Hugo Vieira da Silva • Director
by Vitor Pinto
Currently living in Berlin, 32-year old Portuguese director Hugo Vieira da Silva presented his first feature film, Body Rice [+see also:
film profile], in Rotterdam. Produced by Paulo Branco for Clap Filmes, the film rejects a linear narrative and reveals a director on the crossroads of several artistic influences: music, dance, installations and performance art.
Cineuropa: Body Rice was initially conceived as a documentary about alternative ways of life in Alentejo (in the south of Portugal) and about German young people who had been sent there as part of social reintegration programmes. Why did you switch to fiction?
Hugo Vieira da Silva: I felt seduced by the people I had met there, people living in communities. I thought that doing a documentary would be a good idea but then, as I was shooting, I felt I could fall into a kind of morbid curiosity about them and that I would probably violate their privacy. That's why I tried to distance myself from the traditional documentary and create something that we can ultimately call fiction. My script, however, is a patchwork of stories I was told by a lot of those people, who are not in the cast, but who take part in the film indirectly. They were my co-writers.
How did you direct your actors, considering that there was very little dialogue and that they had to express their desires and frustrations through their bodies against the landscape? Did you see Alentejo as a character?
The way I approached the parts with them was related to the themes of the film: the absence of cultural references, the erasure of a social background… I wanted a radical cut. We brought them to Alentejo and they had a cultural shock. Some of them reacted aggressively at the start as they were used to building characters using different methods. I wanted to empty the psychological side of the characters and get away from linear narrative. But drawing out their psychological side and focusing on their bodies doesn't mean that they have become hollow.
Europe is a very normative territory and Alentejo is a bit far from that, at least it was in the early 1990s, when the film was set. There was a lot of freedom there. It was seen by many Germans as a place where they could start a new and alternative kind of life. I was so interested in the landscape that I tried to avoid filming the sky. I film the ground, the dust. There is a clash being the bodies and the space.
Raves are also a kind of a non-normative party, that's why I decided to film them over there under the open sky. At a rave, bodies can express themselves freely. For one of the scenes we built a kind of wall of loudspeakers… It was almost like an art installation.
Before Body Rice you directed documentaries about contemporary art movements, which is a hybrid domain, a mixture of different disciplines. Does your film follow that trend, evoking music, performance and art installations?
As an artist, I see myself as a mediator between the world outside and my own work. My film must reflect the moment I am living, but cinema has always been interdisciplinary. I am dealing with film material but the way I do that is probably the expression of what is happening nowadays: installation, performance art, contemporary dance (which I am very fond of).
You tend to reject linear narrative. Nevertheless, you include a clip of an experimental German film from the late 1980s, which works like a possible flashback of the characters.
Some people think cinema is the art of narrative. I am not interested in the kind of cinema that has a strong narrative and cause-effect events. I guess sometimes we can fall into the trap of the commonplace, which does not reflect reality. However, I needed to have a storyline so I used that clip, which is set in Berlin when the wall was about to fall, and that opens a possibility to what the characters may have experienced before being sent to Alentejo.
With Body Rice screening in several festivals (Hong Kong, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Bangkok) do you have the time to focus on a new film?
I am developing a new project and I hope it can go into production in the upcoming months. It will be a Portuguese/German co-production set in Berlin. We will be looking for a German partner.
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