Filme do Desassossego aka Disquiet
Director: João Botelho
Lisbon, nowadays. A room in a house in Rua dos Douradores. A man invents dreams and establishes theories about them. The very essence of dreams becomes physical, palpable, visible. The text itself becomes matter in it's musical sonority. And, before our eyes, this music felt in our ears, in our brain, in our heart, spreads trough the street where he lives, trough the city that he loves most of all, and trough the whole world. Disquieted movie about fragments of an infinite and trapped book, of an almost mad flamboyance, but, of a brilliant clarity. The solar moment of Fernando Pessoa's creation. The absolute and perfect loneliness of the I, outer and hopeless. God am I!, also wrote Bernardo Soares.
It is late night in a café. A typical young intellect in his early twenties with sharp black eyes peering through black steel framed glasses is muttering that the modern method of measuring time is wrong and staring at a young man who is slouched with a face that looks pale, indifferent, and worried, all at the same time. Modernist poet Fernando Pessoa, who had keen observations of the dailiness of modern times in Lisbon in the 1910s, The Book of Disquiet, which Pessoa wrote in 1913, and the character of Bernardo Soares, into whom Pessoa projected his identity, all come to life in Lisbon in the 21st century through this film. The film is based on The Book of Disquiet, a diary about the distance between feelings of loneliness and the monotonous reality of daily life written by Bernardo Soares who goes back and forth between the accountant's office where works as an intern and his room, both of which are located on Rua dos Douradores in Lisbon, and may have been an impossible project to bring to the big screen; much like Joseph Strick’s attempt with James Joyce's Ulysses and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Nevertheless, João Botelho began this project that everyone advised him against with the conviction that the quality of cinematic time, which resists the chronological flow of time and is able to illustrate daily life in a fragmented and musical rhythm, was the optimal vessel in presenting the extratemporel text that refuses to be confined to the limitations of a ‘book’. The characters in the film and the additional incidents become existences themselves in no time and become a part of the present of 2010. (Park Jinhee)
The Book of Disquiet, “composed” by a mysterious and modest bookkeeper’s assistant, named Bernardo Soares, heteronymous of Fernando Pessoa, is translated in 37 languages and distributed throughout the whole world. It is the most read and distributed book of the poet, a puzzling and unmatchable literary adventure. In a brilliant analysis professor Eduardo Lourenço said that Fernando Pessoa, the most prodigious cultural myth of the XX century is, today, definitely larger than Portugal. There has never been a creative genius that identified so completely with the heart of the city where he was born, that matched almost exactly the tangle of streets that he walked through, and described as no one could, with the infinity of people who he came across with and described with the “gaze of god”, in a Lisbon that is the centre of a world without centre. How premonitory Pessoa can be, isn’t that the way the world is today?
Speaking of labyrinths, identification, and brilliant minds, who can deny that Joyce is Dublin, Kafka is Prague, and Borges is Buenos Aires? What if, like in the case of Pessoa, the identification is perfect, why not, then, to say, once and for all, that although Pessoa is bigger than the country, Lisbon and Pessoa are the same thing. Especially when the “Book” has changed forever the quotidian and fabulous poet’s city, and has projected him (and us with him) to the limits of the universe, fulfilling the Portuguese destiny written in the enigmatic final verses of the “Mensagem”: “To haunt the world, definitely building a new, spiritual and poetic empire.”
“My nation is the Portuguese language”
This sentence from the Book of Disquiet represents, to me, our biggest invention since the XVI century Discoveries. 28 years ago, when in a mix of innocence and outrage I dared to do a film (“Conversa Acabada”) based on the correspondence exchanged between Fernando Pessoa and Mário de Sá Carneiro, I had “in my power” apart from the personal objects of the poet, of incalculable value –glasses, silver cigarette case, ivory cigarette holder and even the handwritten journals of Mário de Sá-Carneiro, noted and amended by Pessoa, with the blue cover - the famous chest, “pregnant” with kilometers of unedited fragments, many of which would latter constitute the several versions of this rambling Book of Disquiet. In the presence of that mythic chest (“the myth is the nothing that is everything”), the studio where I directed the film turned into a cult place, a kind of a church, and the act of filming turned into something sacred. I was 30 years old. The film was made and remained forever. Today the chest is empty, but the ghost of Pessoa still inhabits it, probably laughing of the perturbation or anxiety that was caused to so many people when a shapeless sea of papers became a universally known work. The trap of a genius, a perfect puzzle and brilliant because all the solutions are different and none is definitive.
“It is impossible to film the Book of Disquiet” everyone tells me. Maybe, I say, but I also say that departing from a timeless text, a text that has no end, and that is unique, it is possible to create the FILM OF DISQUIET that does not want to be the book (the cinema is a very different thing from the literary art) but a disturbing film, that resists time and that lives up to the fragments from which it departs.
Today, having the perfect conscience of the risks I’m taking, I want to face the “brilliant monster” not for the sake of experimentation or artistic dilettantism, but for the sake of cinema, that I love above anything, and of the Portuguese language, that is also my nation.
The international approval and respect that the Portuguese cinema has conquered in the last 30 years, was granted by a series of prototypes, films that have no match in any place in the world, that, while exhibiting an enormous freedom, represent one of the biggest artistic creations that this country ever produced. Some are better, some are worse, I know, but every single one is original, unique, the most part of them constituting a great and beautiful cinema, that resists time and that makes everyone proud.
