Retratos Fantasmas

Retratos Fantasmas
Pictures of Ghosts

Pictures of Ghosts is a multidimensional journey through time, sound, architecture and filmmaking, set in the urban landscape of Recife, Brazilian coastal capital of Pernambuco: a historical and human territory, examined through the great movie theatres that served as spaces of conviviality during the 20th century. Having hosted dreams and progress, these places have also embodied a major transformation on social practices. Combining archive documentary, mystery, film clips and personal memories, Pictures of Ghosts is a map of a city through the lens of cinema.


“Cinemas in city centers are common to many other places in the world, but it so happens that I am from Pernambuco, from Recife, and I set out to show this city’s geography from a personal point of view. Recife is also a city that still enjoys a spectacular cinema like São Luiz, a palace from 1952. Today, there are few cities in the world that still know what that represents.”

Kleber Mendonça Filho1


Charles Tesson: Why is the film called Portraits of Ghosts when it's really about ghost cinemas, or about a city, or rather its downtown, that has become a ghost town?

Kleber Mendonça Filho: The title came in very late in the process, around the last month of March. After seeing the film once again I thought it might be a good idea to acknowledge the presence of ghosts in the film. Ghosts have made appearances in some of my other films and they are strong elements both in films and in cinemas. I am sure you have seen a few ghosts in your lifetime in cinemas, staircases and projection booths. Haven’t you? And let’s not even go into the strong paranormal battleground that exists in Recife and its downtown area. Poetically, anyway.


There is an element of nostalgia, even melancholy in your film. At the same time, through the archive images, we retain something else: to film is to keep a trace of what is going to disappear, or to be transformed. It's a bit like the marquees in the movie theaters that you talk about so much, which inscribe the films in a specific time and context.

I see films as documents, letters which might be rediscovered and re-read in the future, it does not matter if a film is fiction or documentary, “real” or “fantasy”. Now talking to you I might understand that this film came from my own desire to look at old images, many of which I came to discover doing research. Finding new materials at the Cinemateca Brasileira or in a number of families' photo albums and shoe boxes led me to reconnect with old archives, with childhood memories and stories I had heard from older people. It felt right and inspiring. This film helped me write my other script The Secret Agent, which in turn strengthened my connection to Pictures of Ghosts. These older images, still photos, audio and older moving images led me to understand my own city and the neighbourhood I lived in for so many years. And my relationship to cinema, both as a cinephile and as a filmmaker. I think feelings of nostalgia or saudade may be unavoidable once we look at pictures of the past. An honest connection with the past seems to help the present breathe.

Kleber Mendonça Filho in conversation with Charles Tesson2

UPDATED ON 17.04.2024