It was love that came and went: over one and another Lisbon, in 1963 and 2023

The feature film “Where Is This Street? or With No Before and  After” (directed by João Pedro Rodrigues and João Rui Guerra da Mata, premiered in 2023) is an unusual film; unusual for the quality of strangeness and beauty and the sense of resistance and urgency it holds. In it, strangeness and beauty result concomitant alongside a force and a need with which they reveal themselves as dialogues.
“Where Is This Street? or Without Before or After” follows closely the plans and spaces of “The Green Years” (the first feature film directed by Paulo Rocha, premiered in 1963), showing an unusual distance and proximity for six decades. Faced with this, some questions may be asked about the raison d’être of the film by Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata: first, why repeat such a special feature film? Or, reformulating: why remake “The Green Years”, today, assembling a necessarily different film but rotating it with the same material, that is, with the same décors? Is there, in fact, any benefit in this almost tautological way of reviewing but almost unprecedented to see? Not being uncommon, in cinema, the act of remaking filmic objects, it is even less common to extend this procedure of revisitation under the ruthless rigor experienced by Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata. In countercyclic, if the shots have exact correspondence to those of Rocha’s film, the sound and image contained therein (the backgrounds and characters) are always others, are versions. Sixty years have passed, however, and the conclusion after the viewing of “Where Is This Street? or Without Before or After” is that the city is and is not the same as the cinema is and is not the same. Nor could they be. Instead, the actress and the character remain, Isabel Ruth remains, Ilda prolongs. That is why the film and its reception are justified.

At the origin of the film by Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata is “Os Verdes Anos”, right, but also an idea of affiliation and heritage that points to a period of Portuguese cinema in tangência with a specific moment of Portuguese architecture. In both cases, a new era opened in cinema and modern in the city. The 1950s had ended, exhausted, and some ways of (not) thinking cinema along with others of (not) building the city were conducive to substantial change. Lisbon, in fact, looked like another, had become another. From exhaustion to restlessness, from tedious had passed to nonconformism (1).  The territory and the people who inhabited it ensured surprises, trends and ambition to cut with the instituted. Perhaps this is why several films have begun to reveal it, using the modern spaces that emerged (2).  Now, this is where the indiscretion of Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata demonstrated in the card that establishes the film:

“From the window of our room we can see a décor of ‘Os Verdes Anos’, the inaugural film of Cinema Novo Português, directed by Paulo Rocha in 1963.”

However, if what is written shares that the directors of “Where is this street? or Without Before or After” know well the area and neighboring buildings, does not show that Rocha also lived there. But no need, since the décors of “The Green Years” come dissected in the exteriors and interiors of all scenes. It is solved, then, one of the mysteries of the film about strangeness and beauty: the relationship of love, which comes and goes, which comes from the places, the houses that its authors inhabit and the streets that travel. In short, Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata (like Rocha, after all) only used their most familiar territory as décor.

Of strangeness and beauty

For Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata, proceed to “Where Is This Street? or Without Before or After” will have corresponded, therefore, to a research impulse about a film that they know well through places that will know perhaps even better. It has derived from the unrest of an extended, long-time experience about cinema and architecture in general and about a film and a particular neighborhood (Alvalade). Still on the card, again, Forest War ends with the question that begins the film:

“Could it be that your grandparents were watching from the window when Isabel Ruth and Rui Gomes, Ilda and Júlio de ‘Os Verdes Anos’, held their first hand?

The strangeness and beauty of “Where Is This Street? or Without Before or After” therefore come from doubt, what remains to be recognized and what is yet to be discovered. They come from what remains.

In this 2022 film (only premiered commercially at the end of 2023), besides looking at 1963 under archaeological rigor and little or nothing nostalgic, remains a seductive incongruity. With the complicity of director Fernando Matos Silva (3) and the scientific support of historian Rita Gomes Ferrão, it will have been possible to map almost all the decors and camera locations of “Os Verdes Anos”. The movements, axes, speeds and camera lenses come from the obstinate rigor of the directors. As a result, the plans will have been designed, planned and executed equal to each of the plans of “The Green Years”, as if it were a real camera replacement.