Cinema isn’t just one thing, but wonderful hundreds of ways to film.
Jean- Luc Godard
What modern movies lack is wind in the trees.
D. W. Griffith
Everyone knows, and I do as well, that cinema it’s not the “what” (what action takes place), nor the “when” (when did it took place), but the “how” (how do you film it). Different directors, departing from the same text, or the same script, make completely disparate films. Thus let us explain the way of filming THE FILM OF DISQUIET. Abstraction it’s cinema’s impossible dream, but to try to reach as close to it as possible, fighting for the progress of the ideas and forms, it’s the ambition that, today, a worthy and free filmmaker must chase. It is the best form of respect we can have for those who are still to come, our children and grandchildren.
Hence, what I want is to bring the text to the present, to a time outside the time when it was created, and to the future, refusing the historical reconstitution of the period film, refusing the psychology and the sociology, deathly enemies of the art, trying to reach the matter of transcendence, the physics of the soul, creating irresistible emotions. The spectators are human beings, with a heart, a brain, feelings and intelligence.
There is in The Book of Disquiet two small and precious texts that were decisive to structure the film and the way of filming it. One of the texts is about the grand autonomy of the sonority of texts that, when read, out loud or in a low voice, elevate themselves way up their creator, making the writing become bigger than the one who created it; The other small text is about the notion of time and its distortion, idea that adjust perfectly to the notion of cinematographic time. “Time” in cinema can and should be matter and truth, but it never is the time of life. There is also a small saying on light: “The same light illuminates the faces of the saints and the shoes of the common man”. I don’t need anything else to be happy.
To reach the grain of the voice, to find the rhythms of truthful and grand music of the fragments of the book. Read it, out loud, or in a low voice, as Pessoa says. The grip you feel in your chest isn’t that of a glorious happiness? Doesn’t your eyes become flooded with tears and your brain fizzy? Distorting time and images, to question our way to look at them (utilization of different speeds, ralenti, accelerations and even anamorphic lenses, steamed up, out of focus) to paint the space with excessive colors, non realistic, but also to make them faint, almost disappear, reach the pale shades, until the purity of the grey range, of the black and white. I don’t propose an experimental film, but a just film, that respects the idea and the grandiosity of that astonishing “Book”.
Characters and Sets. If the “Book” and the “City” must overlap everything else, I must abandon the obvious iconography usually related to Pessoa – the little man with a Jewish look, with a hooked nose, a hat, glasses and a mustache - ( to the character of Fernando Pessoa I leave the glasses because I’m interested in using them as a narration element and as a material idea of an altered sense of vision). Also, and more importantly, the absolutely fictional character of Bernardo Soares will be a contemporary man, of a regular look, undistinguishable from the rest of the common mortals, but with the anguish and the desperate tedium of a modest employee, today’s equivalent to the modest bookkeeper’s assistant, that, many years ago, Pessoa made ramble trough Lisbon, maybe without leaving its room or the office in the Rua dos Douradores. And I only keep the Rua dos Douradores because it is an integrant and fundamental part of the creation of the “Book”. Today Bernardo Soares should live in the outskirts, spend several desperate hours kept in traffic jams to arrive to work, or in crowded public transports, be our equal, the same as people all around the world. But I will make him ride the subway and attend places from the present day, abandoning the Pessoa itinerary that is closer to tourism than it is to the truth.
However, Lisbon will still be a mysterious city, labyrinthine and deep, of an unquestionable beauty and light. “Oh Lisbon, my home!”
Every other character and incident that involve him are, in the vertigo of the sounds of the sentences that make them exist, part of the disquiet of the year of 2009 of our era.
Economy and distribution: In the year of 2008 the 120th anniversary of the birth of Fernando Pessoa was celebrated. It is time to attack, using the means I possess - cinema -, a unique text, and give it to the young generations, so thirsty of images and sounds and so disconnected to the books. Lets make an effort, I assure you that hundreds of thousands of eyes and hears will see this film throughout the years. Today, the cultural tourism is the main responsible for the horde of people from foreign countries that continuously invades Lisbon, How many thousands sit in the chair next to the statue of the poet in the Brasileira’s terrace? How many thousands wouldn’t buy the DVD of the “Film of Disquiet” if it exists, in Portugal and throughout the world?
João Botelho is the Portuguese filmmaker of memory, whose films seek to transform the physical into the metaphysical and to render ideas and poetry physical. His work is based on the word, a creative approach that is almost more poetic than cinematographic and which was already demonstrated in his debut feature, Conversa Acabada (1982), a conversation between two great Portuguese writers, Fernando Pessoa and Mário de Sá-Carneiro, that could be defined as an epistolary framework for an examination of what is articulated through different times and fashions: a conversation that is anything but ‘finished’ (‘acabada’).
His subsequent films include Hard Times (1987) and Aqui na Terra (1993), for which he wrote the screenplay. In 1999 he was in the Venice Film Festival with Se a Memória Existe which received a good critical reception. He returned to Venice with Quem és Tu? (2001) from a novel by Almeida Garrett called Frei Louis de Sousa, and in 2005 with O Fatalista, from Diderot’s celebrated novel, which played in competition. His most recent feature is A Corte do Norte (2008), which was featured in the third Rome Film Festival.
A decidedly Lusitanian cinema, a cinema of poetry and memory, a silent Portuguese farewell…