Gabriel Mascaro: Ebbs and Flows

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I still haven’t gotten around to writing about Neon Bull for Cinética, but I didn’t want to overlook the beginning of Gabriel Mascaro’s first US retrospective, starting today at Lincoln Center. I’ve been writing about Mascaro’s work since 2009, when High Rise (Um Lugar ao Sol – literal translation: a place in the sun) premiered at the first Semana dos Realizadores, in Rio de Janeiro. Since then, I’ve covered most of his cinema work for Cinética, with the exception of his debut documentary, KFZ-1348 (co-directed with Marcelo Pedroso and not present in the retrospective), his debut fiction film, August Winds (2014), and the great short film that lends its title to the retrospective and picture to this post, Ebb and Flow (2012). With Neon Bull, Mascaro achieved new international recognition and this partial retrospective (one of my favorite films directed by him, The Adventures of Paulo Bruscky – a documentary made in partnership with artist Paulo Bruscky, entirely set on virtual platform Second Life – is sadly missing) bowties the successful international trajectory of Neon Bull with a chance to revisit and discover his earlier films.

Despite the solid coherency displayed in his latest fiction film, Mascaro isn’t a director whose work shows clear signs of a common sensibility. His films range from interview-based documentaries (High Rise) to cross-media experiments (Paulo Bruscky), finding perhaps more solid ground in the intersection between fiction film and documentary that, in different modulations, fuels a larger number of his films – Neon Bull; August Winds; Ebbs and Flows; Avenida Brasília Formosa and Housemaids. The social-political vantage point of the films can go from quiet observation to angry confrontation (with all its problems, High Rise is a very important document for those who hope to keep their heads above the water in the current turmoil in Brazilian politics, both for what is said in front of the camera and what the director himself does with it), adhering to a clear left wing agenda without necessarily taking it to the explosive extremes one can find in Adirley Queirós’ Black In White Out (2014), which was part of last year’s Art of the Real.

Instead, what remains fairly constant in his work is fittingly connected to this constant volatility: a favoring of drafts over finished works and of studies over completed dramatic trajectories, with films that are as close to being open-ended as they are to having never actually started. While in his early, more traditional documentary work this characteristic came from the rather risky way the movies themselves were made, in August Winds and Neon Bull they become deliberate narrative strategies.

In this arch, it is Housemaids – tonight’s film – that remains a kind of optimal peak. Mascaro asks seven teenagers from very different backgrounds to make documentaries about their housemaids, and then edits the footage looking not only for contextual revelation, but also for dramatic possibilities. In a way, the (theoretical or actual) absence of the director in the shooting stages requires that the movie be more expressively directed in the editing room, forcing Mascaro to go against his natural tendency towards dedramatization, and finding a different energy by simply switching directions in this same space of indecision – while Neon Bull and August Winds raise the obligatory question of what is real in all that is staged, Housemaids calls attention to what is staged in all that is real and what the repercussions of that can be.

At the time it was released in theaters, we published two articles about the film at Cinética. Both of them were translated to English by/for the magazine and later reprinted in the book dedicated to the film organized by fellow Cinética collaborator Victor Guimarães. The English version of the book is on sale at the Film Society, and it also features articles on the film by critics and scholars such as Nicole Brenez, Jean-Louis Commoli, Mariana Souto and others. As a way to celebrate Gabriel Mascaro: Ebbs and Flows, I’m including the updated translation of my article here. Housemaids screens at the Walter Reade theater tonight, at 6:30pm.

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Housemaids (Doméstica), by Gabriel Mascaro (Brazil, 2012)

* Original translation published at Cinética in February 2014, later revised for the book Housemaids, org. Victor Guimarães.

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When I wrote about Gabriel Mascaro’s 2010 short The Adventures of Paulo Bruscky, one of the notes left out of the final draft reflected on the similarity of the approaches shared by Gabriel Mascaro and another director from Recife, Marcelo Pedroso. Paulo Bruscky took a few of the intentions in Pedroso’s Pacific (2009) a step further; whilst Pacific was a movie with ‘no filming’ and ‘no direction’, Mascaro’s short film, made entirely with images taken from the online social platform Second Life, was a movie with ‘no camera’, ‘no material’ (and the reason for the quotes is that of course all those things do exist in the movie, but not in the way they normally do, in other movies). Naturally, there are similarities shared by other stock footage documentaries (Pacific) or animated movies (Paulo Bruscky), but both were moved by a less material intent that concerns the creative possibilities of letting go of complete control. While the best documentaries are usually open to the influence of the imponderable, both Pacific and Paulo Bruscky sought after new modulations of this lack of control. At a time when imponderability already seemed to be caged by very strict standards coming from television, visual arts and documentary filmmaking itself, such restlessness was praiseworthy in itself. But, beyond that, it was also a shot in the right direction: the lack of control brought to light a new opportunity for drama.

