Basil Da Cunha • Director of O fim do mundo
"I didn’t arrive in Reboleira thinking ‘I’m a director’. I was first accepted and respected as a person"
- Swiss and Portuguese director Basil Da Cunha tells us about his latest film O fim do mundo, screened in competition at Locarno
With his latest film O fim do mundo [+see also:
interview: Basil Da Cunha
film profile], the sole Swiss production in International Competition at the Locarno Film Festival, Basil Da Cunha guides us through the neighbourhood of Reboleira, in the outskirts of Lisbon. The everyday lives of the people / characters living in this forgotten place are shot with respect and formal elegance, with a constant concern for truth. Da Cunha passionately told us about his connection to his characters and about his personal vision of cinema.
Cineuropa: The neighbourhood of Reboleira is at the heart of your films. Why choose this location? How does it influence your work?
Basil Da Cunha: I didn’t really choose to shoot my films in that neighbourhood. When I moved there, I didn’t do it as a director, in order to shoot films. I’ve always made films with the people around me: friends, family, or people from the neighbourhood I live in. Already in Switzerland, I was filming with people from my neighbourhood, always with this idea of putting in the spotlight people who weren’t in it, people I wasn’t used to seeing in films. This idea followed me to Reboleira. I decided to film the Portuguese people that I hung around with every day, friends I found incredible. My idea was to create stories for them and therefore to inscribe them in the history of cinema. I give them visibility through cinema. When I arrived in Reboleira, I met people who later became friends and, naturally, we began making films together. Some of them also became my collaborators, my accomplices in filmmaking.
In your films, you always work with non-professional actors, often inhabitants of Reboleira. How did you gain their confidence and how do you work with them?
I didn’t arrive in Reboleira thinking ‘I’m a director’. I was first accepted and respected as a person. At the beginning we were very few, a dozen people, and others from the neighbourhood looked at us a little suspiciously. Then, my first film Sunfish was shown in Cannes and they thought it was incredible that Reboleira “existed” beyond the frontiers of the neighbourhood, that their stories were told. They started to believe in my projects. Shoots have always been rather joyful and messy moments, where the filmed matter was stronger than the reality of the film. We have a small crew, it stays intimate, direct, and rooted in the reality of the location.
Throughout the years, I begin to understand and to know very well the people I film. I write for them, my writing is a tribute to them. I feed on their reality, but at the same time, I add fiction to it. The story is made up of a bunch of fictional scenes that nevertheless respect the reality of the filmed people. These are people who play all the while staging their own lives, their daily reality. The scenes are written, there is a very precise script but no one can read it. The actors live in front of your eyes someone spontaneous, and they are not constantly in the process of thinking about the effect they want to produce.
For the character of Spira, it was a little different. His role is a real role of composition. I needed a character which exceeded a little bit his own character and which said something about his times, a character who had already lost his innocence. Regarding the actors, what counts is “belief.” When I am convinced that some guy is the best actor in the world for that role, I think he can see that in my eyes. And in turn, I can see in his eyes whether he believes in me.
In O fim do mundo, misery turns into poetry, into cruel beauty, a bit like in the films of Pasolini. What are your references, the directors that inspire you?
I consider Post-War Italian filmmakers as my brothers in humanity. It’s in their films that I could see, for the first time, people who resembled the people I knew. I have a hard time with cinema that lacks humanity, that lacks texture.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.