- In the presence of Marta Mateus
“Since I was born I have heard the legends, songs and stories of the Alentejo. All of them, known and said by heart. These memories have a deeper, I would say almost secret, meaning, of the chronological events and less expected circumstances, giving them an effect of reality, which traverses the historical time.
The people who raised me ate bread with olive oil and shared a sardine between. They worked from dawn to dusk, with the same age I was, when they taught me not to leave soup on my plate. Their rough hands rubbed my hair, their dry-burned lips kissed my face, restituting an image of reality to their words. Over the years, their memories were to me as a second-hand memory, a past that also belonged to me, of which I was a part. (...)
The story I proposed is a story that wishes to walk backwards, just like Miguel does. These children return, through this story, to another childhood, to another life. This return was also lived by me, at the same age, when stories are easy to live, when we see ghosts we can't ever forget. To listen to these people, who were in conditions of misery, was for me to wake up from a certain somnambulism, to awaken my senses of sight. ‘The dead open the eyes of the living,’ says the popular proverb. Maria Catarina prays to Santa Luzia in order to clean the child's eyes so he can see again. Here, seeing is understanding both past and present. These popular prayers are said in order to rid the person of some evil.
These were the gestures we wanted to follow, the movements we have sought in this work, to look at the details of that landscape, where the wastelands extend to a vision of what it is today and what it was before. It seems to me opportune at this present moment, in the light of this particular story, in the confrontation of these times, that a child looks at a seed, which being so small may seem insignificant, but that at the sight of its potency, it may be a present with future, a mirror of bigger things.”
“Farpões, Baldios, the stunning first film of Marta Mateus, follows a lineage begun by America's cine-historiographer John Ford, more directly politicized and de-commercialized by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, and re-contextualized to Portugal’s social history in revolutionary digital aesthetics by Pedro Costa. The film confronts us with a provincial landscape populated by a people dangerously left adrift in a country that seems on the verge of forgetting its past. Those who find bountiful reserves of power, expression and outrage in Straub-Huillet and Costa’s works will immediately recognize the striking wide-angle photography, low framing of uncannily forceful architecture and foliage, and bold, presentational posing and declamations of actors in this film. (Costa is, in fact, thanked in the closing credits.) It is a genuine pleasure and provocation to see Costa’s work, which receives much praise but whose influence on the next generation we’re continually looking for, so continued. Thankfully escaping the orbit of masculine auteurship, the torch for a new generation is clearly and vividly lit by Mateus.”
“In the case of Mateus, the kind of work that goes into each frame is reminiscent of very few filmmakers. As it is customary to give some names in order to place a new voice among the old, let me get that out of the way: D. W. Griffith, Jean-Marie Straub, Danièle Huillet, Pedro Costa, António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro. Here Mateus opens a first dialogue, the dialogue with cinema. (...) The second dialogue takes place between the old farmers and the children. During the Revolution, the farmers occupied their masters’ huge properties, scenes we only feel shadows of in the film, recalling Thomas Harlan’s Torre Bella (1975). Yet, while Harlan stated that the revolutionary actions in his films were also motivated and changed due to the presence of the camera, Mateus’ camera has no choice but being either too early or too late. Too early refers to the children who, like in Paul Meyer’s Déja s’envole la fleur maigre (1960), inspire the places of former struggle. Always on the move, observing, searching and being searched for, it becomes more and more unclear if it is the young ones who thwart history like phantoms or the old stories and legends that haunt the region. (...) The film tells of an emancipation that derives from dissent and play at the same time. In order to continue, we have need for such a film.”
“Before referencing memory, and the relationship that men and women of different generations establish with it, we should say some other things about this fleeting poetic portrait of a place and its people. The references that the film honors and renews are remarkable. That the pulses of Ford, Straub-Huillet, Reis, and Costa are present is a happy evidence of it [Michael Guarneri linked the film to Reis & Cordeiro's Ana (1982)]. Mateus doesn’t make carbon copies; rather, she invokes and projects herself into that tradition, from her own time. It is good to know somebody young is there to continue this legacy. (...)
The other protagonist is the people, an entity always evoked, somewhat abstract and often confused with the representation of a crowd. The wide shot in which all the members of this land – situated in the South of Portugal – “pose” for Mateus could represent the condensation – into just that one shot – of the meaning of all the other shots. Perhaps. However, the hands of a grandmother on a table covered with a tablecloth with flower motifs is what encapsulates best the mystery of that bloodless but still irreplaceable word. Along with the poetry recited in that fragment, that’s all that can be said, without exaggerating, about the people. The rest of the film is play, work, and leisure. And also memories.”
