Article by Fabio Bertolotto
Translation by Fabio Castagno
In Kleber Mendonça Filho’ debut film, O Som ao Redor (“Neighbouring sounds”, 2012), there’s a scene in which two people visit an abandoned cinema and the sound recalls films that used to be shown there in the past. Through this dimension, images manifest themselves as spectres that want to communicate with the living, echoing in crumbling and forgotten places. The last work of the Brazilian director, Retratos fantasmas (“Pictures of ghosts”) – presented at the International Documentaries Competition of the 41 st edition of the Torino Film Festival – is based on the same concept of returning images.
Through this intimate film, Mendonça Filho tells his life in Recife, showing the first amatorial films that have been recorded into his home, and talking about his relationship with images, the cinema, VHS recordings, photos and the repertoire materials. After a first part that has been entirely recorded in the apartment where he shot a lot of his works, the director narrates the history of the biggest hometown theatres and the collective dimension of the cinematic fruition that is now a 20 th century memory. Retratos fantasmas becomes an intimate and public story of the relationship with the cinema at the same time.
As in Aquarius (2016) – in which a woman became the target of an unscrupulous real estate company, which was interested in buying the apartment of the last remaining person in the building from which the film takes the title – Mendoça Filho shows the processes of the urban and architectonic change of Recife and the gentrification phenomenon, which has changed the urban geography due to the construction of high-rise residential buildings and the closure of many movie theatres, making way for churches and shopping malls. It was the change that has cancelled a lot of the physical places to which analog images belonged, sweeping away their materiality and forcing them to wander like ghosts in the present.
As in the scene with two young people in the abandoned cinema from “Neighbouring sounds” where the images wander everywhere as spectres haunting the places they were connected to when alive, something similar can also be found in Retratos fantasmas: here, the protagonist of Aquarius enters in an appliance store which has taken the place of a former cinematic theatre in the center of Recife. But Mendonça Filho doesn’t regret the past, because the images, taking new shapes and living in new contexts, manifest themselves as an immortal show.