by Vitor Pinto
- The existentialist drama is Fernando Vendrell’s first feature in 12 years and is now on general release in Portugal
Portuguese producer and director Fernando Vendrell is back in theatres with Apparition [+see also:
film profile]. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name that late writer Vergílio Ferreira published in 1959. The book marked a turning point in Ferreira’s career, as with it, he dropped his neorealist style in favour of existentialist theories.
It is precisely the existentialist flavour of the novel – full of profound and philosophical reflections on man and the way he must behave in a world where there is no God – which made this adaptation so challenging. There was a real risk of turning Apparition into a sort of essay film. João Milagre and Fátima Ribeiro took on the challenge and delivered a script that is in line with the novel’s tormented enquiries, but which also succeeds in simultaneously building up a well-structured plot in which the overly easy and predictable trap of voiceover narration is wisely avoided.
The film begins with the arrival of a young high-school teacher in a provincial town. Alberto (played by Jaime Freitas, in his second lead role in a film released this year, following Jorge Cramez’s Amor Amor [+see also:
film profile]) soon comes to understand that the process of adapting to small-town life won’t be easy. He soon becomes acquainted with the local doctor and his three daughters, with whom he develops a relationship of mutual attraction and repulsion.
The youngest daughter, Cristina, still a teenager, is a piano virtuoso and also an object of fascination for Alberto. The eldest, Ana, is a frustrated woman married to a loutish man. The middle daughter, Sofia (Victória Guerra), is a free spirit, a woman who refuses to adhere to female stereotypes in a time when gender equality was not yet on the agenda. It is precisely Sofia’s bold behaviour that will spark a conflict between Alberto and his pupil Carolino – and which will ultimately lead to Sofia's murder.
Entirely shot in the city of Évora, Apparition makes the most of the real-life locations, including squares, schools and medieval streets, to contextualise the elegant yet asphyxiating lives of the characters. After all, the movie takes place during the period of the dictatorship, when misconduct of all types – or the simple questioning of human, social or political realities – was to be discouraged or simply oppressed.
Not only does Apparition bring the work of a partially forgotten writer back to the spotlight, but it also gives Vendrell the chance to show off his talent as a filmmaker. For the record, Vendrell had not worked as a director since 2006, when he released his previous film, Pele. Since then, he has mainly been focusing on producing for TV and film with his own outfit David & Golias, which also produced Apparition. The film is now in theatres across the country, courtesy of Nos Audiovisuais.
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