by Fabien Lemercier
- The Portuguese director Leonor Teles tells a delicate and sweet tale about the passing of time, focusing on a humble yet charismatic fisherman
Winner of the Golden Bear for Best Short Film at Berlin in 2016 with Balada de um Batráquio, the young Portuguese filmmaker Leonor Teles chose to return to her hometown of Villa Franca de Xira, near Lisbon, to shoot her first feature film, the documentary Ashore [+see also:
film profile], which was unveiled in world premiere and in international competition at the 40th Cinéma du Réel festival in Paris.
Some faces almost seem as if they are carved out of stone, and yet they are so expressive. Such is the case for Albertino Lobo, a modest solitary fisherman who works on the river Tagus in his small motorboat. Fairly curt yet very kind, the moustached man in his mid-forties is the central character of a film that keeps its cards somewhat close to its chest. Indeed, after a phase of quiet exposure to the protagonist's daily life (rising before dawn, walking through the snack bar run by his wife Dalia, working on the Tagus, laboriously harvesting shrimp and clams, as well as an outline of the rest of his family, consisting of his two daughters Laura and Lúcia, his son-in-law Tiago and his very young granddaughter Alice), the film becomes a sort of social drama (Albertino's fishing equipment is seized when the local area is declared a nature reserve and permission is required to throw nets – our hero waits, without certainty that he'll ever get authorisation), before finally evolving quietly into a portrait of a family and its generations, culminating in a marriage.
A refusal to dramatise events is what gives Ashore its charm and worth, preferring instead to proceed with small touches here and there in order to create a picture of a life that is lived and passed on, just like the vast river that flows and the huge bridge that allows one to cross it, both of which are ubiquitous in Albertino’s existence, whether he’s standing on his boat contemplating the world around him, or smoking in front of his house. This man of few words says a lot about the state of his country ("they starve people"), his love for his nearest and dearest, the past and his simple outlook on life. Over the course of a few seasons (from autumn to summer), the film paints a subtle picture of a conventional and supportive couple, and the handover to a new generation with all its differences. All of this is done without grand gestures or theatrics however, which could easily lead it to become a tedious chronicle, but which it avoids becoming thanks to the sensitivity of the director, who manages to delicately create endearing characters and give impetus back to the story when it borders on running out of steam (with the help of a few songs by Nat King Cole and Otis Redding, and some beautiful shots of the river – Leonor Teles is also the director of photography for the film). By immersing itself in the rhythm of the unalterable current of existence, Ashore pays modest homage to the humble individuals who are at odds with sensationalism, a choice that calls for a certain patience on the part of the audience, but which bears fruit in the long run.
(Translated from French)
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