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IFFR 2023 Big Screen Competition

Edgar Pêra • Director of The Nothingness Club

"I guess it was the film I discussed most with everyone before we finally started shooting"


- We spoke with the director about his feverish homage to the creative genius of Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa

Edgar Pêra • Director of The Nothingness Club

Portuguese director Edgar Pêra has been invited to the International Film Festival in Rotterdam with several of this works in the past, and now. His new film The Nothingness Club [+see also:
film review
interview: Edgar Pêra
film profile
, in which he tries to unite all the different heteronyms of Pessoa, premieres this year in the Big Screen Competition. We talked to the director about his relationship with his protagonist and the production details of the film.

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Cineuropa: Fernando Pessoa is a figure that has inspired you in several of your works so far. Could you tell us more about your relationship with him and his works?
Edgar Pêra: In the '80s, Pessoa's “The Book of Disquiet,” inspired by one of his sub-heteronyms Bernardo Soares, was published for the first time. At that time I completely surrendered to his thoughts about humanity, about self-awareness, and about humans' smallness compared to the cosmic scale or at least to the scale of mankind. I started very early to use his texts in my works. This project started many years ago. I found these three words in Pessoa's text, "The Nothingness Club." And I started imagining what it would be like if each of his heteronyms would work for him and would complete his ideas. These works and notes are of great complexity. For me the core of the film is this particular state when you really are into some kind of activity – not only an artistic one. You feel best when you can concentrate only on this thing – in my case, cinema. But then, you have much more difficulty to connect with other people. It's much more difficult to find something that completes you in mankind. This improbability of love is the fuel of the film. Because I don't think it's impossible, it's just difficult. As Pessoa, I have the will to constantly create something new, but also long for harmony.

How did you develop the script for this film?
Pessoa always created full personas with horoscopes, with a past, and then he created their work. He fragmented himself and looked at his work from different points of view. I think we all have these personas inside of us, but most of them are oppressed. I wanted to show in the film how he would handle all these versions of himself. For reasons due to the pandemic, we had to shoot everything in one place. So I came up with the idea that the character of Pessoa would be in an asylum, one he went to deliberately. So we shot mostly inside and the scenes that were supposed to play in Lisbon and other places, we shot them in the garden of the same building and by the river. The story changed because of the situation, but still it was inspired by Pessoa himself. There is a fictional letter he addresses to a psychiatrist. It is romantic and tragic, more than the ones he wrote to his real friend and lover Ofélia.

You have done films using 3D in the past. How did this experience influence this new film?
I thought about making the film in 3D. But it's a great frustration to know that most people won't see it in 3D and most cinemas won't show it in 3D. So it doesn't make too much sense. At the moment, I am working on what I call “animal intelligence,” what others call “artificial intelligence.” It's a project about Pessoa and Lovecraft, called Telepathic letters. It's about what the two have in common, and that they both are in a way disconnected cosmic spectators.

What were the biggest challenges you had to face with the production of the film?
The biggest challenge was with the art production, how to create the images and illustrate the script. We worked for a year together with the production designer and we shared a lot of ideas. We knew we would shoot in a factory and adapted to the location. I guess it was the film I discussed most with everyone before we finally started shooting. We had a lot of material, many scenes we cut out at the end. So many that I'm thinking of doing an installation with them. It was also difficult to choose from Pessoa's words. It was a vey complex investigation of the words and images. Actually, it's not really completed, even though the film is finished now.

You have attended the International Rotterdam Film Festival with several of your films in the past. What relationship do you have with the festival?
It's a non-monogamous one, but the only real one. This is mostly because of the people involved in it and because of the concept of the festival, which tries to find new frontiers for cinema. It's not using some algorithm that defines what auteur cinema is.

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