Saturday, July 22, 2017

Farpões baldios

Entrance Is an Exit (Field-Trip) / Commanding of the Soil


Marta Mateus, the director of this 25-minute long Portuguese film, provides an English prefatory note for Farpões baldios [Barbs Wastelands, 2017], her debut, which reads:

"In the end of the 19th century the peasants in Portugal started a courageous struggle for better work conditions. After generations of starving misery, the Carnation Revolution sowed the promise of an Agrarian Reform. Mostly in the Alentejo region, these rural workers occupied the huge properties where they were once submitted to the power of their Masters. Perhaps the lost seed of other fruits...

It is said in Alentejo, when something is lost, those who are looking should start to walk back to the beginning. We must pray and ask Saint Lucy [Lucia] to clear our vision, so we can see and look better.

The protagonists of this film, resistants of this struggle, many of them illiterate, working since childhood, tell their story to the youngsters of today, in their own words."

The opening shot is an entrance or an exit: A man emerges from a slab of darkness. No arbitrary diction: Mateus posits the void as material. As a monolith. This idea will recur a few times through the rest of the film. The idea is that of the ephemeral against the material — "against" in the sense of both "up against" (leaning against; material) and "versus" (pitted against; ephemeral, relational). The emerging man drags a pitchfork in his wake — the tines claw the clay — the sound is terrible.

"When the light is mine / I felt gravity pull""Feeling Gravitys Pull", R.E.M., 1985

Saint Lucia (Luzia), the light is hers. Patron protectress of eyesight.

Black holes, infinite density: wastelands, barbs. Entryways, portals. An illusion of men emerging. Ghosts. Data. The barn is the citadel. The men are protecting their citadel. "Walk back to the beginning."

The kids are the inhabitants of the forests; they're the tourists of the forest. They cross the border of the old wall and enter the citadel ("the barns"). The two men chase them; they forbid Catarina and the boy to tell of what they saw.

A sylvan community. "Ashes from home will save the world."

"Now we weed. Then the pruning. And we sow the carnations."

In all of this, Mateus's Iberian Lucia. The eyes of the boy who attempts to stare ahead, focusing hard outward, but still kept navigating a crazed contradictory interior.

Sacrilege has been attributed to nearly every saint before her or his beatification. The boy who walks backwards can sight the road behind him.

"Maria, Teresa, Luzia. Three shoots, three flowers, three fruits. A trunk, a treetop, a life. A beam, a table, three chairs. Three days, three tales, a handful of times. Two mules and two oxen, for a tractor. A hundred steps forward, a hundred years back. An empty plate. And a shot in the back."

"The accused ascends to the high throne, the shepherd moves to the deep valley." Mateus moves the aphorism back, so to speak, into the mouths of babes, itself a tradition biblical, Huilletian-Straubian, Godardian, Costan. (Philip Roth, in a later interview, in Talmudic paraphrase: "Let the child speak.") —

The woman gathering brush and wood recounts the story of the snake around her leg, to Catarina: "Squeezing, squeezing," she inserts. The woman: "I was screaming, screaming... That day, half a leg, a pay of hunger." Her companion: "All of this was the Defesa, from the mountain, to here, where the pigsties were." The tale of an uprising. "Out of crying, my mother's eyes cut holes in the ground." They perform upon the kids a blessing of Saint Lucy/Lucia. The sounds of sheep bells. The community gathers, watches.

On that: Patrick Holzapfel's excellent essay, published last month, on Farpões baldios is here. He too senses the back-and-forth, simultaneity, whatever you want to call it, about the history and the present, the void and the open, the paradox that is the wound: he says: "It is a film in which two hearts beat: The first belongs to tenderness, the second to severity. The first belongs to the present, the second to the past. The first belongs to the young, the second to the old. Between those movements lies a shaking that opens a world of concentration." He also says: "One could argue that many shots are seen through the eyes of children or ghosts." He says: "The film looks at the stones and dirt with eyes that want more."

I have nothing theoretical to say about this movie I've watched seven times: the above are my notes mingled with my thoughts, neither closed off. Much of these little images are pointless without the sound: take:

Some of the children board the bus that penetrates the building (same threatening vector as a bar-surface in My Darling Clementine), it pulls away from Alentejo. The citadel, closed Parthenon or what you want it to be, stands silent. Fine. There is a new term they use in American media called "the optics of" something — meaning how it looks, to the media camera. I of course hate this word but I also like how simple it is to flip its letters to its antithesis: "the topics of." I'll leave this piece here then, for topics, optics, close-offs in talking, and rewatches, in anticipation when more see this masterpiece —

— That lets the cast in the titles read their respective names, one by one.

Argumento, realização e montagem: Marta Mateus.


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