- As evocative as it is obtuse, the debut film from Gonçalo Waddington aims to give voice to the unspeakable in this story of a child abductee who, years later, finally finds his way home
How can a film portray something that only those who have experienced it can truly comprehend? What is there to hold on to, when hardly anyone alive can tell you what it’s like? Such is the rare dilemma facing actor and playwright-turned-director Gonçalo Waddington in his first full-length feature, Patrick [+see also:
interview: Gonçalo Waddington
film profile], about a young man on the cusp of adulthood who returns home years after being abducted as a child. Based on an already divisive premise, it feels like a leap of faith for Waddington, and it’s in the running for the Golden Shell here at the 67th San Sebastián International Film Festival.
The Portuguese director drops us into the story just before young Patrick (Hugo Fernandes, carrying almost the entire film on his shoulders) arrives at the second great turning point of his life; a moment that will once again bring everything crashing down around him. After living in a tailspin of loneliness, toxic sexual relationships (with men as well as women), vandalism and wild parties in his home in Paris, Patrick is crying out to be arrested, and when the police finally come knocking, they will begin to understand a little of the person behind the youthful mask, still dotted with adolescent acne. Because Patrick is really Mário, a boy who disappeared many years ago from a rural town in Portugal, leaving a broken family behind him.
The French police, working with their Portuguese counterparts, come to the decision that Mário should be returned to Portugal and taken back to his family. The one to open the door is his mother, (Teresa Sobral) a woman irreversibly changed after years of mourning a child who vanished into thin air... and who is no longer the person he once was, either. Between mother and son there develops a strained relationship woven from guilt, doubt and, above all, silence. Their first real conversation is about the flowers that she learned to grow (“because they wouldn’t leave me”). Later on, Mário’s aunt (Carla Maciel) and cousin (Alba Baptista) arrive to see him for themselves, leading to his first meaningful conversation about his inner life. They, too, offer another chance to connect with the past. Ultimately, it is his father (Adriano Carvalho), almost entirely absent from family life, who acts as a catalyst for Mário’s pain in one of the most lucidly expressive scenes in the whole film. Lurking off-screen is a mysterious figure named Mark, whom Mário calls compulsively, trying to start a conversation he is incapable of having. He finds himself forced to decide whether or not to reclaim his original identity, an identity that no longer feels like his after all those years away. How he spent those years, meanwhile, remains an enigma.
Waddington makes the choice to remain silent on the agonising thoughts and feelings of the main characters, instead inviting viewers to use their imaginations. This is a risky strategy that makes Patrick a thought-provoking, powerful and disconcerting film, although the pacing suffers from a certain lethargy that might test the patience of many. Eschewing all stylistic flourishes in favour of a somewhat austere approach, and with an orchestral score right out of Alberto Iglesias’ play book, courtesy of Bruno Pernadas, Patrick is an intriguing study of an experience that defies language, and how people manage to piece their lives back together — or don’t.
(Translated from Spanish)
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