No Man’s Land between real and personal history
by Vladan Petkovic
- Salomé Lamas’ documentary focuses on a Portuguese mercenary who speaks about his past and provides a personal, unofficial history of conflicts in various countries and continents
No Man’s Land [+see also:
film profile] by Portuguese director Salomé Lamas is a 72-minute documentary about a Portuguese mercenary who speaks about his past and provides a personal, unofficial history of conflicts in various countries and continents.
Paulo de Figueiredo is a 66-year old former mercenary whose work took him to Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia, Nicaragua, Salvador and many other countries, in additional to frequent “gigs” in his home country of Portugal, as well as Spain and France. Lamas places Figueiredo, who is wearing a black sweater, in front of a black background, and films him with a camera on a tripod, rarely changing the size of the shot. This makes for a very cinematic image as his face strongly contrasts the dark.
The film is split into five chapters shot over five days, each titled by the place he is talking about, and the last one showing us the way he lives now. This is the only time Lamas and Figueiredo get out of the black room where most of the film was shot, except for a few shots of nature surrounding the dilapidated house which contains the room.
Figueiredo’s account is fragmented and non-linear, and it is punctuated by frequently changing numbered title cards which accentuate his speech in an almost literary way. All this forms a kind of a no man’s land between the audience and the subject of the documentary, giving us an option to detach from his often gory stories. It still does not make it easy to pull yourself away from the horrors he talks about, just as it is not easy not to judge him. But be careful who you judge- at one point he says, “I have two friends. One is named Magnum, and the other Winchester.” One is compelled to chuckle at this sentence, a reaction soon to be followed by questioning one self’s values and view of the world.
Figueiredo himself is actually quite a likeable presence, short, bald, with bushy moustache and bright, lively eyes- not your typical image of a mercenary. His stories are particularly interesting for people acquainted with Portuguese (post-) colonial history and political events on both sides of the Pyrenees, but they also reveal a more universal understanding of the human nature, and nature of war.
No Man’s Land was produced by O Som e a Fúria, which also holds the international rights.