“Marta Mateus’s Barbs, Wastelands is a painterly, political kind-of pastoral that’s fully aware of its resemblance to the cinema of John Ford, Alexander Dovzhenko, Danièle Huillet & Jean-Marie Straub, and Pedro Costa. But the film distinguishes itself from this daunting artistic bloodline by the elegant ways in which Mateus foregrounds her concern with the transmission (and subsequent mutation) of history as it migrates across generations. (...) The children’s performances in Barbs, Wastelands are especially striking, introducing a measure of restless energy to the film’s otherwise rigorous succession of tableaux. In one of the only shots marked by camera movement, a boy and a girl walk along a path, arms locked; she faces forward as he faces backward, the camera tracking carefully behind them as they make their way down a hill. Together they comprise something like a Janus-headed twist on Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, gliding ahead with half of its double-gaze fixed upon something in the past and the other half upon a future that, under the right conditions and however improbably, might just redeem that which came before.”
“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.”
“In it I saw glimpses of beauty, bodies of recognition in the process of resisting. ‘They were like us, but different,’ says the girl. And later on, in a truly fulgurous scene, she entwines her arm in the boy’s arm, one walking backwards, the other forwards, until the beginning of something, that needs not be named but purely to be seen.”
Sílvia das Fadas7
- 1. Marta Mateus, “Note of intentions,” Cannes Press kit, 2017.
- 2. Daniel Kasman, “Cannes 2017. New Portuguese Cinema,” MUBI Notebook, May 31, 2017.
- 3. Patrick Holzapfel, “Shadow Under This Red Rock: Farpões, Baldios by Marta Mateus,” Jugend Ohne Film, June 24, 2017.
- 4. Roger Koza, “Farpões, baldios,” FICUNAM catalogue, 2018. You can read Koza's original Spanish text on Con Los Ojos Abiertos, February 13, 2018.
- 5. Dan Sullivan, “Festivals: Vienna 2017,” Film Comment, November 29, 2017.
- 6. Craig Keller, “Farpões Baldios,” Cinemasparagus, July 22, 2017.
- 7. Sílvia das Fadas, “A Community of Rebels,” TIFF The Review, June 7, 2017.
« La caméra n'a servi ici que de crayon pour enregistrer ce que la main ne peut noter.
L'observateur s'est contenté de filmer les scènes de la vie de tous les jours d'un village de magiciens noirs, sans en provoquer une seule, et sans même tenter le moindre truquage. »
Carton de titre Les Magiciens de Wanzerbé
“In his doctoral thesis (La Religion et la Magie Songhaï), Rouch comments that of all the ceremonies that he had been able to see in Africa up until that point, including all the possession ceremonies, this ceremony in Wanzerbé, on account of its gravity and its dramatic effect on the audience, was “without doubt the most beautiful and most moving.” From an ethnographic point of view, cultural anthropologist Paul Stoller regards this film as one of Rouch’s most important, particularly the sequence of the vomiting up of the sorcerer’s chain, a seemingly miraculous act that neither he nor Rouch has been able to explain. (...) There are many moments in Les Magiciens de Wanzerbé, such as the remarkable close-up of a severed vulture’s head in profile that is slowly turned to look at the camera at the beginning of the film – an undeniably “disturbing object” with strong Surrealist resonances – that provide clear evidence of a powerful cinematic sensibility at work.”
“When Rouch screened Les magiciens to a group of physicians, they proposed to test the hypothesis that a person could carry a metal chain in her or his stomach. Believing that chain production was simply a matter of sleight of hand, they asked if they could accompany Rouch to Wanzerbé with a portable X-ray machine. They wanted to X-ray the sohanci dancers to see if they really carried chains in their stomachs. Rouch agreed, and a few months later, he and two French physicians traveled to Wanzerbé with a generator and a portable X-ray machine. At dusk after a long trip, the trio of Europeans sat down on canvas director’s chairs and poured themselves a whiskey to celebrate the end of a long day. Just then, the homeward-bound senior sohanci of Wanzerbé walked in front of them. In a flash, one of the physicians fell from his chair. Violent convulsions rocked his body. The second physician tried to minister to his colleague – without success. Rouch suggested they abandon the experiment and return immediately to Niger’s capital, Niamey, where the convulsing physician could be evacuated back to France. Bantering gibberish, the crazed physician finally made it back to Paris. As soon as he found himself on French soil, the symptoms disappeared. He never returned to Niger, and no one ever again proposed to X-ray a sohanci. Rouch never offered an explanation – at least to me – of this stream of events. Through the film Les magiciens de Wanzerbé and this story, he did suggest that sohanci possess knowledge “not yet known to us.” In so doing, he challenged us to stretch the boundaries of our imaginations.”
- 1. Paul Henley, The Adventure of the Real: Jean Rouch and the Craft of Ethnographic Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009): 44-46.
- 2. Paul Stoller, "Jean Rouch and the Power of the Between,” In William Rothman (ed.), Three Documentary Filmmakers: Errol Morris, Ross McElwee, Jean Rouch (Albany: Suny Press, 2009): 129.