"A story of love and survival"
by Fabien Lemercier
- BERLIN 2016: Portuguese filmmaker Ivo M Ferreira talks about Letters from War, screened in competition at Berlin
Surrounded by his actors Margarida Vila-Nova, Miguel Nunes and Ricardo Pereira, as well as his producer, Luís Urbano (O Som e a Fúria), Portuguese filmmaker Ivo M Ferreira gave the international press a few clues about his poetic film Letters from War [+see also:
Q&A: Ivo M Ferreira
film profile], unveiled in competition at the 66th Berlin Film Festival.
Could you enlighten us briefly about the historical background of the Portugal where the plot of your film unfolds?
Ivo M Ferreira: Everything began in 1971, when young doctor Antonio Lobo Antunes found himself in the middle of this war in Angola that had been raging for a long time, and which everyone knew was a totally unjust conflict, with no prospects for success. The country had been through a very long war, and it was through this conflict that the dictatorship in Portugal was finally toppled, because these officers and soldiers initiated the revolution. The letters that Lobo Antunes wrote to his wife during this war were published in a book, and I worked on adapting them together with Edgar Medina, which wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation of Lobo Antunes and his daughter. But besides the letters that form the basis of the screenplay, we added a few extra elements – the elephant, for instance, and information that reached us in the decades after the letters. But we made it all with a lot of humility.
In a film dedicated to a vast subject like the war, you focused on an individual’s story, and the Portuguese soldiers are not stigmatised. Why?
Naturally, the film has a political side to it, but I didn’t want to deal with the colonial wars, the more gloomy and tragic aspects. In a way, the Portuguese soldiers were also victims of this absurd war. Incidentally, when I was a kid, my father was a political refugee in France: he had run away from Portugal because he didn’t want to take part in this war in Angola.
Why did you decide to rely exclusively on the reading of the letters and totally shun any dialogue?
I had the idea for the film, and I watched my wife as she was reading this book. I thought it could perhaps be made to work in this way, and I started looking for ways to transfer this idea to the big screen. It was like coming up with a sort of game, including the presence of people who are not actually present. But there is also a very important dimension to it revolving around the wonderful voices, which I played with, because there’s so much text read out. As for the music, which I chose quite intuitively, I wanted it to be very simple, and above all, I didn’t want it to fall into African folklore territory.
How did you shoot this kind of romantic manifesto against war and violence?
The film owes a great deal to the DoP, Joao Ribeiro, whom I had tremendous faith in. The shoot was really hard. We started by shooting in Angola, which was very difficult and quite the opposite of romantic. In Antonio Lobo Antunes’ book, there is a very intimate story, and he had insisted that we film in Angola and nowhere else – otherwise, he would have refused to give us permission. Of course, I respected his wish. Then, as it’s a war film, we considered what would be the most appropriate format, while trying to avoid what I was most afraid of: that everything would be too obvious, because Africa is a very special place that exudes sorrow, love and joy, which are not necessarily that easy to reproduce through images. In fact, what I wanted to show first and foremost was this very powerful love story expressed through the letters because even if the characters are not together physically, they are still very close. It’s a story of love and survival because this love is the only thing that keeps him alive.
(Translated from French)