Review: Where is This Street? or With No Before and After
- João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata join forces to take on one of the cornerstones of Portuguese cinema: Paulo Rocha’s The Green Years
Brilliant Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues, who gave us queer gems such as The Ornithologist [+see also:
interview: João Pedro Rodrigues
film profile] - presented in Locarno 2016 and awarded Best Director - and the very recent Will-o’-the-Wisp [+see also:
film profile], presented in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, is linking up with his partner (in crime) João Rui Guerra da Mata in order to present a destabilising remake of Paulo Rocha’s classic Portuguese movie The Green Years, out of competition, at the very same Locarno Film Festival. But whilst Where is This Street? or With No Before and After [+see also:
film profile] definitely forces Rodrigues to step outside of his comfort zone, the filmmaker’s sensual and highly elegant artistic universe is never too far away. The Green Years - the cult 1963 film and veritable flagbearer for New Portuguese Cinema – is elevated by way of the director’s sensitivity (also shared by Guerra da Mata), fleeting kisses between men, hands placed lasciviously on trouser inseams, Uber delivery drivers, dog grooming and the inevitable Covid pandemic.
The task undertaken by the two co-directors is particularly ambitious: they revisit the emblematic locations (almost frame by frame) and the themes of the first film (by Rocha, who was effectively Rodrigues’ mentor) - namely the restless love felt by the two young protagonists and the difficulty and excitement involved in integrating an alienating urban world. The starting point for this aesthetic reflection is the view onto the street from Rodrigues’ apartment which he inherited from his grandparents, and which looks directly over one of the legendary film’s sets. Like Portuguese versions of Gilbert and Georges, half-way through the film Rodrigues and da Mata emerge from this famous window to watch the protagonist of Rocha’s film, Isabel Ruth, who is now eighty years old, as she makes her way, with her eternal trademark elegance, along the same streets she walked down sixty years previously. Having become some sort of character from a musical, Ruth becomes the very soul of the city which is being revisited by the two directors, a city seen through a loving gaze: stylishly decadent, sophisticated and mischievous.
Whilst this particular undertaking undoubtedly requires audiences to know The Green Years almost by heart, the film does also allow novices who are willing and capable of losing themselves in a form of visual and, in some respects, mystical contemplation, to wander around a city emptied of its inhabitants. Intended to be read more as a free jazz partition (composed of extracts from the original music in Rocha’s film) rather than an enjoyable pop song, Where is This Street? or With No Before and After probably deserved to be screened in a museum space, ideally in parallel with its forebear-film.
In addition to revisiting the locations made famous by The Green Years which, free from city crowds, acquire an even more Antonionian flavour, Where is This Street? or With No Before and After also turns the oppression experienced by Rocha’s young protagonists in a version of Lisbon suffocated by the dictatorship, into pandemic discomfort and claustrophobic fear for a highly uncertain future. It’s not only the locations which are changed; it’s also the society they accommodate which is fundamentally altered. What remains, therefore, of Lisbon - a city much-beloved by the directors - and its tranquil yet rebellious spirit?
It has to be said, Where is This Street? or With No Before and After is a niche film which can only be appreciated with patience and a daringly contemplative mindset, but perhaps this is where its subversive strength really lies…
(Translated from Italian)
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