Housemaids is a new footstep on that same path. Seven teenagers are invited to make a documentary about their domestic home help. Mascaro does not actively participate in any of the filming, but rather directs, proceeding as the creator of the concept and the curator and editor of the material – both human and audiovisual. The first decisive choice is in the deliberate selection of the guest filmmakers: the teenagers behind the cameras are all in a very specific age group, at a point in life when the nature of the relationships of command is not clearly defined. In the opening of the movie, some of them say that their housemaids have been working in their houses for 16, 17 years, and they are definitely not much older than that. Housemaids settles itself into a grey area in which the film’s ‘narrators’ no longer see their maids as figures of relative authority over them (like nannies) but – to paraphrase one of the characters in the movie – are still yet to ‘affirm themselves as bosses’. In each of the cases shown, the narrators are somewhat faltering, sometimes using the camera as an affirmative tool, whilst at other times using it as a medium to express curiosity. The class relation on screen is very much like the relationship between documentarian and character.

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But focusing on the source of enunciation of Housemaids is seeing only part of the picture. If the director’s interest in class shown in his previous documentaries Um Lugar ao Sol (High-Rise, 2009) and Avenida Brasília Formosa (Defiant Brasilia, 2010) joined the univocal nature of their titles, in a panel-like impression, the first big surprise with Doméstica (Housemaids) is precisely the way in which the film takes such a clearly delimited sample and enlarges it from the inside-out. Housemaids is, indeed, a character-driven film. At a time in which Brazilian documentary seems largely dominated by movies which are supposedly dedicated to their protagonists, sometimes carrying their names as a title in a way that is often misleading (Is João Moreira Salles’ Santiago a precise representation of Santiago, the person?), it is the movie with the most generic title that seems the most dedicated to enhancing the individuality of each character (even when, in Lena’s case, this individuality translates as near absence on screen) and fine tuning each individual piece to serve that purpose. Housemaids starts as a melodrama, but from one segment to another it may suddenly turn into an ethnographic film, a tragicomedy, a Bildungsroman, an exploitation movie.

For that reason, both the film’s structure and the spectator’s fruition is often anchored in dramatic conventions derived from genre filmmaking, which requires a critical approach that isn’t based solely on the relation between documentarian and the filmed subject, despite it being part of the movie. Housemaids is not merely the documentation of a clash between two different gazes, but of three. One of the crucial shots in that regard is during Bia’s presentation: when filming herself introducing her part, she places the camera in front of a mirror that – in between her occasional head movements – reflects the image of the camera. The camera is not a sole mediator, but also the artifact that symbolizes the presence of this third element in every scene: the director’s gaze. In the class war seen in Housemaids, Gabriel Mascaro is the true authority figure, the true boss – and in that sense the movie finds an unlikely connection with the aforementioned Santiago by João Moreira Salles, also a movie about a ‘housemaid’ (a butler), but guided by an extremely personal will that’s on the opposite side of this route towards immateriality that we see here. If the spectator may notice how Lena remains mostly off- screen in her segment – and how her space in the scene is often occupied by her boss – it is never clear if that option was made by the one holding the camera or if it’s a posterior interpretation by the director, materialized in the editing. For all we know, there might be many shots featuring Lena in the source material, and the choice to present that relationship in that manner could be a deliberate choice made in the editing room to work against that same material. Either way, what matters here is that this very imprecise, indefinable choice remains extremely present and active throughout the film. Housemaids requires a double, maybe triple interpretational movement (if we consider the spectator’s gaze as well) that forwards this authority position, like a Chinese whispers game, which means that the final image reaching the spectator has already been reprocessed, reimagined, redirected in a number of different stages before it reaches the screen.

