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The Forest of the Lost Souls: Sadness will last forever

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- José Pedro Lopes’ feature debut is screening as part of the Fantasporto festival

The Forest of the Lost Souls: Sadness will last forever
Daniela Love in The Forest of the Lost Souls

In the aftermath of the Berlinale, during which so much was written about Portugal’s industry and its young talents making a splash in the short-film format (read more), a new Portuguese title – this time a feature – by another local emerging director is being unveiled at the Fantasporto festival. The Forest of the Lost Souls [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
 is a foray into the horror and slasher genres by producer-turned-director José Pedro Lopes.

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After a prologue that introduces the theme and sets the tone of this black-and-white film, The Forest of the Lost Souls kicks off the first of its two parts by placing its two lead characters in a forest. Although DoP Francisco Lobo’s shots emphasise the bucolic landscape, one should not be lulled into expecting a romantic story – in fact, there is nothing romantic about it at all. The forest is known for being the site of several suicides – and that’s exactly what a middle-aged man intends to do when he bumps into a teenage girl.

The characters, played by theatre veteran Jorge Mota and newcomer Daniela Love, engage in a bizarre series of conversations. The man, although suspicious of the young girl’s intentions, invariably tries to prevent her – although without putting too much effort in – from committing suicide. The dialogues are witty and ironic, while presenting Love’s character as a suicidal geek. She seems to know everything about suicide, ranging from statistics and Japanese hara-kiri techniques to suicidal rituals such as, for instance, carrying a notebook and a pen to write a farewell letter.

Lopes’ script is deliberately critical of teenagers who are seduced by the idea of death and indulge in tragic deliriums in which their magnified emotions reflect those of their dead heroes. There is nothing sad about Love’s nameless character, yet she likes to quote Van Gogh’s last words, “Sadness will last forever,” and when asked why she intends to kill herself, she turns into a gothic Virginia Woolf, staring into the water (yet without rocks in her pockets): “I feel certain that I am going mad again! I feel I can’t go through another of these terrible times, and I shan’t recover this time.” Her words seem to exude an artificial nature, but once the man has figured this out, it is already too late.

A twist in the middle section of the plot leads to the film’s second part, in which literary quotes are left far behind. Here, Lopes openly displays his inspiration by slasher films, although with less blood and fewer special effects than he had perhaps wished for.

A low-budget project, The Forest of the Lost Souls is further proof that determination is capable of overcoming production obstacles, turning a difficult project into an enjoyable film that thumbs its nose at financial restrictions thanks to a captivating script. Lopes really stands out as a young filmmaker who is able to bring together several of his recognisable cinephilic references in order to bring to fruition a personal and carefully crafted debut project.

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