“This is not about you, Ana…”
Can a seemingly lean and linear ride across Lisboa, revolving around a single
and lonely protagonist serve as such a profound mirror into the depth of emotions that surround the situation?
The clamorous, euphoric Alfama quartier of Fernando Pessoa’s beautiful, Piscean, oneiric Lisboa, where Ricardo Reis weighed anchor to exile and where King Sebastian of Portugal will return to, with all its dusky, hazy, then downright nocturnal yet festive splendour provides the stage for the gradual unfolding of João Gomes’ The Eve of St Anthony.
The story takes off with Ana, the main protagonist in the backseat of a car, reminiscing the dialogues she had with her clarinet teacher as she approaches the town through its outskirts. Once in the centre, Ana walks the Alfama quarter, delves into a merry crowd to bear testimony to their music and mirth. Transformed into a local-flaneuse, the exact reverse of Poe’s Man of the Crowd tottering amidst yet untouched by people, Ana becomes a treatise on the art of waiting and then entangles a Peter Pan for some time, before spiraling down into delicious meditation.
What is this all about? Is it another shot at minimalism enhanced by a scattered sense of narrative? Is it another of all too well known investigations of urban ennui, the trials and tribulations of an anonymous heroine in the face of her shadow? An arthouse attempt that carefully stitches symbols together only to end up with a straight-jacket instead of a riddle?
No, absolutely not.
The Eve of St Anthony may be a labyrinth but the Minotaur at its centre is a poet, not a monster or a professor. And when we think about Francis Poulenc’s playful music, as well as his real-life “pilgrimages”, we are handed the keys – things fall into place.
Yes, The Eve of St Anthony is definitely one of the films where music serves as a protagonist of the story. Nevertheless, despite the status of Poulenc’s music, the film is not fixated around piano and clarinet tunes and opens itself into a myriad of genres instead, from Portuguese Fado to beat-oriented electronica, from latin-pop to street music that reverberates in Alfama agora. Even iPhone ringtones have their distinct function.
Like the spirit of the music it is aided by, The Eve of St Anthony is as playful, as ornamented with subtle clues that trigger massive “aha!” moments.
Scribe of this journey into the self’s wonderland into the medium of film, the camera work remains outstandingly fluid, adorably unpretentious and masterful. It ensures the absence of the smallest intervention that may disrupt the experience of the viewer and manages this despite its fixation on a certain palette of angles and shots.
If João Gomes preserves his unique brand of absorbing sensitivity full of inspiration as the suspended visual note that closes The Eve of St Anthony (and the suspended notes that finish Poulenc’s compositions!), he’ll certainly have the chance to be one of the most original voices in contemporary Continental arthouse cinema. Pondering more the factor of length, though (not in means of imposing limits but of allowing flexibility) may prove useful for the director, even if only to not to challenge industry’s screening and sales protocols or attract more convenient prospects.
prepared by Mutlu Yetkin.