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That pattern can also be noticed in the film structure. Starting with a highly typified character from the housemaid ranks – Vanuza, a lovelorn woman who draws a certain comfort from popular call-in radio shows – the film gradually rolls out its theme with each new character, in the most unlikely ways, bringing in new faces, settings and actions that shift further and further from the stereotypical introduction. Approaching housemaids in this way, Gabriel Mascaro creates much more than a panorama of types, rather, a collection of small portraits that neither complement nor cancel each other out: these people exist only on-screen and are deliberately presented in a way that makes them seem more complex than one could possibly imagine. Gracinha, Flávia, Vanuza, Lena – each of the characters in Housemaids is carefully tailored to very specific places and relationships, precisely so that they can stand up and declare themselves unique. This constant articulation creates individual story arches for each of them: Flávia dancing to her mistress’s son is the same person who got kicked in the stomach by a past boyfriend, leading to a miscarriage of triplets (a very similar operation to the one seen in Agnés Varda’s Kung Fu Master, in which, during the eclosion of the HIV virus, a grown woman falls deeply in love with a little boy); Sérgio’s dismantling face contrasts with a picture of a much fleshier past; the boss that needs to affirm herself over Lucimar is the same young girl holding her hand in a happy picture taken years before. This appropriation of fictional tools to the realm of documentary filmmaking raises an ethical awareness that is as old as cinema itself. However, the key here is not to put that simply under suspicion, but to acknowledge this same problem before asking different questions: What does the director want with all of that? If there is an intrinsic violence in turning people into characters, what can be gained from it?

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Perhaps a fairer understanding of the term ‘housemaids’, of the names given to each entity, and of the ideological underlining of such terminology that the movie needs to make use of is required, to then reevaluate it. Despite the effort of treating each character as an individual, respecting their origins (“If you want me to, I can tell you about how I ended up in São Paulo,” says Dilma, directing her director) and their possible fate, all of them are indeed housemaids. They all share the activity that the original title carries in its singular form, because the focus here is not to affirm how plural this universe is, but to start with the plurality to investigate the ontology of the term that binds them together. Housemaids is a movie of many different games, but they all seem to lead to the broader play between part and whole, of how each new fold changes the way we perceive the original pattern of the fabric. Through their uniqueness, these characters slam up against the structures by which they are determined, transforming their bodily presence while leaving that structure slightly dented by their impact. All the characters in the movie both define and are defined by the term that brings them together, both in the film and out in the real world.

For this to occur, Gabriel Mascaro has to resist the anthropological urge this kind of material inevitably teases, and face the delicate challenge of using it as dramatic material. This is achieved through both the individual blocks (as is the case with the housemaid with nocturnal habits, announced right at the beginning of her block and allowed to unfold like a thriller) and the order among and connections between them. While Pacific was put together in a way that resembled a choir, using a vertovian approach to orchestrate a plurality of perspectives in a single ship, Housemaids is carried by a single voice that changes over time. In addition to the care that ensures that all characters have room to breathe in their own spaces, the organization imposed by the director (and his editor) is based around a desire to make this general space – the synthetic, singular (in Portuguese) title, which not only speaks of a job, but also of a relationship and so many other things – reorganize itself internally. With each new character, the key turns and turns and turns, as if the restraining will towards a definition were attempting to lock a door that refuses to stay closed.

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It is precisely in that sense that Housemaids is a political film – the political act of questioning the names given to things. Gabriel Mascaro’s cinema has always edged in that direction, but occasionally seemed to mistake it for a chance at pamphleteering. In Housemaids, however, there is a simple perception that overrides that: if there is the possibility of politics in art, it lies in leaving the doors wide open. The editing makes a point of including footage that shows how these camera-wielding youngsters and their families relate to their housemaids and – in some cases where the ties stretch further back – to their children, families and backgrounds as well. In every case, despite feeling more or less empathy for a specific character, it is hard to determine a clear antagonist. Throughout the projection, the individual will – both in the camerawork and in what’s in front of it – to do the right thing is always clear, even though such an often blind desire cannot be separated from its consequences. This careful construction jumbles the extremities of the sensible, as it demands a reorganization of the boundaries between the public and the private, documentary-maker and documentary film, work and affection, cause and effect, male and female, shot and reverse-shot. As stereotypical as Vanuza’s universe is, the class issues that take the film inside this universe from such a distanced perspective are progressively shown to be more and more sensitive to the touch. The politics of this reorganization finds completion in the fact that, once the credits roll, we return to the world – best case scenario – with an altered perspective.

