Other than Cinema Novo, Portuguese cinema is not a trustworthy source. There are several successes, but it is not consistent. Maybe because of the language, it can be seen as part of ‘Latin America’. But in the last years, directors like Pedro Costa, Miguel Gomes became famous or cult inside the international arthouse platform. Love them or hate them, they have several supporters.
João Nicolau has started his career as an editor, in mostly short films. In John From, which was in 33rd Torino Film Festival’s main competition, he wants to create a surreal deadpan comedy atmosphere. All the happenings should be seen from the point of view of Rita, a 15-year-old girl trying to grow up. Her problem is loneliness. The film is mainly a ‘coming of age story’ but with several unexpected turns.
We mostly await an identity analysis involving first sex, pregnancy, sexual awakening or mother-father relations. But here the director prefers to output an imaginary friend. 40-year-old photograph can be seen as ‘Harvey’ or ‘Ted’, but it’s not really that much Hollywood. The imaginary friend idea works in a lot of manners.
Actually the director with steady angles and tracking shots, tries to keep the tempo slower. He wants us to react against the reactions. The first five minutes sort of a locked-down shot of the girl doesn’t show anything. But we can understand her loneliness from the desperate face.
After this moment there is a camp Wes Anderson realism. Melanisia dream is gotten into the surface. So for Rita this is the only solution of her bored life out.
Anderson’s comedy model has started a cycle and influenced a lot of directors in different countries, like Taika Waititi in New Zealand and maybe Christin Jimenez in Chile. Nicolau uses Kaurismaki’s Shadows in Paradise (Varjoja Paratiisissa) as a visual reference. But I think that he can be seen as the Portuguese Wes Anderson.
Rita little by little gets lost in her personal world. Her face is painted, there are animation characters, fogs all around. The atmosphere turns into a children’s book aesthetic. A little bit Napoleon Dynamite’s women version appears, she can be seen as his sister? Maybe…
The anti-comic book influence has got a name. But between 70th and 80th minutes the director’s reflexes are lost. Because the fog is very plastic, it doesn’t fit into that cinema language…
John From has an absurd and ironic title. Starting from that, it is about an imaginary friend and a creative girl. But deadpan comedy is the main practice, with all the supporting characters… We see dynamic colors and their influence to existence problem.
So it appears like as a Portuguese character from Planet Wes Anderson. Is she in the family of Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray? Why not? But teenage story takes us through Jared Hess mostly. In a second feature director Nicolau is mesmerising, with a lot of brilliant ideas.
John From is trying to open a new space in Portuguese customs… With his visual journey Nicolau maybe coincides with Joao Pedro Rodrigues. But his kitsch world takes us into an LGBT journey. That’s the difference here…
Edited by Michael Pattison
© FIPRESCI 2015