Sunday, October 08, 2006


The evolution of João de Deus, the dirty old man first seen in João César Monteiro's Recollections of the Yellow House (1989), culminates in his final film Vai-e-vem (Come and Go, 2003). The profound idiosyncracies that Monteiro, the performer, brings to the erotomanic, anarchistic character, now called João Vuvu, are still intact (if the vessel has by now become a little frail and grey), as is the unparalleled freedom of the Monteiro-ian text: moral order and expected patterns of behaviour are actively thwarted in almost every tableau-like passage. (I should mention that from this particular four(?)-film series, I've only seen the first and last.)

Inferring from what little I've seen of Monteiro's work (all ranging from being excellent to full-blown masterpieces, by the way), there usually seems to be an initial cinephilic reference which is unabashedly taken in a more personal direction: Bresson's Lancelot du Lac for Veredas, Pasolini's Teorema for À Flor do Mar, and Tati's films with M. Hulot for the films with this recurring character played by Monteiro (with De Sade and Nosferatu - see the final shot of Recollections... - also deeply associated). In Vai-e-vem, Monteiro surrounds his protagonist with cinephilia: Bresson (the Pickpocket poster in Vuvu's house), Welles ('rosebud'), and even Minnelli ('some came scrambling'); in fact, cinema and politics form the only interferences from the external world, since the centre of the film is the remarkable internalisation of Vuvu, leisurely unfolding within fixed, long takes (I only remember one slow zoom, one dissolve, and one final freeze-frame in the three hours - all of which could be easily missed), and with the very distinctive absurdist and scatological humour of its auteur. Incidents begin to take form (meetings with an old friend when Vuvu discloses techniques of Chinese fellatio, with his ex-con son, whom he pushes into the sea upon hearing he's decided to go straight, and mostly, his hypersexual, theatrical encounters with the young and beautiful housemaids), but they end up becoming long monologues on sex, death, and solitude, among other things. These moments are punctuated by long takes of aloneness when Vuvu travels between his home and a Lisbon square on bus #100, and the camera lingers on a glowing, summery Lisbon and the people on the bus, with whom he seems to have a brief but genuine connection. One of the film's most wonderful visual touches is when Vuvu is sitting on a bench in the now-familiar square observing a young girl ride her bike in circles, and the soundtrack swells with an opera piece, culminating in an instinctive jump as Vuvu runs after the girl. Coming in the final hour of the film, this otherwise humorous and embarrassing act actually comes across as incredibly sad. Perhaps the strange monologues are having some sort of cumulative effect...

But as Gabe Klinger points out, Vai-e-vem is pretty much a posthumous film (Monteiro shot the film while keeping his recently-diagnosed cancer a secret, and died before the film made it to theatres) - one with its own haunted funeral, and its own protracted goodbye in one of cinema's greatest endings: a shot of Vuvu's/Monteiro's left eye held for no less than four minutes, during which the frame freezes at some point, and reflected in it is a tree: a final signature as the knowing eye of death contemplates the spectator and crystallises the Monteiro-ian desire for complete freedom. Our fetishistic investment into a 'repulsive' character (into images) is finally acknowledged by the filmmaker who has suddenly taken on the spectator's subjectivity and composure in his gaze.


Blogger Zach Campbell said...

This is a great write-up, Mubarak--and it reminds me that I need to invest in that damned box set! I agree that Vai-e-vem is an excellent film, and that amazing final shot is one of my favorites in all of cinema.

1:31 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

Thanks for reading, Zach. I'm guilty of not having invested into that set myself yet, which is why my Monteiro viewings seem to be so random and far apart... I'd love to see his 70s stuff, for instance. Not to mention the Huillet/Straub-dedicated The Hips of John Wayne.

9:46 AM  
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