If cinema today very rarely carries the revelatory power of Major Tomaz Reis’ early travelogues (and one only needs to watch Paulo Bruscky to clearly see how that is a concern in Gabriel Mascaro’s cinema), that void can be filled by the chance of establishing relations, which can often be themselves revealing: none of the blocks in Housemaids is as strong individually as it is within the movie, because what’s more impressive here is not a single moment, or a single reality, but the interpretation and organization made by the director and the fact that they all fit in the same drawer, the same continuum, the same term that lends itself as title to the film and to all those distinct lives. Gabriel Mascaro starts from a distance, but never uses the dispositive as an excuse to not implicate himself in the process. On the contrary: by assuming this wide portrait as dramaturgy, it is clear that there is no position more fragile in Housemaids than that of the director. From something so specific and localizable, Gabriel Mascaro arrives at broad questions that are so deeply rooted in everyday life that we hardly even notice them. The politics of the film resides in highlighting the historical weight that underpins each casual gesture, each behavioral standard we so distractedly repeat as we go about our quotidian choreography. If Brazilian society lives by codes so engrained that we don’t even recognize them as wounds, it is not cinema’s place to stitch them closed, much less open fresh cuts; but there is the possibility of pinpointing exactly where these sores are, and leaving them open, wide open.

Frederick Wiseman

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Notes from last year’s masterclass with Frederick Wiseman, at the Museum of the Moving Image (his words, filtered and probably reimagined by me), that came back to mind after yesterday’s (first and much belated) viewing of Titicut Follies (1967) on a stunning new 35mm print playing at Metrograph:

“The institution thing is a bit of a gimmick. What an institution brings is boundaries. So everything that happens within those boundaries is of interest to the film.”

“If I’m shooting and someone asks me how the camera works, I show them. I show them how the sound recorder works. It doesn’t happen often, but I do whatever I can to demystify the process. I try to present myself and the crew in a very unobtrusive way.”

“My great secret in getting permission, and I’m going to share it for the first time in my career now, is that I ask. (…) I really don’t understand why anybody allows themselves to be photographed, but as a matter of fact we do.”

“We all think our behavior is okay. And of course we don’t see our behavior the way other people see it. That’s why movies like mine can be made.”

“There is only one rule in this kind of filmmaking: once you start shooting, you keep shooting. You can’t start and stop, because everybody knows that the minute you stop something great is going to happen.”

“I can’t overestimate the importance of chance, but it is chance that has to be followed by judgement. Especially in the editing.”

“A sequence has to work on both a literal and an abstract level. The literal is what happens, what people are wearing, what they are saying, etc. The abstract is what is being suggested by the sequence and between the sequences.”

“Errol Morris once wrote an article that said I was the undisputed king of misanthropic filmmaking, and that’s a clear example of self-projection.”

“The stories in my films are really interesting and often very funny, in a sad comedy kind of way. But I’m interested in the complexity. I’m not the first person to realize that life is ambiguous. By watching a film like Welfare, I hope you get to learn something about the welfare system. Not only about the diversity and variety of people, but also about where your tax money goes, how it is distributed, how it works.”

“I’ve made four dance films, if you consider Boxing Gym a dance film, which I do.”

“I got a call one day that said ‘Mr. Kubrick wants to rent Basic Training. Important people act like that, ’cause they think they can have the films. It took a year for me to get the 16mm print back, and when I watched Full Metal Jacket I understood why: the first half of the movie is almost a shot-by-shot recreation of Basic Training.”

“What happens in our lives is also funny. What I try not to do is to edit a sequence in a way to bring the comedy out of it. I’d make a fool of myself if I was twisting the material around just to make it funny. But if the situation itself is funny, I don’t see why I shouldn’t keep it in a movie.”

“I miss shooting on 16mm, and most of all I miss editing on 16mm. That’s probably just because I was editing on a Steenbeck for 40 years, but at the risk of sounding pretentious, there’s something artisanal about physically touching the film. Avid is faster, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. 50% of the editing is thinking about what you’re going to do, so when you had to go back and check the reels you were not wasting time, but thinking about what to do next.”

“I think the structure I come up with in the editing is novelistic. I try to work on a dramatic narrative structure for my movies. The editing is a combination of a rational process with an irrational process, but no matter how irrationally I arrive at a cut, I still have to rationally justify it to myself.”