With the exception of the close-ups with the leaves of the argument annotated by Matos Silva, there are only three segments that do not follow this strategy of reprise or, at least, do not follow the original sequence of “Os Verdes Anos”. The first follows simply from the use of a sequence of plans withdrawn from “The Green Years”. Short, in the original black and white, the transposition is justified because it is the only décor that Rodrigues, Guerra da Mata and his team will not have identified (4). It remains, therefore, in the film as the trail caused by a kind of latent doubt. It is the loose end, the enigmatic piece that remains. In this sequence, we see Afonso (played by Paulo Renato) placing tiles on the wall of an interior space while listening off his somewhat condescending reflection on the couple Ilda/ Júlio (played by Isabel Ruth and Rui Gomes, respectively). The second segment is given by the movement of what is shown on television to the images of wild animals in the Lisbon Zoo. Humorous, unexpected, the shots of giant giraffes filmed by Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata leave the screen to the outside, contrasting with the current interior of an abandoned office on the intersection of the Avenue of the United States of America and Avenidade de Roma. It even seems, with this change, that the Lisbon centrality of yore is gone. The «larger buildings, from our neighborhood», which Ilda refers to on the terrace of the Santa Justa Elevator, and which are those of the intersection, because, after all, they are not so new, so large, nor so important. The third and last segment, the most relevant, has been divided into two moments caused by the dazzling presence of Ruth/ Ilda, in a tribute to the actress but also to the character of Rocha’s film. One happens during the day, roughly a third of the length of the film, and the other at night, preceding the end of the film. In both, Ruth/Ilda appears wandering by day and dancing at night. In the first, where he will have given his hand to Julio, for the first time, he repeats the walk and the spaces singing and giving new senses to the place. In the second, after waking up in the present, without Julius, it inspires a decisive ghostly march for those who know “The Green Years”.

“Where Is This Street? or With no Before and  After” is then a strange and beautiful film, with and without narrative, about exterior and interior spaces, public and private, inhabited by people and ghosts (5).

Of resistance and of urgency

For the viewer, “Where Is This Street? or With no Before and After” presents codes to be deciphered. It will always correspond to a hybrid film object (6) with new vision, updated perhaps, on “The Green Years”, one of the key films of the New Portuguese Cinema. It is therefore a film with appeals to courage and urgency. “Unclassifiable”, as defined by Francesco Grieco in the presentation text of the film for the 2022 Locarno Film Festival, in the Fuori Concorso section:

“is a film where experimentation reigns in interrogating the world for domesticating through cinematic images.” (7)

Laurie Anderson, still at the same Swiss festival, saw it and commented on it. He said it was a cinematic exercise that “breaks all the rules he thought existed.” (8)

Its genre is varied, therefore, nuanced. It has precepts of musical, period, documentary, comedy, and even science fiction (9).  Both explores hints of comicity, remembering the gestures of Hulot (played by Jacques Tati in his own films), and presents itself as a post-apocalyptic sub-genre, stimulated by the warnings of distance and propaganda caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus (10).

Its format can also be plural, in this case double. “Where is this street? or With no  Before and After” can be projected in the cinema, the place of excellence to see it sparingly, as can be in gallery and in sync with “The Green Years”. The suggestion is left to the directors and programmers.

Its time is pressed. If the narrative of “The Green Years” takes place, apparently, over three weeks, the narrative of “Where is this Street? or No Before or After” takes place, it is believed, over two days and two nights. If the narrative time of the 1963 film expands, that of 2023 contracts. Just like it creases on that card that opens the film:

“We live in the Bairro de Alvalade in Lisbon, in a modern building built by João Pedro’s grandfather in 1960.”

Its map is identical, as if the répérage obeys a repetition method. However, nuances emerge. It’s all a bit like the common life of Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata that, with decades in this neighborhood, allows them to recognize the spaces with acuity and imagine them with intimacy. In addition to the feature film in question, João Pedro Rodrigues filmed several films between Bairro de Alvalade and Cidade Universitária (11).  And the final sequence of “Where is this Street? or With no Before and After” ends up showing it. In the middle of the intersection of Avenida dos EUA and Avenida de Roma, where Julio runs off without escape, Ruth now appears. He is replaced by her. The camera rises to a sharp angle, as in “The Green Years”, leaving this time the actress/ character sing and dance. Instead of the dramatic, prison ending of Rocha’s film, the end of Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata’s film is festive, free. Nothing better as a sign of resistance, as a tribute to life and cinema, as Paulo Rocha recalled in an interview:

“(…) the world of passions – that is, of jealousy, revenge, doubt – one cannot shoot with the camera at the same height. People’s desire flies (…) (12)

Finally, it is important to recover the title, “Where is this Street? or With no Before and After”, which proceeds from two sentences heard in “The Green Years”. The first, a question, is posed by Julio after his arrival in Lisbon, at the exit of Rossio Station. Abroad, when asking for help from an old man (played by Alberto Ghira), Afonso’s nephew asks “where is this street?” he has pointed out. Because he does not know the toponymy and, immediately, the city itself, Julius seeks to know the place that fell to him in luck, in the exodus that he had just practiced, coming from the field to the city. The second sentence, “without before or after”, is sung by Tereza Paula, in the homonymous theme of the film (whose lyrics belong to Pedro Tamen), permanent memory for those who have seen the film Rocha.

