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CANNES 2024 Directors’ Fortnight

Review: Savanna and the Mountain


- CANNES 2024: Paulo Carneiro takes us to Covas do Barroso in Portugal for a truly captivating portrait of the local community’s fight against lithium mining

Review: Savanna and the Mountain

It’s in (and with) the land – in (and with) the mountain – that we start our journey. Following the footsteps of the local community of Covas do Barroso, Portugal, we navigate through the cinematic venture proposed in Paulo Carneiro’s latest film, Savanna and the Mountain [+see also:
interview: Paulo Carneiro
film profile
, screening in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. It’s a hybrid movie that portrays the real-life hardships – and, most importantly, the resilience – of this community. These are people who have been fighting against the attempts of British company Savannah Resources to create the biggest European open-pit lithium mine in their midst.

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A duel can be seen as taking place between these two sides – Savannah and the mountain – and the film opts for a fable-like storytelling style, mixed with hints of western visual and narrative notes, as it recounts this tale. The fictional approaches used in this movie enable it to strike a righteous balance between a light, captivating mood and a strong political stance that can easily resonate with the general public. A particular part of the allure stems from who we see on screen and even how we see them: people from Covas do Barroso playing a role that is imbued with a slight touch of fantasy as well as a certain theatrical flair, as they reenact the events that have unfolded over the past few years.

As we are led through the different seasons, and as the threat of the open-pit mine edges closer and becomes ever more real, different forms of movement can be observed: there are calendar-based rituals, different processions that keep elements of cultural memory and local history alive. There are also the things that people are trying to save, the ingredients that make this home for them. But then one can also sense the movement of the community itself, faced with the mine situation, their unity and strength growing stronger every step of the way. We also sense movement through the opportunity to feel and observe different routines and dynamics, as if we had been transported into this town’s very way of life.

Indeed, transport is also a prominent theme: cars, motorbikes and trucks are signs that very clearly situate the audience in terms of which side we’re following (be it the heroes or the enemies). In several scenes, these vehicles are portrayed in the context of the vast landscape: with the occasional use of wide shots, means of transportation can make their way through the landscape, but the director still shows that the scenery, in all its immensity, always prevails.

All of the songs throughout – composed by Carlos Libo – set a very powerful tone. Adopting a distinctive, chant-like lyrical approach, the compositions entail, on one hand, musical elements connected with sounds from the objects in use in agriculture; on the other hand, some of the pieces ooze a feeling of collective participation. And in the end, “collective” is one of the key words in this whole experience: we get a sense of being invited not only to listen to and be aware of what all of these voices have to tell us, but also to join them in their fight.

The mesmerising cinematography lures us in: the precise editing leads us through proceedings, but it’s the overall positive feeling we get in every scene that will stay with us afterwards, despite this being a portrait of hardship. It’s this sensation that elevates the film even further, making it a beautiful, sincere and tender homage to the people of Covas do Barroso, but also a very promising sign of what the future (of film, and of society) could hold.

Savanna and the Mountain is a Bam Bam Cinema (Portugal) production, in co-production with La Pobladora Cine (Uruguay). Its international sales are entrusted to the Portugal Film agency.

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