“I normally take two weeks of vacation after I shoot a movie. Then I look at all my rushes, which takes about 6-7 weeks. At this stage, I normally separate 40-50% of the material that I think will be in the movie, and put the rest to the side. From that, I start editing the sequences, without any idea on how they’ll go together in the structure. This process takes about 7-8 months, and by the time I’m done I already have an idea of the structure. I spend about two weeks assembling the structure, but that of course after 7 or 8 months of editing already. By this time, the cut is normally about 30-40 minutes longer than the finished movie will be. I work within the sequences and play with their order, until I feel like I have the movie. At that stage, I go back to the rushes I’d put to the side and check everything again. Sometimes an image I didn’t think would be useful ends up finding a place in the movie at this stage. And then, a couple weeks after I’m done, I start feeling anxious and it’s time to start thinking about the next film. It’s a fun process. It’s very physically and intellectually demanding, but it’s fun. It passes the time.”

“With every movie I have to sing for myself and get the money to make it. The moment I take for granted that I should get the money just because I’ve made a lot of movies will be the moment I should stop.”

“Human behavior is fascinating and strange.”

More on the movie soon.

Um Conto de Amor (A Tale of Love), de Trinh T. Minh-ha e Jean-Paul Bourdier (EUA, 1995)

* Artigo publicado originalmente em O Cinema de Trinh T. Minh-haorg. Carla Maia e Luís Felipe Flores.

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Um quarto só seu
por Fábio Andrade

Um Conto de Amor abre com um plano geral de uma montanha sob o céu azul, coberta por um capim seco que balança ao vento. No limite da visão, surge uma mulher vestida de vermelho que, aos tropeços de uma corrida, desce por toda aquela paisagem ancestral.

Corte para um rosto, ornado por um tradicional chapéu de palha vietnamita (non la) e um véu vermelho que reafirma as bordas de um close up. A imagem natural da montanha, mesmo que um tanto alegórica, se choca com a artificialíssima luz vermelha, azulada e amarela que recorta, em tiras, o rosto de Kieu (Juliette Chen), em uma estilização posada que remete a Cinzas do Passado (1994), de Wong Kar-wai. Da mesma maneira, a câmera passa de um grande plano geral para o minucioso close up de um rosto, indo de um extremo a outro da escala. O plano se abre lentamente, projetando o rosto da atriz contra um fundo neutro, infinito, intransponível.

Novo corte, desta vez para um interior diurno de tons dormentes: um despertador se perde em primeiro plano desfocado, enquanto a atenção se esvai para a topografia de um corpo deitado sob um pano branco como uma montanha a receber o inverno, uma pequena gaiola de bambu pendurada no teto e árvores verdes, ao fundo. A imagem, porém, chega filtrada por um véu de mosquiteiro, bruma branca que não se preocupa em esconder suas dobras. Sob o lençol, coberta até a cabeça, dorme alguém. Uma voz fora de quadro grita palavras indistintas, e Kieu – a mesma do chapéu com o tecido vermelho; a mesma que corria pela montanha do princípio de tudo; a mesma, pois mais à frente se descobre que Um Conto de Amor é uma adaptação difratada de Conto de Kieu (1820), poema épico de Nguyen Du que prefigura a identidade do país, espelhando-a na vida de uma mulher que compartilha o nome com a protagonista do filme – acorda de súbito e descortina o véu… ou estaria ela puxando a tela do cinema, como a convidar o espectador a tomar parte do lado de lá, instalando-se em algum canto daquele quarto? Do despertar na cama ao momento prosaico de um café ao quintal, uma fala da tia, em tom de repreensão, ensaia trazer a todos aqueles múltiplos registros um cílio de contexto: “Você parece sempre ter acabado de acordar de um sonho”.

Ah, era um sonho… Mas o que, exatamente, era sonho? E o que não era? Sonho de quem? Sonho de quando? Alguns flashes – antevisão? Projeção? Cochilo? – antecipam a realidade seguinte: a cena de Kieu posando com o non la se faz realidade em uma sessão de fotos. “Sou uma escritora e uma trabalhadora do sexo”, diz ela, mais tarde, à sua editora, fazendo referência a seu trabalho paralelo como modelo fotográfico, que toma carne no filme antes mesmo de sua escrita, como se a afirmar que o corpo é o princípio do verbo. A língua salta do vietnamita, do café da manhã com a tia, para o inglês do fotógrafo de traços ocidentais, que pede, esconde, cobre o corpo de Kieu, incitando um voyeurismo de mão dupla. Mas não era um sonho? Ou será que ainda é?

