Alice in the City By Rui Pedro Tendinha

in 21st Mar Del Plata International Film Festival

by Rui Tendinha

It’s quite unfair to expect from the young Portuguese filmmakers the creation of the “new” Portuguese cinema. Nonetheless, the media in Portugal is trying to discover this “new cinema” at all costs. Names like Tiago Guedes, Frederico Serra (Bad Blood), António Ferreira (Forget Eveything I Told You), and, mainly, Marco Martins (Alice) are many times put together in the attempt of pamphleteering something. If the truth be told, there isn’t any movement. What happens is, sometimes, a first feature comes along and we discover it to be not so mediocre as usual…that’s all. The young filmmakers are not trying to set up any kind of revolution. Each one, of course, has their own distinctness, their own energy. Bearing this in mind one should not try to come up with an idea of rupture without accuracy with the old generation – those associated with the dogmatic references, such as Fernando Lopes and Paulo Rocha including all the Oliveira’s, João César Monteiro’s and Botelho’s inventory.

Let’s take, for instance, the director Marco Martins and his film Alice. Ever tough, the director comes from an academic background where all the teachers had brainwashed their students with, precisely, those old notions of the ‘true Portuguese cinema de auteur’, but he has a very individual way of dealing with narrative and visual appearance. His cinema has nothing to do with the usual pose of what is known as a ‘typical’ Portuguese movie. In telling the story of a father obsessed with the disappearance of his child, he also manages to involve us in a web of ghostly moods and perceptions. Elliptically, Marco Martins also avoids the usual clichés of this kind of story using a coldness that never lacks sincerity and ultimately humanity. The story is set in Lisbon , but this time, there is no radiant light. The atmosphere is quite heavy and cloudy. It could be any metropolis full of stressed-out citizens – people who don’t look at each other. In a way, Alice can also be considered a very touching zombie movie. It doesn’t matter if that father finds the girl. What matters is what the notion of voyeurism is doing to us. The eyes of the father, the brilliant Nuno Lopes, are burnt out, like all the people he shoots with his hand-held cameras. He becomes the soulless sleepwalker that cannot cope with urban disease.

If we want to be optimistic we can say that Marco Martins is one of the promises of Portuguese cinema. He can be pointed out as a simpler Wong kar-wai. Unfortunately, he is seen by some of the Portuguese intelligentsia as a contaminated brat from the publicity industry (he has directed the new Pierce Brosnan beer commercial…) and, although the film found its audience, he is not filming now. He has to wait. And we also have to wait. Let’s just hope he doesn’t lose the rush to shoot.