal in the coming weeks. A film about loneliness, Alice offers a different view of Lisbon
Cineuropa : Before speaking about Alice, I’d like to know a little about the extent to which you have been influenced by your past collaboration with Manoel de Oliveira, Wim Wenders and João Canijo.
Marco Martins All three have totally different approaches to the work. Wenders, in Lisbon Story, adopted a free-and-easy approach. He has his base script and during shooting all the new information and new scenes we’d receive would somehow have to be integrated. As for Oliveira, he directed his actors as if they were in a shop window, like mannequins. Canijo, on the other hand, is much more visceral… You find, in practice, that there are a million and one ways in which to make a film. Up to us subsequently to find the words and operating method that suits us best.
You have made short films; you have also worked in advertising. How important were these experiences for you?
They are training grounds for making full-length feature films. Even though one of my short films won a prize at the Festival of Vila do Conde, I don’t think that short films are really part of a writer’s “work”. They’re a kind of lab, where you experiment with style and your own approach. As regards advertising, there came a time when that was almost inevitable. I didn’t want to go on working as assistant director, I really wanted to make my own films, and advertising was both a laboratory – just like the short films – and a profitable source of income which enabled me to continue developing my feature film project in parallel. In advertising, I’ve always tried to work with actors, filming tales and working with different photographic directors. And that, above all, has really let me concentrate on filming. As a director, it’s important, for me, to make films with a certain regularity.
Let’s speak now about Alice. The script is based on the disappearance of young Rui Pedro, but how was it developed?
At the start, I wanted to make a film about a character alone in a big city, someone whose obsession would lead to his creating a whole alternative survival system for himself. In my head, I had the image of a man lost in the crowd. That was the starting point. Then I read up on the disappearance of that child and thought: now here’s something that would make an obsessive out of anyone. Filomena conveyed her impotence in her search for her son and that’s what I based the character on, but not the film.
Why did you opt for filming Lisbon in a different way to that in which it has hitherto been seen?
Lisbon is often shown in the cinema as a big provincial city where everyone knows everyone else. I didn’t want to show re-runs of popular neighbourhoods of Lisbon, but rather its more urban aspect, the enormous influx of people – those coming into the city daily, and those leaving it.
Reading the synopsis, you’d think the film was a thriller...
True, but that’s not the road I wanted to go down. I didn’t want to overdo the police drama aspect, nor give my impressions of what might have occurred. Nor did I want to create a kitchen-sink drama centred around this couple’s pain. I wanted to film absence, I wanted to film a man isolated in his quest, his anguish and his emptiness, looking at these images in order to subsequently offer a counterpoint in the character of the mother, a woman who, having no back-up system, ends up cracking up.
A risky choice, as people could conclude that there’s no real narrative to the story!
Sure, it is not an action-packed film. I’ve been quoted as saying that Alice is like a musical piece, played always in the same note. But it was a deliberate choice.
Was it easy to finance and shoot the project?
It took me a year and a half to write the screenplay. I then showed it to Paulo Branco who decided to submit it for an ICAM grant. With regard to the shooting, it was easier than I imagined. Extras hadn’t been budgeted for, so all those people you see in the streets were real people going about their everyday business and most of them didn’t even realise that they were being filmed. When Nuno Lopes was in the railway station handing out fliers with Alice’s photo, no one recognised him either, with that beard of his.
We often hear of the gap between the Portuguese public and the national cinema. How do you expect the public to react?
People tend to label films as "Portuguese cinema" even though the current Portuguese cinema is characterised by its highly diverse nature: films as abstruse as they could be line up alongside those that couldn’t be more commercial (even if I dislike the word). Besides, I think we have a problem with promotion. Films are always promoted in more or less the same way, and all films appear to be the same. With Alice, we’re going to try to buck the trend. Success at Cannes attracted the attention of many journalists and there’s even talk of a prime-time debate on the public channel. I remain optimistic. I believe that this film will be more successful than is usually the case in Portugal.
The film has already been distributed in France and in Portugal. Has it been sold elsewhere yet?
Gemini Films, responsible for international sales, is currently involved in negotiations and, all being well, the film should soon be distributed in Italy, too.