A rememoração de planos como artifício crítico pode ser exercício entediante. Normalmente, melhor seria congelar a imagem e apontar com o indicador ao plano frisado: cá está o mistério de que quero falar. Mas, em A Tale of Love, a transposição da imagem para o discurso verbal é parte da absorção de sua própria experiência, pois é no enfileiramento livre, mas nunca desordenado, dos planos e sequências que o filme se constrói e se revela. Enfileiramento, porque o filme não se dá no plano, mas no movimento mental entre os planos: todo “o quê vejo?” é rapidamente sucedido por “o que isso me diz sobre o que vi anteriormente?”, e “como isso é determinante para o que verei a seguir?”.

Desses três movimentos do olhar, o primeiro é o mais simples: se o cinema de Trinh T. Minh-ha não é exatamente transparente, sua translucidez (tantos véus; tantas cortinas) é límpida – daí a possibilidade de recontar plano a plano (algo mais difícil e menos fértil de se fazer com os filmes do já citado Wong Kar-wai, por exemplo). O desafio da experiência, porém, começa após o “ver”: embora muito claramente definidas, essas esferas narrativas ou sensórias encontram pleno sentido justamente nos intervalos deixados em seu entrecruzamento. Sei o que vi agora e o que havia antes acabado de ver, mas o mistério permanece no piscar de olhos que trava o traveling entre um ponto e outro – de um ateliê cheio de bichos falsos a bater cabeça sobre a mesa até um jardim que se abre com a expansividade caseira de uma varanda.

“Intervalo” é palavra tão cara a Trinh T. Minh-ha que um de seus livros sobre cinema foi batizado Cinema Intervals. Lançado em 1999, ele reúne entrevistas com a artista (“diretora” é termo insuficiente para descrever alguém que é também poeta, compositora, etnógrafa, acadêmica, professora, teórica e escritora), além de trazer a íntegra do roteiro – tão meticuloso quanto pouco convencional – de A Tale of Love. A começar pelo próprio formato: é nas entrevistas que os intervalos entre as diferentes relações com o filme mais claramente se materializam em uma dialética que nada exclui, e tudo negocia. Como guia às entrevistas, porém, ela escreve uma solicitação por um pacto: “Para manter aberta a relação da linguagem com a visão, é necessário tomar a diferença entre ambas como a linha de partida para o discurso e a escrita, e não percebê-la como um inconveniente obstáculo a ser superado. O intervalo, se mantido criativamente, permite que as palavras despertem energias dormentes e ofereçam, com o impasse, a passagem de um espaço (visual, musical, verbal, mental, físico) a outro”. [1]

Experimentar Um Conto de Amor – o primeiro longa-metragem roteirizado (ela prefere o termo à ficção) dirigido por Trinh T. Minh-ha, co-assinado por seu frequente colaborador Jean-Paul Bourdier – é se permitir habitar esses intervalos, esses traços que conectam, ao mesmo tempo que distinguem: corpo-paisagem; sonho-realidade; passado-presente; individual-coletivo; dentro-fora. Esse tensionamento do sensível, que Jacques Rancière vê como a verdadeira possibilidade de uma arte política[2], aqui ganha outros espaços, anunciados logo na primeira conversa entre Kieu e sua tia: “para ganhar a vida escrevendo, é preciso ter um quarto só seu”, ela diz, referindo ao clássico ensaio feminista de Virginia Woolf, Um Quarto Só para Si, no momento em que sente a privacidade de seu quarto em risco. O “dentro” é esse quarto, esse seu, esse recanto íntimo do sujeito que cita a narração paralela (pois over ou off parecem termos inadequados) de Reassemblage (1982): “o que vejo é a vida olhando pra mim. (…) Estou olhando em um círculo, em um círculo de olhares”. Como Kieu, a protagonista de A Tale of Love, olha para essa outra Kieu, imagem fundadora do país onde ela nasceu e não mais vive? Como o Vietnã olha para ela? E como nós, partes integrantes desse círculo de olhares, recontamos esse acidentado conto?

