The task of growing up
by Vitor Pinto, Anne Feuillère
- Catarina Ruivo, discreet and affable, currently inhabiting the space between editing and her next full-length feature film, took the time to reply to our questions
After a spell as film editor for two Portuguese art-house film-makers, Catarina Ruivo went behind the lens herself to film André Valente [+see also:
interview: Catarina Ruivo
interview: Paulo Branco
film profile] and prove her worth as a film-maker in her own right. With its ellipses and silences, her first film, a cross between cinéma vérité and initiatory tale, examines childhood pain and love. Catarina Ruivo, discreet and affable, currently inhabiting the space between editing and her next full-length feature film, took the time to reply to our questions.
Cineuropa: You studied Marine Biology before going into film-making. When did you realise that you wanted to make a career out of editing?
Catarina Ruivo: Before even finishing first year Marine Biology! The year after, I enrolled at the College of Theatre and Cinema.
In 1998, you directed Uma Cerveja no Inverno, your first experience as a director...
That was a short film funded by the Gulbenkian Foundation and the College. Let’s say that it was a film made independently of my studies, but while I was still a student! It was a project in which several stories overlapped! And which, in my opinion, was a flop! You might not believe it, but I felt that the editing left a great deal to be desired. I wanted to leave in the things I liked, and leave out the things I didn’t like, but you can’t do that in films... As experience eventually teaches you.
What do you think you learned from working with Joaquim Sapinho and Alberto Seixas Santos?
I think that my ambitions to direct stemmed from the freedom I enjoyed while working as editor for these two directors, especially Alberto Seixas Santos, with whom I still work (I’m currently editing one of his short films) and from whom I continue to learn.
What place do you occupy in today’s Portuguese cinema? Do you think that André Valente follows the tradition of a certain Portuguese cinema that derives its reputation from nostalgia and sadness?
Even though it’s a melancholic film, with its central theme of loss, I don’t think it’s sad. The characters learn how to convert fear into courage and fragility into strength.
How did you go from editing to writing and directing a full-length feature film? When you’re lucky enough to edit with the same degree of freedom that I had, the gap between editing and directing narrows. Because you’re working on the development of dramatic structures and narratives. Editing and writing scripts gave me the experience and the courage I needed to have a go at directing a feature film.
How did André Valente come about?
The story developed gradually. I wanted to write a story about a child because I still have vivid memories of my own childhood, although at the same time you do need to keep a certain distance when you’re filming. I think, too, that there’s a tendency to idealise childhood as being a carefree, pain-free time of our lives, when it’s actually a series of ordeals, a time when things – which you later learn to put into perspective – seem to assume enormous proportions. It takes courage to grow up and that’s what I wanted to show.
And for André, these "ordeals" take the form of one loss after the other... Life is made up of losses and choices. To choose one thing is to lose another, and you have to learn to live with that. I feel that the business of growing up, of assuming adulthood, is a highly enriching experience. That’s when you experience all the fears, desires and doubts that are going to plague you for the rest of your life!
Just as, with André, you destroy the cliché of the happy childhood, the character of Rita Durão raises the question of the difficulties of being a mother, after she, too, is abandoned...
I think that the greater the suffering the more difficult it is for us to relate to others. There’s no room left within us for anyone else. She never stops loving her son, but that’s precisely what happens to her.
Your film is about close relationships, but the character of Nicolaï, the immigrant from Eastern Europe, also introduces a social element...
I wanted to create a character in a fragile situation so as to put his relationship with André on a more equal (and stronger) footing. When you’re an immigrant, your unfamiliarity with the language and customs puts you in a very vulnerable position. Children find themselves on a similar learning and adaptation curve. But, also, I live in Lisbon and want to speak of what’s going on around me. I like multicultural cities.
How did you approach the role of André with Leonardo Viveiros? Can’t have been easy, directing a child...
I didn’t let Leonardo read the script, nor did I include him in rehearsals. When everything was ready for the shoot, I’d take him aside to explain the scene and what I wanted him to do. Then I would ask him if he felt at ease speaking his lines in such and such a way. We’d talk things over and reach a compromise we could both live with.
André Valente is a film that’s both quiet and elliptical, viewing reality almost through the lens of neutrality, leaving events largely unexplained.
I want to show life, day-to-day events via action segments and glimpses of people’s lives. What I really like is showing scenes that have already begun and cutting them before they’ve come to an end. My own way of story-telling and filming.
But at the same time, there are elements of the fairy tale in your approach... The mystery of departures, the Christmas lights, ice-skating... And the surname, Valente, Valiant, The Valorous, brings to mind days of yore and knights in shining armour.
Right, the film in a sense does owe something to those childrens’ stories where the hero has to achieve maturity and self-discovery by overcoming the obstacles in his path. Valente (Valiant) also reminds me of Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant.
There’s something similar in, for example, the work of Kieslowski, who made narratives out of ellipses and segments and allowed the plot to thicken. But he had a background in documentary-making.
That never occurred to me! My tastes are quite varied, encompassing a whole range of very different films, from Fritz Lang’s Moonfleet to Maurice Pialat’s A nos amours, just to mention two films that refer to this time of transition, to the difficulties involved in growing up.
Do you want to go on being an editor? Do you want to direct another film? Or does the one complement the other? Yes, I think that my work as editor did come in useful when it came to directing my first film. I love editing and would like to continue. And, yes, I have submitted the draft of a second feature film, although I don’t know if it’ll get the funding.
Catarina Ruivo's Biography
Born in Coimbra in 1971, Catarina Ruivo enrolled on a degree course in Marine Biology before studying at the College of Theatre and Cinema in Lisbon, where she trained to be an editor.
In 1998, her first short film Uma Cerveja no Inferno screened at several festivals, in particular the Vila do Conde (Portugal) and Oberhausen (Germany) International Short Film Festivals.
She continued to work in editing, in collaboration with Alberto Seixas Santos for the film Mal (a competition entry at the Venice Festival in 1999) and Joaquim Sapinho for Mulher Polícia (The Berlinale’s Panorama section, 2003).
After two rejections from the ICAM Selection Commission, André Valente was finally funded and produced, by Paulo Branco. Screened in Portugal in 2004 and in France at the beginning of 2005, the film was an Official Competition entry at the last Locarno Festival.
Catarina Ruivo is currently editing Alberto Seixas Santos’ new film, A Monte.
Director, Scriptwriter, Editor
2004, André Valente
1998, Uma Cerveja no Inferno, short film
2005, A Monte, by Alberto Seixas Santos
2003, Mulher Polícia, by Joaquim Sapinho
1999, Mal, by Alberto Seixas Santos
1998, Largo, by Pedro Sabino
2005, A Monte, by Alberto Seixas Santos