“It was the love

who would come and go:

both of us

it was a heat

that cooled

without before or after…

Was a secret

with no one to listen to:

were mistakes

and it was a fear,

death to laugh

in our green years…” (13)

Recited during the dance of the protagonists Ilda and Júlio, in the noble hall of the Almada-Carvalhais Palace, in Rua das Gaivotas (where the headquarters of the Casa Pia Atlético Clube), today abandoned and delapidado, the song serves as a background to a loving choreography, in a kind of flower executed by two and also serves to recognize the urgent poetic determination of “The Green Years”. Together, it results in one of the most beautiful travellings of Portuguese cinema, in rhymes with the windows and a street that runs outside.

 

João Rosmaninho, February, 2024

 

frame “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (JPR+JRGM), 00:08:21.

© Terratreme Filmes, House on Fire,

Filmes Fantasma, 2022.

frame de “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (PR), 00:07:53.

© Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema,

1963 / Midas Filmes, 2015.

 

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (JPR+JRGM), 00:08:21.

© Terratreme Filmes, House on Fire,

Filmes Fantasma, 2022.

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (PR), 00:07:53.

© Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema,

1963 / Midas Filmes, 2015.

 

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (JPR+JRGM), 00:08:21.

© Terratreme Filmes, House on Fire,

Filmes Fantasma, 2022.

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After”(PR), 00:07:53.

© Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema,

1963 / Midas Filmes, 2015.

 

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (JPR+JRGM), 00:08:21.

© Terratreme Filmes, House on Fire,

Filmes Fantasma, 2022.

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After”(PR), 00:07:53.

© Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema,

1963 / Midas Filmes, 2015.

 

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (JPR+JRGM), 00:08:21.

© Terratreme Filmes, House on Fire,

Filmes Fantasma, 2022.

frame of “Where Is This Street? or

With No Before and  After” (PR), 00:07:53.

© Cinemateca Portuguesa – Museu do Cinema,

1963 / Midas Filmes, 2015.

 

NOTES

1. It is curious that, in the feature film “Birds of Clipped Wings” (directed by Artur Ramos, premiered in 1963), contemporary of “The Green Years”, one of the characters, Elsa (played by Lucia Amram), reading “L’Ennui”, the French translation of “La Noia” (book written by Alberto Moravia, originally published in 1960). Indeed, “The Boredom”, the title of the book in Portuguese, would be what many of the people of the city and the characters of the film proposed

2. It is curious that, in the feature film “Birds of Clipped Wings” (directed by Artur Ramos, premiered in 1963), contemporary of “The Green Years”, one of the characters, Elsa (played by Lucia Amram), reading “L’Ennui”, the French translation of “La Noia” (book written by Alberto Moravia, originally published in 1960). Indeed, “The Boredom”, the title of the book in Portuguese, would be what many of the people of the city and the characters of the film proposed

3. Assistant director of “Os Verdes Anos” and whose planning is shown in “Onde Fica Esta Rua? or Without Before or After” in close-ups of the document with the handwritten annotations by himself.

4. It is possible that such an interior space – today disappeared, at least, with the same characteristics – corresponds to one of two that, in the thanks of the final credits of “Os Verdes Anos”, is mentioned as “Cervejaria Berlengas” or “Pastelaria Suprema”.

5. Eventually, even severed bodies populate the film. It is, however, a subject for another analysis

6. Rodrigues and Guerra da Mata suspect that this is something between the unpublished, the remake, and the making-of

7. Available online https://www.locarnofestival.ch/news/2022/08/07_08/Onde-Fica-Esta-Rua.html. Accessed January 7, 2024.

8. In moderate conversation with Khesrau Behroz in “The Future of Attention” (24-hour program, 11-12 August 2022). Available online https://www.locarnofestival.ch/locarno75/locarno-extra/A-24h-long-talk-on-the-Future-of-Attention.html, accessed February 4, 2024.

9. At some point, in the presentation of the film at Cinema Trindade, in Porto (on December 3, 2023), and on a hypothetical (and perhaps useless) categorization of the film, the directors confessed to having felt doubts during the long process of conception, production, shooting and post-production.

10. Shooting began in October 2019 and ended in July 2021, and followed much of the pandemic period, in particular the lockdowns.

11. For example, Avenida do Rio de Janeiro, perpendicular to that of the United States of America, is presented in Travelling when traveled by Sérgio (played by Ricardo Meneses) in his nocturnal labor ambulations, in “O Fantasma” (2000). The Hospital de Santa Maria, near the Rectory of the university city, is pointed from the interior of a car driven by Alberto (played by Carloto Cotta), in “Odete” (2005).

12. Kathleen Gomes. “No Céu de Lisboa” in Público – Y. January 12, 2001. pp.4-6.

13. Perhaps for lack of creativity, the first sentence of the title of this short text is taken from the first two verses of the poem “The Green Years”. If the title of the film we are discussing was found in the film on which it is based, the title of this review can also be found there.

 

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