Um Conto de Amor é meticulosamente composto para permitir esse círculo de olhares. Nada é aleatório, ao mesmo tempo em que nenhuma ponta se fecha, como se o longa estivesse permanentemente a afirmar: no cinema, é preciso ser rigoroso para que os filmes não sejam rígidos. A montagem, aqui, inverte quem olha e o que é olhado, troca as polaridades das relações, se deixa levar tanto pela passada narrativa quanto pelos movimentos das cores, dos sons, das formas e dos corpos no espaço.

Em entrevista a Gwendolyn Foster, Trinh T. Minh-ha fala de uma cena específica entre Kieu e o fotógrafo que, embora filmadas em sequência, terminaram em extremos distantes na montagem final. Essa separação literal é justamente o que permite, ao espectador, o intervalo de apreensão:

“Tantas coisas já aconteceram no filme neste ínterim que uma infinidade de questões pode ser levantada em relação à natureza da cena noturna (é um pesadelo? Uma fantasia? Uma lembrança?) e à natureza dos eventos que a antecederam (ela estava o tempo todo contando histórias a si mesma? Ou seu sonho-acordado a sonhava?). Não há uma explicação linear única que possa dar conta dessas interfaces narrativas nas quais o ator e a performance, o sonhador e o sonho, são como duas faces de uma mesma moeda. Não é possível dizer que ela está simplesmente entrando e saindo na fantasia, retornando à realidade; em vez disso, pode-se dizer que nós estamos experimentando uma outra dimensão”. [3]

O que é possível dizer é que Um Conto de Amor propõe elaboradíssimas distensões formais para investigar grandes inquietações filosóficas e, com isso, quem sabe, poder reconciliar palavra e corpo. Afinal, se o escritor é aquele que ama como profissão, o cineasta é aquele que promove o reencontro entre a aparência e o espírito, sob os escombros de um mundo de imagens carcomidas pela vulgaridade da pornografia e da publicidade, transformadas em vestidos armados, mas sem corpo, como os vertiginosos travelings subjetivos que perdem o sujeito no meio do caminho, e vagam pelas grandes cidades estrangeiras feito almas penadas, à espera do convite da primeira mulher à porta de um strip club.

Se a autoconsciência das operações coloca o filme no seio do cinema moderno – em caminhos tão distantes quanto os de Reassemblage e Night Passage (2004), os filmes de Trinh T. Minh-ha parecem sobretudo preocupados em redefinir apreensões do tempo e do espaço no cinema, em camadas infinitas de auto-reflexividade – os procedimentos são o ladrilho que leva à natureza do quarto, aquele que é só seu. “Não confunda o natural com a natureza”, aconselha a editora, em um dos vários diálogos do filme capazes de abrir portas e mais portas na percepção do mundo e do próprio cinema. Um Conto de Amor tensiona essas relações, construindo-se em palavras que estão sempre prestes ao canto, em movimentos sempre prestes à dança, em paixões sempre prestes à história, em naturezas sempre prestes ao artifício. Nesse feixe de intervalos, o filme de Trinh T. Minh-ha e Jean-Paul Bourdier permanece como um dos mais fascinantes e desestabilizadores elos perdidos do cinema contemporâneo.

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[1] Trinh T. Minh-Ha, Cinema Intervals. Routledge, New York, 1999. P. xi.

[2] “(…) a arte não é política antes de tudo pelas mensagens que ela transmite nem pela maneira como representa as estruturas sociais, os conflitos políticos ou as identidades sociais, étnicas ou sexuais. Ela é política antes de mais nada pela maneira como configura um sensorium espaço-temporal que determina maneiras do estar junto ou separado, fora ou dentro, face a ou no meio de… Ela é política enquanto recorta um determinado espaço ou um determinado tempo, enquanto os objetos com os quais ela povoa este espaço ou o ritmo que ela confere a esse tempo determinam uma forma de experiência específica, em conformidade ou em ruptura com outras: uma forma específica de visibilidade, uma modificação das relações entre formas sensíveis e regimes de significação, velocidades específicas, mas também e antes de mais nada formas de reunião ou de solidão.” Jacques Rancière, A Política da Arte.

[3] In Darrell Y. Hamamoto & Sandra Lyu. Countervisions: Asian American Film Criticism. Temple University Press, 2000. P. 208.