Letters from War: From Africa with love
by Vitor Pinto
- Ivo M Ferreira’s latest effort opens today in Portugal; the film took part in the competition at the latest Berlinale
After its world premiere at the Berlinale in February, Ivo M Ferreira’s Letters from War [+see also:
Q&A: Ivo M Ferreira
film profile] – one of the most hotly anticipated Portuguese titles of 2016 – is finally hitting 20 screens across the country today. The film is one of the 50 titles selected for a possible nomination for the upcoming European Film Awards (read more).
The film was a particularly challenging project from its inception, as it aimed to adapt the letters that one of Portugal’s most iconic authors (António Lobo Antunes) sent to his pregnant wife in the early 1970s, when, as a young doctor and still an aspiring writer, he was dispatched to the Colonial War. Those letters were published in the 1990s, after the death of his wife, and paint an intimate portrait of a man on the verge of change, exposing his anxieties and impressions of the world around him.
Ferreira says he came up with the idea for the film as he got home one night and found his own pregnant wife (actress Margarida Vila-Nova) reading the book aloud to their unborn baby. But how can you transform an epistolary book (which isn’t a novel and is not intended to be a biography either) into pictures? Ferreira blended together all the necessary ingredients and made a work that simultaneously combines impressions of daily life at war, a mesmerising score and Vila-Nova’s near-omnipresent voice.
Indeed, through an unexpected yet effective choice, it is the recipient and not the sender who takes the lead. While the young soldier (played by Miguel Nunes) is in Africa, we are given the opportunity to listen to the voice of his “Colonial War Penelope”, back in Lisbon, in a form of narration that doesn’t always match the sequences we see on screen. The approach is openly lyrical and offers some exciting cinematic moments underscored by the beautiful black-and-white cinematography of DoP João Ribeiro.
Comparisons with Tabu [+see also:
interview: Miguel Gomes
interview: Miguel Gomes
film profile] – another black-and-white tale set in colonial Portugal, produced by the same outfit, O Som e a Fúria – are inevitable, but Letters from War is not a blood relative of Miguel Gomes’ highly acclaimed film and, most importantly, manages to break out of the “biopic” pigeonhole. Therefore, Letters from War is more than “the portrait of the artist as a young man”; it is an attempt to mix intimate, poetic and historical dimensions in an ambitious film that escapes straightforward categorisation.
The theatrical distribution of Letters from War marks the beginning of the cinematic rentrée, which, in the upcoming months, will also bring other local titles to the big screen, such as João Pedro Rodrigues’ Locarno-winning The Ornithologist [+see also:
interview: João Pedro Rodrigues
film profile] (to be released on 20 October), Marco Martins’ Venice entry São Jorge [+see also:
Q&A: Marco Martins
film profile] and Teresa Villaverde’s Colo [+see also:
interview: Teresa Villaverde
film profile] (release dates TBA).
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