In the midst of the end of the world


By Serge Daney

Originally published as ‘au milieu du bout du monde’ in Libération, June 1983. ‘Ana’ will be shown during the Courtisane Festival (17-21 April 2013), as part of the programme “Once Was Fire”.

Nothing is lost. Beyond the beaten track of the media and the summoning appeal of presold films, still occur a few aerolites. One every year, that is not so bad. The year 1982 was that of Paradjanov’s Sayat Nova, 1983 could well turn out to be, by way of dazzling surprise, the year of Ana. Completely unclassifiable, this second feature film of António Reis and Margarida Cordeiro; how wonderful this journey into the world calmly pierced from our perceptions, between the accuracy of dreaming and the inaccuracy of waking, all through the vertigo of the present. Perhaps there are not enough films left that make you want to whisper, in delight, “Where am I?”. Less of fear for being lost or astray, then to recover the emotion of the sleeper who, while waking up, does not know where he’s coming from, in which refuge he has just rested, and which world he’s waking up to. Out of gratitude for this disoriented moment and the pleasure to be able to say this archaic formulation of an archaic emotion: “where am I?”. For the verb “to be” that comes before this little overestimated name: “I”. For the awakening.

Where are we in Ana? In Portugal, since the filmmakers are Portugese. But this small country is still too big. In the North of Portugal, in the region of Miranda do Douro, where Reis and Cordeiro have already shot a film a few years ago, another wonderful and unclassifiable film called Tras-os-Montes. Here and nowhere else. Here and anywhere else. Because the strength of Ana, which discourages in advance all lazy classifications, is just that. It’s been a while since a film has reminded us so clearly that cinema is at the same time an art of the singular and the universal, that images float so much better if they dropped their anchor somewhere. Ana-fiction? Ana-documentary? This distinction is really too crude. Documented fiction? Not even.

Fiction means putting oneself in the middle of the world to tell a story. Documentary means going to the end of the world not to have to tell. But there is fiction in documentation as there are insects in fossile rocks, and there is documentation in fiction for the good reason that the camera (it cannot help itself) records what you put in front of it, everything that you put in front of it. Ana-end of the world? Ana-midst of the world? There’s a strange scene in this film. In the family home where Ana lives (and where she will die), a man (her son) talks incessantly, just as an academic on holiday would do to try out his course on a familiar public. He speaks of what he knows: the strange matches between his country (this part of Portugal) and ancient Mesopotamia, between two cultures of fishermen, two ways of moving in the water. “What is Mesopotamia?” a child asks. The father might say: it’s next door. The filmmakers might say: it’s the next shot. Already in Tras-os-Montes, the same question was asked (by another child): “Where is Germany?” he asked his migrant working father. There, said the man. And we could feel that for the child, “there” started next pokies free online door, at the next bend in the river. It was at the end of the world and in the midst of the world. It was a child. And in Ana, when Reis reads – off screen – a poem by Rilke in the shot in which the sick little boy stirs in his sleep, this is not an coquetry, it is this idea of a poet (Reis has written poems, they were published) that there are rhymes here below in this world. Touching, embracing, intertwining. And that cinema is still adequately local (and not provincial) and universal (and not Esperanto) to let them occur. That is why Ana risks to be disorientating: by making color the Euphrates in the Douro, it makes us lose the orient, for real.

A film by poets, but also by geologists, anthropologists, sociologists, by all the possible -ogists. Reis and Cordeiro are Portuguese, but not from Lisbon (it is a much too provincial capital city), not even from Porto. They situate their films in this North of Portugal where the tourists never come (they invade the Algarve in hordes, the fools). Beautiful and abandoned landscapes, which have to be perceived as sumptuous ruins; a countryside that is filmed as if it were a city. In Ana, the trees, the roads, the stones of the houses almost have names. Everything is a junction; nothing is anonymous. The film is a consoling buzzing: the sound of the wind causes the images to swell and shrink like a sea. There is emptiness in the heart full of sensations, the way there is an emptiness in this part of Portugal. The films by Reis and Cordeiro record a disorienting situation of emigration, caused by the exodus: the men have left, the children are now left to their games and the elderly are left to guard the places. There is no supervision from the parents here, only the guardianship of grandparents, in a game of glances, fleeting and tender, surprised and serious.

And the story? There is one, if you want. But you do not have to want to. Ana is the name of an old woman who’s staying in her house, right as an emblem. Her face is worn-out and proud, her body heavy and noble. Ana is a little more than a grandmother and a little less than a symbol. Certainly not the symbol of the earth or the roots. Ana is a woman too and she falls ill. Or rather, she doesn’t fall. There’s a wonderful moment when, wearing a cloak trimmed with ermine, she passes through the countryside with the muffled elegance of a Murnau character. The version of Bach’s Magnificat we’re hearing is at the right height of the beauty of this advent. The old lady, from the back, cries out a name: Miranda! Blood then comes to her mouth, she looks at her reddened hands, she knows she will die. Miranda is the name of a small village nearby and it is the name of a cow that has strayed and that we find again in the next shot. There are always many things to respond to a word. There is a risk of dying, crying out alone in the countryside. Always poetry.


Translated by Stoffel Debuysere (Please contact me if you can improve the translations). Thanks to Laurent Kretzschmar.

In the context of the research project “Figures of Dissent (Cinema of Politics, Politics of Cinema)”
KASK / School of Arts