Before Things Change

in 6th Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Diego Lerer

A small mistake we made while writing out the diploma for the FIPRESCI winner made me think of why the film had struck me so much when I saw it, a few nights before that “accident”. We had translated the Portuguese title, Antes que o tempo mude, as Before Times Change, when actually, the official translation was Before Things Change. Being that English is my second language (by far), I can’t say exactly why the first translation doesn’t apply. But I understood suddenly why the film was very controversial when it was shown to an audience that was not very appreciative of its merits.

There are not “things” in Luis Fonseca film, but there’s “time” and plenty of it. No classical rules, no conventional means to grab an audience, no narrative threads to follow, really. Fonseca takes away “things” to leave us with space, with emptiness — an emptiness of form that plays in perfect harmony with what the main character is going through in her life.

The film starts nowhere in particular and ends when it ends. After watching Laura for a few days in her life we leave her feeling that, even having witnessed a few almost random events in her life, there’s something about her that escapes us. Fonseca never tries to underline what we must think about this woman, separated from his husband, with two little kids to take care of, a complicated relationship with her mother and a more healthy one (so it seems, anyway) with her sister and father. He just give us glimpses of a life being lived. Her life.

We might think the “time” of the title is that “time” between something that didn’t quite finish and a new thing that’s waiting to start. But I think Fonseca wants us to go beyond that. In the press materials he distributed during the festival, there was a quote about why the pauses, the moments of nothingness, the random situations of everyday life are more useful to understanding a person that the special “big” moments we all have in our lives. And that’s the time of Laura: going out dancing ’til morning, swimming naked in the ocean, having breakfast with her kids, going dancing again, having sex again, facing her mother (maybe the only moment when Fonseca breaks his own rule and goes for a psychological explanation to Laura’s behavior) and starting all over again.

If, like The Beatles said, “life is what happens when your busy making other plans”, Fonseca finds the perfect filmic representation for that feeling, with a style that fits somewhere between John Cassavettes’ random drunkenness and Tsai Ming-liang’s permanent stasis.

We know people are used to expecting “things” from movies instead of “time”. Actually, every film production has a person whose job is to transform one into the other: the editor. And, thinking in those terms, Fonseca’s film doesn’t really deliver. Instead, he give us time to observe, to reflect and to hold to those simple little moments we tend to forget waiting for things to happen, for things to change. And who knows? Maybe things will never change for Laura, or even for us.

So, finally, a new correction. Our FIPRESCI award goes to Before Times Change.